Running Ahead Of The Storm

Title: Running Ahead Of The Storm
Fandoms: Legends of the Fall; The Mummy; CSI: Crime Scene Investigation; due South; Historical RPF; CSI: Miami
Characters/Pairings: Tristan Ludlow/Frank Hopkins (Anazasi); Ardeth Bay/Rick O’Connell; Evy Callahan/Heather Kessler; Nicolaus Meridius; Timothy Quinn; Clarissa Barton; James Lucas Yeo; Sebastian de Rosa/Ababuo; Sallah; Thomas Efford; Benton Fraser; Henry Standing Bear
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 31,812
Summary: In a world that gets a little smaller with every leap in technology, it seems insurmountable when Fate dictates that two men are destined to meet.
Artist: Taibhrigh
Author’s Notes: A big huggy Thank You! to The General for all the help … We won’t talk about the Bunnies that were launched with afterburners on full. LOL
The names of the full moons are taken from American Indian Moons, and as a practitioner of some of those traditions … I have taken a teeny bit of poetice license with the legend of the Ancient Puebloans that built the cliff dwellings in the Four Corners area of the American southwest as they MAY pertain to Anasazi (Frank Hopkins)

Some people hear their own inner voices with great clearness, and they live by what they hear. Such people become crazy, or they become legend. … One Stab, Legends of the Fall

 

~ Gray Goose (April) Moon 1892, Seattle, Washington ~

 

Settling into their first-class train car for the trip from Seattle, Washington to Missoula, Montana, proved what his Sire had told him when they left the land of his birth in Arizona. If people believe you have money and status, they will overlook their personal prejudices to attempt to pick your pocket, or ride your coattails. As the train pulled away from the station, Chakotay thought back to their first meeting.

 

Whispering Wind (March) Moon 1886, Hopi Reservation, Arizona ~

 

When the blue-eyed stranger had ridden into his village looking for information about the ancient cliff dwellers, Chakotay jumped at the chance to share the stories passed down through his family. As the two men became better acquainted, the young Hopi was reminded of a strange event at the last trade gathering of the area tribes.

 

~ Flashback ~

 

Chakotay had been walking to his family’s tents when a Pueblo Elder had called out to share his spot of shade. Not wanting to disrespect an Elder, even of another tribe, he had humored the old man by giving him a little of his time. Pulling out a clay pipe and pouch of smoking herbs, the Elder kept his silence until he shared his pipe with Chakotay.

“The Spirits spoke to me as I slept last night. They showed me the strong face of a young brother that needs to hear a story I have carried with me while I waited for you.”

“It will give me joy to hear your story.”

Taking another puff on his pipe, the old man began to talk.

“Back in the time when the Ancients lived in the great cave cities, medicine people held great power and could do wondrous things. A few used their power to serve only their own interests, but the majority were good people who lived to serve their people.”

Chakotay offered his water skin to the Elder, hoping he would continue his story.

“They would use their great power to heal the body and spirits of their people, and when the Earth Mother seemed to become ill with seasons that did not bode well for The People, they would use their great power to ‘heal’ her, as well as their people. During one of the times when there was no rain for many moons, four of the most powerful of the Medicine Society came together for a great healing ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, the tribes were blessed with rain, and healing of the sick and injured, but the price was very high.”

The old man took another drink from the skin and repacked his pipe. Chakotay did his best not to show impatience, but he wanted to know how the story ended even though he didn’t understand why the Spirits wished him to have this information.

“The two men and two women who served during the ceremony fell into a deep sleep at the end of the ceremony. No one knows if they walked the Great North Road, or if they had simply depleted their spirits. On the ninth day, the four woke with no memory, and their eyes had changed from brown to blue. Three lived out their days with their Clans. The fourth gathered his belongings and his pony, set his feet upon the Great North Road never to be seen again.”

A tap on his knee brought Chakotay out of his memories as Frank indicated it was time to head for the dining car. Three days after he’d shared the story with Frank, the Medjai Hunter was telling the young Hopi about Vampires. He had noticed Chakotay’s dissatisfaction with the narrow world of tribal life, but insisted he take time to consider all aspects of leaving his family behind. Two weeks later they were in the small New Mexico town of Four Corners, where the four Vampires and three Chosen Ones that acted as the town’s peacekeepers helped with his Turning.

While he was trying to find out more about his past, Frank had also been tasked by his own Clan Leader, Ardeth Bay, to visit the New World Clans before he returned to Egypt. After spending nearly two years in Sitka, Alaska learning more about being a Vampire, and helping Malcolm Reynolds and his Clan members get Serenity Clan on its feet … They were traveling to Montana to visit the Tallikut Clan. Many conversations with Kicking Bird and his Mate, John Dunbar had Chakotay excited to meet such revered Elders as Sacagawea and Tecumseh.

 

~ Falling Leaves (November) Moon 1893, Tallikut Clan Farm, Montana ~

 

Frank Hopkins was exhausted. He’d been away from his Clan for nearly 10 years, and as much as he had enjoyed moving between the North American Clans, filling in their Hunter ranks, getting to know new members, or just lending an extra pair of hands gentling horses, or raising a barn, he was yearning for the familiar sands of the desert, and the rugged land around the Kasbah in Morocco.

He and Chakotay had visited many tribal elders as they traveled the length and breadth of the country. Though there were no specific memories of his Human life, exposure to the everyday aspects of village life had awakened forgotten skills.

Tomorrow they were leaving the Tallikut Farm. He and Chakotay were helping Henry Standing Bear run several strings of mustangs to fulfill a contract in Fort Benton. From there Frank and Chakotay would start the long trip to New Orlens where one of Cook’s ships would take them to Tangiers.

The closer they rode toward Fort Benton, the more a sense of anticipation seemed to build in Frank. Putting aside his Frank Hopkins persona, and allowing Anasazi to come to the fore, he got the sense of an event that would be of importance to his life.

Horses delivered, the three men had gotten rooms at the hotel near the train station. Frank had wandered around town still looking for why he was feeling a tug on his soul. Stopping by the hotel bar for a drink before retiring for the night, a man was sharing a box of cigars in celebration of the birth of his second son. Thanking the man for his generosity, Frank asked the barman for the gentleman’s name.

“Colonel William Ludlow. He’s got a nice spread up near the Chippewa-Cree Reservation. Wife’s one of them Eastern flowers. Surprised she’s lasted out here this long. Cree housekeeper midwifed the boy. Said he come out fighting … Almost lost them both. Cree foreman, One Stab, took care of the boy until his mother got to screeching about seeing a ‘real’ doctor.” The barman turned to his next customer.

“Tristan … Going to be a fine-looking man … Fair like his mother. One Stab has taken quite a shine to him.” Frank’s sensitive ears picked the Colonel’s voice out of the crowd. Finishing his drink, Frank slipped out into the darkness toward the doctor’s office. Moving as one with the shadows, the eleven-hundred-year old Vampire was soon looking down into the bassinet containing Tristan Ludlow … His Mate.

The next morning, Frank walked with Standing Bear to the Livery. Handing him a piece of paper with the names of Tristan and his parents, he asked that the Clan keep an eye on his Mate. With a warrior’s arm clasp and a nod of agreement, Standing Bear turned his horse for The Farm.

By the time the train pulled into the Sweetwater train station, Frank knew his Childe was starting to feel the strain of not Feeding for several days. He had sent a telegraph from Fort Benton letting Kid and Lou, two of James Hickock’s Chosen Ones, and owners of the Express station of their approximate arrival.

They would be staying in Sweetwater for two days where they would catch a river boat to New Orleans. Chakotay hated being cooped up in the train, and wanted to experience The Mighty Mississippi. Frank would have preferred to ride, but they had three weeks to be in New Orleans to catch their ride on one of Cook’s ships that was headed to Australia by way of the Suez Canal. The Oceania Second-in-Command always made sure a few Chosen Ones were on the ships that ran between Clan locations. For now, riding the river boats would be a good opportunity to teach his new Childe to hunt among strangers. He was pulled from his thoughts by a petite brunette with streaks of gray in her hair calling his name.

“I’m Lou. Put your stuff in the wagon, and we’ll head for the Station. I’m sure you’re looking forward to stretching your legs after a couple days on the train.”

“Frank Hopkins … This is Chakotay. Thank you for extending your hospitality to two strangers passing through.”

“Twenty years ago, Sweetwater got a rude awakening about Vampires, so when Jimmy said you were members of one of the oldest Clans, Kid and I were happy to welcome you to our home. Now, our daughter, Emma, may pester you to death asking for stories, so if she gets to be a bother just ask her how her wedding plans are going. It’ll distract her enough to get you some peace.”

They all chuckled as Chakotay asked her about her family, and Louise asked them about their trip, and any news they might have of Jimmy, Noah, Teaspoon, and Cody. The two Vampires followed her toward the team of horses and loaded wagon as they told her what little news they had of their fellow Vampires.

“Any friends of Jimmy and Noah are welcome at the Station. Just glad to be of help. Kid’s at the Station. We’ve got a stage coming through this afternoon and he’s getting the horses ready.”

“Sweetwater’s become quite the travel hub.” Frank gave Lou a hand up on the wagon.

“We never imagined back in our Pony Express days it’d ever be more than the dusty town it was.” Lou’s eyes held a lot of memories as she headed the horses to the Station.

“James and Noah speak fondly of their fellow riders.”

“We made quite the family. As soon as they finish this last railroad spur, it’ll be the end of the last few stagecoaches.” Louise’s chuckle was bittersweet.

They continued to exchange pleasantries until they arrived at the Station. Frank and Chakotay helped unload the supplies, and Lou to get the horses settled while Kid finished harnassing the stage team. Soon they were helping switch out the teams, and get the passengers refreshed and loaded back on the stage.

It felt good to feel the stretch and burn in their muscles after being confined on the train. The two men made use of the bathtub while Kid and Louise prepared dinner. After the children were settled for the night, they sat on the porch with after dinner coffee, and continued to get to know each other.

Frank raised a hand to give a final wave to Kid and Louise. He and Chakotay had helped Kid around the ranch taking care the jobs that needed more than one pair of hands. They’d both fed last night so everyone would be well recovered for the trip to the boat landing. Picking up his bags, he followed Chakotay to find their cabins.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

During the day, the two men enjoyed the scenery, and having someone to share their thoughts. Evenings often found Frank writing his observations in his journal, or enjoying a few hands of cards. Now that the journey back to Egypt started, he was looking forward to being home at the Clan’s compounds in Morocco and Egypt. He missed the horses … And, of course, his Clan family.

When he thought of settling down with his Clan, his thoughts turned to the Medjai’s Kasbah in Morocco. The British had a heavy boot on the neck of Egypt, and though the French and Germans were sniffing around Morocco, things were still run by the Sultan and the local Sheiks and Beys. Times were turbulent across both Europe and north Africa. The expansionist behavior of the Ottoman Empire had everyone on edge. He’d have a talk with Ardeth when they got home about protecting the Clan’s herds.

If Chakotay was agreeable, he’d leave him in Egypt. His Childe had learned a lot in the past ten years … It was time to give him the opportunity to spread his wings, but do it inside the safety of the Clan and the Medjai. He could take the time to decide which direction he wanted to take his life while Frank could settle back into being Anasazi. There was a vague feeling he needed to shake Frank Hopkins off for a while, and return to his true self.

 

~ Gray Goose (April) Moon 1915 ~ 10th Battalion CEF camp no man’s land, Northern France ~

 

Tristan Ludlow was exhausted to his core. His horse had been shot from under him leaving him to finish the last five miles of his messenger run on foot. He’d paused several times along the way to quietly eliminate German soldiers between his position and the Canadians’ camp.

After reporting to his commander, the middle Ludlow brother went in search of the youngest. He’d just visited with his elder brother, Alfred, injured and confined to the hospital tent, and found out their baby brother, Samuel had volunteered for some damn fool mission, that was better suited to Tristan’s talents. He was approaching the perimeter guards when movement to the right caught his attention.

“Tristan!” Samuel stood up straight and waved, thinking he was safe so close to their camp.

“Samuel! Get down!” Tristan shouted just before the first bullets ripped through the body of his baby brother.

“NOOOOooo!”

Tristan shouted as he ran toward the concertina wire holding his brother’s bleeding body in a grotesque parody of Jesus on the cross. He never noticed the two German soldiers in the machine gun nest that had taken his brother’s life, lay unmoving with his bullets in their brains. Untangling Samuel from the wire, Tristan kneeled in the dirt cradling the precious body screaming his grief filled curses to the Gods of his fathers. When the initial outburst ended, he gently laid Samuel on the ground. Straddling the body, he unbuttoned the uniform coat and shirt. Running a calloused hand over the bullet torn chest, Tristan pulled the knife that had been with him since One Stab gifted it to him as a symbol of his passage to manhood. Giving his song to the spirits of the dead, he drove the knife into his baby brother’s chest.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Roscoe Decker moved as fast as his injured leg would allow. When the distraught looking soldier had run into the hospital tent looking for anyone who knew Samuel and Tristan Ludlow the former outlaw exchanged a look with the bed bound Alfred, the eldest of the Ludlow sons.

 

“We are Samuel and Tristan’s family.” Alfred’s exhausted voice caught the soldier’s attention in the silence.

“Thank God. Someone has to do something. Samuel was killed, and Tristan has lost his damn mind.”

Alfred’s hand clamped down on Roscoe’s arm.

“Samuel’s dead?” He choked out.

“Yeah. Damn fool wanted to be a hero like his brothers. A week ago, he took a messenger run. Almost made it back to camp when he caught sight of Tristan. Gave away his position and the German machine gun nest cut him down.”

“Where are they now?” Alfred tried to sit up, but Roscoe pushed him back against his pillows.

“That’s where things get weird and creepy.” The corporal paled.

Alfred and Roscoe exchanged a look. In his grief, Tristan probably reverted to the lessons learned from One Stab, Cree Elder, and the foreman on their father’s ranch.

“What did Tristan do?” Alfred sighed knowing the depth of Tristan’s protective nature.

If Tristan counted you as family, he would protect you to his last breath, but should you betray him or those he protected, he would cut you from his life as though you were dead. His refusal to communicate with their mother was a perfect example of his single-mindedness.

“He cut that boy’s heart out of his body, and packaged it for the post while still covered in his brother’s blood. He was all quiet and dead-eyed … Just sitting there at table draining the blood from Samuel’s heart and mumbling. After he wrapped and addressed the package, he used Samuel’s blood to paint his face like one of those Indians in the Wild West show. He left the package with the clerk, and the next time the lot of us looked around he’d disappeared.”

The wounded men exchanged a look. Roscoe had always claimed Tristan belonged more to One Stab than he did the Colonel. In his profound grief, Tristan would seek revenge on the ones that killed his brother.

“Where is Tristan?” Alfred’s strength was fading fast.

“Haven’t seen him since he left camp.” The wild look returned to his eyes. “He walked in the mess tent today covered in mud and blood, and wearing German scalps around his neck.” Even after all the horrors of war he had seen, the corporal still shivered at the thought. “He just sat at the table just as dead-eyed and quiet as when he left. We need someone to talk him around. Lord knows we all tried. When someone tried to touch the scalps, Tristan nearly took his hand off.”

Roscoe grabbed his crutch. “I’ll go see about the boy.”

“Bring him here if you can.” Alfred laid back and closed his eyes.

He listened as Roscoe dressed and followed the corporal out of the tent. He would need to rest and gather his wits. Dealing with Tristan when he was healthy was exhausting … He didn’t know if he could deal with both his and Tristan’s grief wounded. He wished the Colonel or Stab was here. They were the only ones that ever really handled Tristan.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Hobbling through the crowd of soldiers, Sargeant Decker barked out orders that had them scrambling back to their duties. Pulling back the tent flap, Roscoe’s heart broke when he saw his charge sitting, staring off into space. That was when Decker heard the soft sound … The soft sound of Tristan singing death songs for his brother.

“Tristan.” Roscoe called softly.

Tristan Ludlow was a dangerous man on a good day. These had not been good days, and he would be complete terror if he was still running on instinct. The slim body went still.

“Roscoe?”

“How are you, Boy?” The older man asked.

The question seemed to break something open in the young man. Falling to his knees in front of the older man, arms wrapped around his waist, Tristan broke. Speaking softly in Cree, Tristan brokenly told the man he considered an uncle how Samuel had waited until Alfred was in the hospital, and Tristan was on another mission to take a messenger run he was in no way experienced enough to carry out. He told how Samuel had wanted to be a hero like his brothers when all his brothers had wanted was to see their baby brother live to go home to his fiancé, Susannah.

When Roscoe felt Tristan go limp against him, he called to the two soldiers he’d left at the entrance to help him put the blond man and his gear in a Jeep. They’d take him back to the medical unit and have the doctors look Tristan over. Roscoe figured all the boy needed was sleep, food, and time to grieve, but who knew what their commanding officers would think.

“What about those?” He pointed to the scalps still around Tristan’s neck.

Speaking softly, Roscoe asked the question. Tristan growled out his answer in Cree.

“I’ll worry about the scalps of his brother’s murders. You worry about driving the Jeep.” Roscoe snapped.

When they got to the medical compound, he had the driver take Tristan’s gear to their beds, and with the help of an orderly, Roscoe got Tristan to the showers and cajoled out of his ruined uniform. It wasn’t until Roscoe tried to remove the necklace of scalps that Tristan started to growl in Cree at his family’s friend.

“I will care for these until you have a proper coup stick.” Roscoe soothed the agitated man.

Showered and settled into a bed between Roscoe and Alfred, an orderly pulled the sargeant away from the sleeping man.

“Sir, you’re not going to keep those?” He sounded horrified as Roscoe carefully wrapped the scalps and put them with his gear.

“Tristan wasn’t raised like you, Private. He wasn’t even raised like his brothers. He was raised as much by a Cree Elder, their ranch foreman, as he was by his blood father. Between One Stab and Colonel Ludlow, there’s not a weapon that boy can’t use, and he knows more ways to kill a man than most people ever dream.”

“You Montana boys are all nuts.” The orderly murmured as he returned to his duties.

Making sure Alfred was awake enough to keep watch on his brother, Sargeant Roscoe Decker headed for the office of his commanding officer.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Consciousness returned slowly. He felt the cot under him and the blanket over him. Cracking an eye to look through the screen of his lashes, Tristan noticed he was clean, and there was a row of cots set neatly along the side of the tent. The thing that really got his attention was the sleeping face of his brother, Alfred.

Alfred … Medical tent … Samuel … Samuel was dead. He closed his eyes tightly, and fought down the howl of grief that wanted to escape his throat. He must have made a sound because he heard a familiar voice, and felt a familiar touch.

“Tristan. Come on, Boy, it’s time to wake up so we can talk to you.” Roscoe voice was gentle but firm.

“Roscoe?”

“Yes.”

“Samuel’s dead. I couldn’t save him. I tried, but he snuck away from me.” Tristan whispered.

“I know. I talked to the Captain. He said Samuel was the only volunteer. Everyone knew it was practically a suicide mission.”

“I was supposed to watch out for him.” Tristan’s voice started to break.

“You did everything you could, Tristan. Your brother was a man grown with his own thoughts and ways.

“You killed the men that killed our brother.” A new voice entered the conversation.

“Alfred?”

“Yeah, Little Brother.”

“How are you?”

“Roscoe and I are almost ready to go home. Seems you’ll be going with us.”

“Why? Did the war end while I was asleep? How long was I asleep?”

“Three days. The docs think you’re suffering from operational exhaustion brought on by Samuel’s death so they’re giving you a medical discharge. I’ve got all our papers. We’ll be evacuated to Calais, and then ship home by the end of the week.” Alfred informed both men.

Tristan started to sit up to protest, but stopped to think. The doctors could say whatever they wanted, but he had been completely aware of his actions. The combination of rage and grief created such a storm in his soul so all that mattered was killing those that had killed his baby brother. He knew Samuel’s body would never make it back to Montana so he made sure the most important part of his brother was sent home. No one was fairer minded or gentle of heart than Samuel, and Tristan vowed to spend the rest of his days protecting his remaining family, but right now there was no way he could face the Colonel and One Stab. He was the blood son of one, and the heart son of the other. The journey from France to Montana would not be long enough for him to be ready face the men whose very words could shatter what was left of his soul.

“You with us, Tristan?” Alfred’s question broke through his thoughts.

“Yeah.” He gave Alfred and Roscoe his patented scalawag smile. Let them think his woolgathering was evidence of his battle fatigue, but it gave him cover to plan his escape.

 

~ Snow Goose (September) Moon 1915, Calais, France ~

 

In the confusion of loading the wounded on the ship bound for America, Tristan strolled down the docks listening for the opportunity to quietly slip away. He’d left a letter in Alfred’s sea bag telling his brother he’d be home when he could face the Colonel and Stab.

He stopped at a tavern on the outskirts of Calais. While enjoying a hearty lunch, he listened to the sailors and dock workers talking about the German blockade of the English Channel, and the danger of trying to cross from France to England. Running supplies and refugees was getting more hazardous every day. He was starting to rethink his plans when a new voice spoke up.

“There’s a story of a ship that appears around Rotterdam. She’s gray and white and goes by the name Nordlys. Rumor has it the ship’s first mate is a pirate.”

“If anyone could handle the Germans, it would be a pirate.” The voice teased the speaker.

The conversation turned to other matters, but Tristan had heard enough. The lessons he learned at One Stab’s knee would serve him well. Paying his bill, he purchased a few supplies, and set his feet on the road leading into some of the of the most embattled areas in the countries of France and Belgium.

Once he crossed the border into Belgium, Tristan began traveling at night while hiding in abandoned buildings and ruins during the day. Members of the German army kept him in supplies as their arrogance and lack of attention to their surroundings ended their lives under the blade of Tristan’s hunting knife

It took Tristan a nerve shattering five days to make his way past both armies on the front lines. He was both blessed and cursed as the week was filled with rain showers. The downpours made it easier to move through no man’s land, but the cooler temperatures of the approaching autumn made being wet and covered in mud a bone chilling experience.

The moans and cries of the wounded and dying drilled into his brain as he crept across the fields of bomb craters. He went from being the angel of death, avenging his brother, to an angel of mercy … Ending the tortuous misery of those poor souls too injured for anyone to consider risking being shot by enemy snipers to rescue.

He spent the last day in the war zone hidden inside the heart of an ancient oak tree that had been taken down by a mortar. Watching and listening to the rear echelon of the German army moving around his hiding place, Tristan finally crawled away from the battlefield when a sudden downpour drove everyone into their tents. Making his way into the small town of Plassendaleburg, he was thankful to find a small inn still in operation.

Sending a silent message of thanks to his father for insisting his sons have a classical education, Tristan was able to converse with his hosts. He stayed two full days to get everything clean and dry. As dark approached the second day, he left most of the rations he taken from the Germans for his hosts, and started the seven hour walk to the border with Holland. Though he was away from the main body of the German army, Belgium was still occupied territory, so he stuck to the woods, and acted like there were German soldiers behind every tree.

Tristan nearly collapsed in relief when he was finally several miles inside Holland. Burrowing into a large shock of hay left in a field not far from Rotterdam, he curled up in his blanket to grab a little sleep before daylight.

Three days later, bathed, shaved, but haunted, Tristan Ludlow moved quietly among the people climbing the gangway of the Nordlys. Two sets of blue eyes stood watch over the bridge railing, trying to guess the meddle of the refugees filling the hold of their ship. They watched until the gangway was pulled up. A nod from the third mate, and the two men went back in the wheelhouse. Time to head for home.

Once they left the English Channel, and were back in the North Sea, the second mate headed for the cargo hold. The first thing he noticed was the lack of noise that accompanied their earlier groups. The occupation of Belgium by the Germans was wearing down the spirits of the citizens. Letting out a shrill whistle, all eyes turned to the dark haired, blue-eyed man.

“My name is Randolph Andrews. I am the first mate on the Nordlys. Your captain is Liefr Nordman, the third mate is Vider Engen, but if anyone on the crew says move … You move without question. The last few trips have been quiet, but with the German U-boats, one must always be vigilant.” Andrews looked over the crowd. It was mostly women, children, elderly, and the occasional adult male. “There’s work for those who are interested. Have one of the crew direct you to third mate Engen. If all goes well you’ll be in Gothenburg sometime in the next ten days. All depends on the obstacles between here and there. That is all.” The first mate turned to go topside.

“Sir.” The American accent reverberated off the metal walls.

Light brown hair streaked by the sun, and haunted blue eyes met Andrews’ straight on.

“Yes?”

“Don’t know much about these big ships, but I’m willing to work.”

“What’s your name?”

“Tristan.” He picked up his rucksack and picked his way through the bodies sitting on the deck.

“Follow me. I’ll introduce you to Vider, and he’ll get you settled.

“Yes sir.” Tristan’s voice held a note of relief as he followed Randolph up the ladder. After his recent experiences, there was no way he could spend the majority of the next ten days in the belly of a ship. The grin the third mate gave him almost caused him to turn around and rejoin the refugees, but the voices in his head had gotten him this far … He had faith they’d get him back to Montana.

 

~ Birds Fly South (October) Moon 1915 ~ Kasbah min Aleashira, Doura Rouida, Morocco ~

 

Anasazi finished running the brushes over the painted hide of his mare, a descendant of his Hidalgo. He’d brought the Spanish Mustang stallion with him when he’d moved to North Africa. Every so often, he’d bring in a new stallion or mares to keep his small herd from becoming inbred. Throwing in a generation of Berber Arab blood kept the bloodlines running strong.

The mare stamped restlessly to remind the Hunter to mind what he’d been doing. With a smile, he resumed his brushing. Their trip to check the herds and the borders of the Clan’s land left man and horse covered in sweat and dust.

The Medjai had received reports from all over Europe about the progress of the war. He tried not to worry that he had not gotten any letters from Tallikut Clan in Montana about the status of his Mate. Making sure the mare had hay and fresh water, Anazasi turned her into her stall before heading for his room and a bath.

Refreshed, he settled behind the big desk in Ardeth’s office to transpose his notes into the Kasbah’s account books. Organizing his notes, Durya, the Manager for the house staff, entered with a tea tray and an assortment of finger foods.

“You are a treasure, Durya.” Anasazi gave her a wink.

“You have said that to my mother, and to her mother before her, Sidi.” The Amazigh women scolded.

“It was true each and every time.” Anasazi assured her as he poured a glass of hot tea.

“These came with the supply wagons from Tangiers.” She reached into one of the many hiding places in her traditional Amazigh clothing, and handed him several letters.

“Thank you, Durya.” His voice was distracted as the letters drew his attention.

Opening the one on top, he saw the familiar handwriting of Benoit Franciscus. There was the usual Clan news to pass on to the Medjai Council, and just as the Hunter thought there would be no news of Tristan, his eyes caught the word France. Slowing down to be sure he didn’t miss a word, Anazasi’s tea glass rattled against the tray.

It pained me when I reported to you that the Ludlow brothers had enlisted and been shipped to France to fight in support of British troops … Now, I fear I have more unhappy news. The eldest Ludlow, Alfred, and the Colonel’s hired man, Roscoe have returned from France to recover from their wounds. We have heard stories of the death of the youngest, Samuel. He was killed in front of his brother, Tristan causing him to seek revenge on those who took his baby brother from this life. When Tristan returned to camp wearing a string of German scalps, he was supposed to return home with Alfred and Roscoe, medically discharged from the Canadian Army.  

There has been no word from Tristan, who slipped away from the group at Calais as they boarded the ship that would bring them home. I will notify you posthaste should he return.  

Stay strong,

Benoit Franciscus

Tallikut Clan

 

Curses in several languages filled the office as Anasazi resisted the urge to throw the glasses and teapot against the nearest wall. He made several turns around the office to calm his jumbled emotions, and after spending some time on the patio letting everyday life in the Kasbah settle him … He returned to the rest of the mail, and his notes.

When the day’s activity around the house quieted, and the horses in the stables had settled into sleep, Anasazi sat cross-legged on the balcony of his suite over the stables. His thoughts turned inward as he searched for the tiny flame he’d carried in the back of his mind since he saw his Mate the night he was born. Connecting with that flame, the ancient Pueblo Hunter sent his thoughts into the ether looking for the twin to the flame burning in his soul.

 

~ Eagle (March) Moon 1916 ~ Somewhere in North Sea ~

 

Cold. Ever since Tristan had told Randolph Andrews he wanted to work he’d been cold. He thought Montana winters were frigid, but Montana would be downright balmy after a winter spent hauling fish and refugees across the North Sea. The mind and body numbing work of hauling the nets out of the sea caused Tristan to lose all sense of time until Vider yelled over the roar of the waves.

“Get your arse below decks.”

Blue eyes blinked as he finally recognized what the third mate wanted him to do. With a nod, he stepped away from his spot so another deck hand could slide into place.

“Captain wants to see you after you get warm and eat.”

Another nod and Tristan trudged toward the crew’s quarters. A quick wash with water as hot as was safe for near frozen skin, he finally began to feel his face, hands, and feet. A heaping plate of Cook’s excellent fare, and several cups of coffee left him feeling alert enough to not fall asleep at the Captain’s feet.

Pulling his hair back with a leather tie, Tristan headed for the wheelhouse, and the Captain’s office. The door was open so he stepped inside.

“You wanted to see me, Captain?”

Tristan tried to keep his natural exuberance in check around the taciturn Norwegian. He was a taskmaster, but he’d grown up with the Colonel, so hard work was a way of life. Now let the fish be running, and the Captain and first mate both went on the warpath. Everyone worked and bled under the verbal lash of the two men. Tristan felt lucky he still had all his fingers and toes.

“I hear tell you are wanting to return to America.”

“Yes, Sir. I feel ready to see my father and brother.”

“You are lucky boy. You notice our course is different?”

“Yes, Sir, but it’s not my job to drive the ship.”

Blue eyes studied the young man over the top of his glasses.

“You could, yes. I have seen you learning in the hours when sleep eludes you.”

“Yes, Sir.” A deep blush crept across high cheekbones.

“I am sure you have noticed a few additional passengers on board.”

“You mean the woman that dresses as a man, and the two tattooed men that move like shadows of each other? Hard not to notice.” Tristan wanted to smirk, but didn’t want to drive the Captain out his somewhat mellow mood.

“That’s the ones.” Liefr smirked at his deckhand. The man kept to the shadows and to himself, but very little escaped those shadowed eyes.

“We’ll be putting in at Edinburgh. You can take the train to Liverpool, and catch your ship home. I’ll talk with my passengers. I’m sure they won’t mind another capable soul in their group. Come back in an hour.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Tristan gave his Captain a two-fingered salute as he turned and headed for another cup of coffee.

An hour later, Tristan Ludlow met Marion Dubois, and her guards, twin brothers, Connor and Murphy McManus. The feel of them reminded him a lot of how he felt around the Captain and his first mate. He wondered if they bit people, too.

 

~ Flashback ~

 

It was his first few weeks on the Nordlys, and for all that his body was exhausted, the voices in his mind refused to let him rest. As was his practice, he found the highest place with the deepest shadows to observe the workings of the ship at night. It was also a good place to stay out of the path of an ill-tempered Captain.

This night he saw First mate Andrews grab Captain Liefr by the arm, shove him in the direction of where Third mate Vider was heading for the galley.

“You need to Feed before your temper injures a Human.” Andrews chided.

The Captain’s answer was a growl as he set off after his Third mate. Tristan watched as Vider stopped when Liefr called his name. Tristan blinked several times to be sure his eyes weren’t playing a trick with the shadows as he watched the Captain of the Nordlys bite Vider’s neck. After a short time, he hugged the man then shoved him on his way to the galley.

Shaking his head, Tristan vowed to keep a closer eye on the behavior of the officers, and made sure his knife was always on his person.

 

~ End Flashback ~

 

With the catch sorted and packed in ice, the Nordlys dropped anchor out of the shipping channel. Liefr would wait until dawn to take the ship into the harbor. It would give the crew a chance to set the ship to rights in preparation for docking.

Finished his duties, Tristan began gathering his belongings. Who knew you could accumulate so much stuff in such a short amount of time. He wondered if he should take the time to travel to Cornwall, and see if the Colonel had any family left in the area. He was pulled out of his thoughts when Connor and Murphy tumbled into the crew’s quarters, and herded him into the common area so they could cajole stories from him of growing up with a ‘real’ Indian. Tristan could see Stab … Dark eyes crinkled at the corners, enigmatic smirk on his face at the antics of the Irishman. It really was time to go home.

 

~ Frog (May) Moon 1916 ~ New York Harbor ~

 

Tristan walked down the gangway ten days after boarding the ship in Liverpool, England. Lady Marion and the McManus brothers made interesting traveling companions with stories of their friends in Marazion. He hated leaving them at Sheffield when he changed trains to travel to Liverpool. He never did get around to asking Connor why he bit the porter responsible for servicing their compartment. If he ever got to Marazion, he intended to ask until someone gave him a straight answer.

He found the hotel Connor had recommended close by the train station. The next morning, he would be leaving Union Station on his way to Bismark, North Dakota. From there, he’d catch a boat headed up the Missouri River to Fort Benton, Montana. Where once he’d been reluctant to go home … Now it seemed he couldn’t get there fast enough. Stab and his father were waiting.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

It was a long and … He wouldn’t say tiring. There was no way anyone who’d worked for Liefr Nordman could complain about lack of stamina. He’d spent much of the trip watching the passing countryside, reacquainting himself with America. Spring meant renewal after winter’s death. New grass, babies frolicking around their mothers. So much life amidst his memories of death. Riding the paddle wheeler up the Missouri River, Tristan felt like he’d gone back in time fifty years as the boat moved at its leisurely pace up the river. When the boat finally tied up at the dock, Tristan stood at the rail for a few minutes taking in the changes.

Fort Benton, Montana, was bustling with cars, horses, wagons, and people rushing around attending to their business. He was glad it was a short trip from the dock to the hotel. Ordering dinner and handing over his set of ‘good’ clothes to be cleaned and pressed, Tristan settled on the balcony with a glass of whiskey while waiting for his meal. He was thankful the hotel had installed indoor plumbing. Having the luxury of hot water at the turn of a faucet had become one of his favorite things about the modern age.

Before his mind could dwell too much on his reunion with his family, a brisk knocking announced the arrival of his dinner. Pushing thoughts of the ranch, and his family to the back of his mind, he set his thoughts on the present, and the superb steak lying on his dinner plate. Everything else would still be there in the morning.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Fortified with a hearty breakfast in the dining room, Tristan made his way to the saddle maker where he picked up a new set of saddlebags. His next stop was the livery where he found Jim Hobarth still running the stable.

“Tristan! When did you get to town? Anyone meeting you?” Jim asked as he pumped the younger man’s hand.

“Came in on yesterday’s river boat, and I need a horse to get out to the ranch. I seem to remember that dun over there as green two-year old.”

“You always had an eye for good horseflesh.” The livery owner pulled the gelding out of the corral. “I’ll get him outfitted. You can bring everything back next time you come town.”

“Might take me a week.” Tristan warned.

“Don’t worry. Railroad people were here not long ago. Used him pretty hard. The time off will do him good.”

Tristan extended his hand. Jim grabbed it for another hearty shake.

“I’ll take good care of him, and have him back when I come in for supplies.”

“Give me 15 minutes. I’m sure you’re anxious to get to the ranch.”

“I truly am. Thank you, Jim.”

“Give my regards to the Colonel and Alfred.”

After a quick trip back to the hotel for his gear, Tristan was on his way home. The gelding’s smooth jog allowed him to enjoy the bright spring day while his memories tumbled through his mind. Memories of his brothers, especially Samuel. Fishing, working the horses and cattle, Pet taking over mothering them when their own mother moved back East. One Stab teaching him as much about being a man as the Colonel.

He pulled his horse to a stop before crossing the creek. Chest tight and eyes burning, Tristan stepped down to allow the horse to drink while he got his emotions under control. If he let go, they would probably find him curled up under a rock. Catching sight of the ranch’s remuda, Tristan dried his eyes, and realized he was a lot closer to the ranch house than he thought.

Settled in the saddle, he began rounding up the herd and pushing them toward the house. The bell mare realizing they were headed for the barn, broke into an easy lope that encouraged the rest of the herd to head for home.

Tristan followed the remuda to the house, letting the simplicity of running with the herd settle his roiling emotions. Seeing One Stab, Roscoe, and Pet opening the corral for horses, the hugs as he let his gelding ground tie while he was welcomed into the bosom of his family cauterized the bleeding left behind by Samuel’s death.

After one of Pet’s hardy lunches, everyone went to finish the day’s work, Tristan saddled his own blaze faced chestnut, and headed out to where One Stab told him they buried Samuel’s heart. Settling himself in the tall grass next to his brother’s gravestone, Tristan told him everything that had happened since his death. Somewhere in the telling of his adventures on board the Nordlys, the tears began again. He yelled and cursed Samuel for thinking he had to follow Tristan and Alfred’s exploits to prove he was just as much a military man as his father until he sobbed his heartbreak and sorrow into the soil of their home.

He’d just sat up and wiped his face when a nicker from his horse alerted him that they were not alone. Since the animal remained relaxed, Tristan figured it was someone from the house. His breath caught when Susannah threw herself off her horse and into his arms. One thing about Susannah Fincannon, there were no small gestures. Every one of them was spotlight worthy … Even if it was offering comfort to the grieving brother of her dead fiancé.

Years later, Tristan would blame what happened next on being touched starved. During his time away from home, touch had been about pain and destruction. Death rode him like a lover, and there had been days when he’d reveled in the chaos.

Here was a different type of death and chaos wrapped in a beautiful, sweet smelling package wrapping around him like a clinging vine. The fact his older brother held a deep regard for Susannah flew from his mind as full lips covered his, soothing his grief and pain. Knowing his actions would cause grief and strife between them disappeared as her slim hands knowingly loosed their clothes until they became a bed. Tristan nearly broke the mood by laughing when he remembered the condom in his vest pocket.

The Canadian military passed them out like cigarettes … Not wanting to lose even one soldier to a sexually transmitted disease. He tucked several in his pockets the last time he’d had time shore leave in Gothenburg.

As Susannah rolled the condom over his erection and proceeded to ride him like a pro, Tristan forgot about propriety and Alfred’s tender feelings. He even forgot they were practically fucking on Samuel’s grave, but as they sprawled in a tangle of limbs and clothes it all came rushing back.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

To escape the expectations of Susannah, the smoldering of Alfred’s resentment, and his father’s joy at his return, Tristan rode out with One Stab and the ranch hands for spring round-up. The freedom from the oppressive atmosphere at the house lightened his own spirit. Since the night of his birth when the Cree Elder had wrapped him in his bear skin coat and petitioned the Spirits to spare his life, Tristan had been connected to One Stab. The man understood Tristan in a way that only Samuel had shared.

Time hunting cattle in the wild places, and the deep silences between the two men further healed his tortured soul. Soon there were only a few nights Death interrupted his dreams. I didn’t take long before they were driving the cattle to the ranch house pasture where they would be doctored and branded then taken out to the summer high meadows.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Dear Anasazi,  

Tecumseh and Jim have recently returned from their twice-yearly rounds to check how the tribes are surviving on their respective reservations. You might be asking yourself why this should be of concern to you. I know you have been worried over your Mate since he disappeared from the docks of Calais.

One of the Elders on the Cree Nation at Rocky Boy Reservation has known the Ludlow’s many years as he was once a scout for the Colonel. One Stab has befriended our Clan members, and speaks often of Tristan. Though he speaks of his worry for the boy, he is sure of his survival as he helped raise the young man, and has passed on the same lessons he gave his own sons before they died.  

From the stories Tristan relayed to One Stab, your Mate has spent a great deal of time with our brethren to the North. From Calais, he made his way to Rotterdam where he ended up on the Nordlys. Liefr and Randolph made him a first-rate deckhand. He spent a bit of time with Lady Marion and the McManus twins before boarding a ship for home.  

I will keep you informed of further developments. Perhaps it is time to consider a trip the Montana. It is always a pleasure to have visitors at The Farm.  

Fraternally yours,

Benoit Franciscus

Tallikut Clan

 

Anasazi carefully tucked the letter away. Every so often he would send himself into a deep meditative state looking for the tiny flame that told him his Mate still lived. He turned back to check the laboring mare. She gave him the most beautiful babies, but she always insisted on causing palpitations in the Vampire with difficult births. After reading his latest letter from the Tallikut Clan Leader, and using his voice to sooth the mare, he proceeded to tell her what he knew about his Mate.

By the time he delivered the mare’s perfect black colt with a white snip, Anasazi decided he would wait for his Mate to find him. With his luck, by the time he got to Montana, Tristan would be somewhere else.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Thankfully the emotions at the house lowered to a livable level, and life started to settle into a rhythm. It was a precarious rhythm as Alfred watched Tristan’s interactions with Susannah, waiting for his brother to break the balance in their three-way dance. Once again it was Susannah that broke the fragile peace between the brothers when after waiting until the house settled for the night, she crept into Tristan’s bed.

Tristan was not one to wear guilt like a hair shirt. Once he’d paid his penance for any misdeeds, he moved onward.  Susannah’s decision to play fast and loose with the feelings of both brothers caused Tristan to view her through eyes hardened by war, but he’d been drawn to her like a moth to a flame since the day she arrived at the ranch. If Alfred couldn’t keep her attention, Tristan figured they could dance in the flames until they burned.

 

~ Birds Fly South (October) Moon 1918 ~

 

During the day, Miss Susannah Fincannon was properly courted by Alfred Ludlow, but while the house slept, she stole down the halls like a thief into the bed of the man who would one day be her brother-in-law. Alfred spent most of his time in Helena building his reputation at the State House while Susannah was declaring her love for Tristan at the ranch.

Susannah wanted to keep all her options open, but conservative, buttoned up Alfred was a rising star in Montana’s political scene. Tristan constantly urged Susannah to return to her own bed after they had sex, but she argued sleeping in his arms was her favorite thing. It was that favorite thing that brought their affair to an explosive end.

The conflagration came when Tristan, after a long day adding to the stockpile of wood for the winter, fell asleep before Susannah returned to her room. When Susannah’s arm settled around his throat, Tristan, in the throes of a nightmare grabbed his knife from under his pillow determined to kill the German that was trying to strangle him. He was ready to land the killing blow when pain exploded in his temple, and the world went dark.

When Tristan regained consciousness, his head was pounding, and when he reached up to rub at the ache, his fingers met a bandage. True memories jumbled together with his nightmares until he groaned with the realization he tried to kill Susannah while in the throes of a flashback. With little choice, he took care of his morning ablutions, and headed for the kitchen and some of Pet’s coffee. After swallowing a headache powder, he took his coffee outside to enjoy the sunrise from the porch. He stood looking out over the ranch his father had built with blood, sweat, and Cornish determination.

“Do you love her?” Alfred kept his voice low in deference to those still sleeping.

Tristan knew his brother was standing in the shadows behind the door. Since Alfred was the wronged party in this disaster, he wanted to let him have his say.

“Yes, but I think it’s more the idea of love than the live together and raise children kind of love.”

“Are you going to marry her?” Alfred’s voice was tight.

“No.” He continued to sip his coffee and hoped the headache powder, he found next to his coffee cup, would soon take effect. “She doesn’t want me. She wants the idea of being wild and independent. She thinks that’s what I represent. Wants her cake and to eat it, too.” He muttered into his cup.

“I’ve always followed the rules. God’s and man’s. You never have, but they always love you best. Samuel … Father … her.” He practically spat the words at his younger brother.

“I’ll be gone tomorrow. You don’t need someone in the house that could get caught in a memory and kill everyone thinking they’re Germans.”

“So, you’re running away. Make a mess and leave it for everyone else to clean up.” Alfred snarled, angry that Tristan wasn’t fighting him.

“I’m not the one that started this mess. I just didn’t do anything to stop it. Me leaving will stop it. You can’t have it both ways, Alfred. Do you want me to stay so you can tell everyone what a cad and rakehell I am, or leave so everyone can forget you were a cuckold? You want your pound of flesh? You should marry that woman. She craves power and money. Let her help get you elected. Hell, you might be President with Susannah’s ambition pushing you to forget your precious rules.” Tristan turned his attention back to his coffee and his view.

Shocked at the bald truth in Tristan’s words, Alfred retreated into the house in a huff. Packing a bag, he had Roscoe take him to where the train tracks ran along their property boundary. There he caught the train back to Helena.

Tristan did not leave the next day, but would be leaving as soon as they finished the fall round-up. The atmosphere in the house was tense, but quiet since Susannah no longer stole into Tristan’s bed. The Colonel seethed over Alfred’s continuing contempt of Tristan. He was heard to mumble that Alfred should know better than tangle with Eastern women. ‘They chew you up, spit you out.’ One Stab patted his old friend on the back as he muttered his agreement.

As retired Colonel William Ludlow watched Tristan load his luggage in the car, he felt his temper start to heat. Susannah had returned to her place on Alfred’s arm, and Tristan avoided the couple by staying at the reservation with One Stab when the couple was home from Helena. He knew Tristan had only stayed long enough to be sure the ranch was ready for winter.

William loved all his sons, but in his secret heart, Tristan was his favorite. The boy’s spirit was scarred, but still at its most comfortable among the wild things. The older man envied him his ability to still be his own man in a world that grew smaller with every wave of new inventions.

The Colonel had always considered himself a worldly man of letters. He knew the ranch would never hold Tristan, but the situation with Alfred and Susannah was driving him out into the world quicker than the father in him wanted. One Stab had complained about the same thing the day before as they watched Tristan stack wood and check all the roofs for leaks.

As for Tristan, he pointedly ignored the car coming down the drive as he waited for Stab to get a list of supplies from Pet and Isabel Too. With the thought that he might never be home again, he turned back and wrapped his arms around his father. He buried his nose against the chambray shirt and tanned neck. Inhaling deep, Tristan memorized the smell of soap, cigar, horse, and the essence of the man that meant home. He and Stab had said their goodbyes the night before, so, now he felt right leaving. Home was forever embedded in his sense memory.

Alfred handed Susannah out of their car as One Stab fired the Model T’s engine. He nodded acknowledgement of Alfred and his fiancée before reaching for the door handle. He nearly came up swinging when he was grabbed from behind and hugged.

“Take care of yourself, little brother.” Alfred whispered.

“I always do. You’re doing well for yourself, Alfred. Good luck, and take care of father.” Tristan didn’t want to leave with hard words between them.

Before he could escape, Susannah was in his arms, engagement ring catching the first rays of the sun.

“You don’t have to go. Alfred and I worked everything out.” She whispered.

“It’s for the best. He’ll never trust us … Trust me.” He released her back to Alfred. “Take care and love each other.”

He climbed in the car and didn’t look back.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Dear Anasazi,  

We have news concerning your Mate. As I related in my previous missive, he was living at the family ranch. It appears that all was not well with the family as Miss Susannah Fincannon, who started her residence in Montana as the fiancée of the late Samuel Ludlow, has set her sights on budding politician, and eldest son, Alfred. It seems though Alfred satisfied her ambitions, and need for security … It was Tristan she used to satisfy her carnal urges.

As the story was related to Tecumseh and Jim Ellison when they spent several months at the Chippewa-Cree Reservation, the affair was discovered when Tristan tried to kill Miss Fincannon in her sleep whilst caught in the throes of a nightmare.

Word has come by way of Tecumseh’s network that Tristan is once again leaving home to keep the peace. I would keep my ear to ground as I believe he will be once again crossing the ocean.  

Be well.  

Most sincerely,

Benoit Franciscus

Tallikut Clan

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Anasazi read the letter, and felt a bit of a thrill that perhaps this would be when the Fates would smile on him. It would be interesting to see how the infant he had seen all those years ago turned out.

 

~ Frog (May) Moon 1918, Cape Town, South Africa ~

 

James Lucas Yeo looked at the ledger sheets that showed a dip in revenues from his fishing fleet since the loss of a ship during the last winter storm season. Luckily, they’d only lost two of the crew before the rest were rescued by a sister ship. His biggest obstacle to his usual English boat builder was the war being waged in parts of Europe.

Allan Quartermain had found him at the Clan House in Cape Town brooding over the problem. The Ghost and Darkness Second-in-Command had given him a wide grin and suggested he contact Jack Aubrey. After all, the man captained a Royal Navy ship for years before he became Second-in-Command at Sanctuary Clan. James had sent a missive to Aubrey, and the retired Captain had recommended a ship builder in New Orleans that Sanctuary Clan owned in concert with Sylum Clan. Dashing off a quick letter of thanks to Aubrey, James started planning how he was getting to New Orleans.

Heading for the Harbor Master’s office, James was looking for a ship heading west. Poseidon was smiling on him when he found not only a packet ship that would be heading to New Orleans, but also one of Cook’s cargo ships would be pulling out at the end of the week.

Hurrying back to his office, he prepared a missive to alert Sylum Clan that he was coming to New Orleans, and why. He got both his letters on the mail packet before going to talk with the Captain of Cook’s ship to arrange to be on board when they left port.

 

~ Leaves Come Out (June) Moon 1918, New Orleans, Louisiana ~

 

Watching the gangway stretching out to meet the dock, everyone on board had breathed in relief when they rounded the tip of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico. America had entered the war the year before making ships headed to the United States fair game for German U-boats. James spent a fair amount of the voyage either on top the wheelhouse, or watching over the railing. Thankfully they made it across the Atlantic without drawing unwanted attention.

Now he stood with his luggage at the top of the gangway taking his leave of the Captain. Picking up his bags, he started down the gangway, but stopped again at what he saw at the foot of the gangway. Sylum Clan’s Leader grinning from behind the wheel of gleaming black Model T.  By the time James reached the dock, Nicolaus was waiting with a warm smile and handshake.

“Nicolaus Meridius. Welcome to New Orleans. I took the liberty of setting up an appointment with our Master architect at Bèl Bato for ten tomorrow morning.”

“James Lucas Yeo. It’s a pleasure to put a face to my correspondent with Sylum Clan. Thank you for taking the time out of your day for my consideration.”

“It gave me a good excuse to get out and take my new baby for a spin. We’ll put your bags in the car, and I will deliver you to one of the Clan houses in the Garden District. The trolley can take you to the Canal Street Ferry that will take you straight to Algiers Point, and the Bèl Bato shipyard.”

“I appreciate all your help. You did not have to put yourself out on my account.”

“No trouble. I needed to get away for a few days. My Chief of Staff may have needed time to absorb some changes we discussed, so we’ll be sharing the house for a day or two. I can show you around … Help you settle in before I go back to the Manor. We’ll be expecting you to visit the Manor, and regale us with tales of your Clan and Africa.”

Time seemed to fly by as he collaborated with the craftsmen at the shipyard, explored New Orleans, and escaped the summer heat by visiting Sylum Manor. He enjoyed the wide variety of visitors that felt comfortable enough with the upper echelon of the Clan to arrive on the Manor’s doorstep knowing they were welcome. It made him homesick for Cape Town. It caused him to count the days until his schooner’s completion.

 

~ Falling Leaves (November) Moon 1918, New Orleans, Louisiana ~

 

James Lucas Yeo was a very satisfied man. Looking at his beautiful new schooner, he simply enjoyed the excellent workmanship. He hoped her handling was as beautiful as her looks. As he watched, the workers got ready to launch his schooner from dry dock. Grabbing up the bottle of champagne he brought for the occasion, James Yeo christened his boat The Dintle (Beauty).  Seeing her riding on the current of the Mississippi River, the former Commodore couldn’t wait to feel her deck under his feet. Now all he had to do was find a crew to sail her back to Cape Town, but that could wait until tomorrow. Today he just wanted to enjoy his new boat.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

After christening The Dintle, James grabbed the ferry back to Canal Street. Before catching the trolley back to the house, he stopped at the Harbormaster’s office to post a notice for people to crew his boat back to Cape Town. He spent several minutes chatting with the Harbormaster about all the rules and restrictions that had been enacted to help curb the influenza epidemic that were being lifted on Armistice Day. The war and the epidemic would be declared over on the same da

James had been surprised at how Nicolaus and Thomas had marshalled the Clan and their resources to help the sick and dying from the Manor to New Orleans. With so many people ill, James helped in the shipyard, and pitched in to help Sylum’s efforts in the New Orleans Garden District as well.

Now all he needed was a few able-bodied men, that hadn’t just fought for their lives against influenza, to help him sail the boat to Cape Town. Bidding the Harbormaster a good day, he headed for his lodgings.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Tristan was bone tired. He’d come into New Orleans on the train from Chicago only to find the state of Louisiana recovering from an influenza epidemic. He found a boarding house in the Garden District owned by an older couple, Violet and Otha O’Haver. They treated him as though he were a long-lost relation, which had initially aroused his suspicions. When he realized the couple were truly that open and welcoming, he relaxed. He also realized the couple were becoming ill. So, Tristan rolled up his sleeves to care for the couple, their home, and animals. He felt it was the least he could do for them making him feel so at home.

Seeing the pictures around the parlor and living room, Tristan asked if there was someone he needed to contact about their illness. Giving the blond a wane smile, Violet told him their daughters married, and moved to Baton Rouge and Atlanta with their husbands. Otha gave him an address, a description of a house three streets over he’d seen on his evening strolls through the District. He told Tristan to leave a message for Dr. Timothy Mason or his nurse Clara Barton to come by the house.

He hated to leave them alone long enough to deliver the message, but there was no choice. Leaving a pitcher of water and chamber pots in reach, he headed toward the ‘big’ houses in the District. Using the wolf’s head door knocker, Tristan took a step back when an older gentleman dressed like he was going to a wedding or funeral opened the door.

“Can I help you?” The accent was English and as formal as his dress.

“Yes, Sir.” Tristan brushed his hair out of his eyes. He’d left the house so quick, he’d forgotten his hat. “I’m staying three streets over at the O’Haver’s. The Mister and Missus have taken ill, and ask me to leave a message for a Dr. Mason or Miss Barton to come by when they could spare the time.”

“I see. Come inside while I fetch Master Timothy.” The man stepped back to let Tristan in the door.

“I really need to get back. They’re on the uphill side of the influenza, and I don’t want to leave them too long.”

“I see. I will send the doctor and nurse along shortly.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

Thomas Efford watched the young man sprint through several yards to shorten his journey back to the O’Haver’s boarding house. He went in search of his charges.

Back at the house, Tristan moved through Violet’s garden collecting rose hips, willow bark, and several other leaves, roots, and flowers One Stab had taught him were good for lung problems, and the body in general. The nice thing about a place without winter was having access to healing plants year around. Leaving his bounty in the kitchen, he climbed the stairs to check on his hosts.

“I delivered your message to a real proper gentleman that answered the door.” Tristan talked while he checked over his patients. “He said he’d send the doctor along directly.” He backed away from the bed toward the door. “I’ve found a few things in your garden that a Cree Elder taught me would help heal a body.” He gave them a soft smile when he spoke of the Elder.

“We’ll be fine for a while. You go do what’s needed. Violet and I will be right here.” Otha shooed their boarder out the door.

Tristan had just set the tea service on Violet’s nightstand when he heard a knock on the door.

Through the glass he could see a petite red-haired woman and a dark-haired man with a heavy beard.

“Can I help you?”

“Dr. Timothy Mason and Clara Barton. Thomas said Violet and Otha are ill?”

“Come in. They’re in their room. Pardon my manners. I’m Tristan Ludlow. I’m renting a room from the O’Havers when they took sick. I’ve been trying to look after them and the house until they get back on their feet.” Closing and locking the door, he led them up the stairs.

Timothy and Clara exchanged a look behind Tristan’s back. Letters they had received from Benoit had mentioned the name Tristan Ludlow as the Mate of Medjai Hunter, Anasazi. They noticed a bone handled Colt stuck in his belt at the small of his back, and a knife sticking in his boot.

“Anasazi’s a lucky man.” Timothy whispered Vampire soft.

“He better get on the ball before some woman grabs a hold of all that.” Clara grinned.

Once he saw the O’Havers were comfortable with the doctor and nurse, Tristan excused himself to take care of the animals while someone was in the house with the older couple. Thankfully, Violet had already put in her grocery order for the week so he didn’t have to figure out supplies for the house. He’d put a chicken to simmer that along with some fresh vegetables and herbs, would make a light meal for the convalescing couple.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

This wasn’t the first place Tristan had stayed that had electricity to power the lights, but here it also heated water, and kept food from spoiling in an icebox that didn’t need actual ice. It certainly made city life easier.

Tristan had run out of things to do, but the doctor and nurse were still upstairs. Worried things were worse than he thought, he made his way back up the stairs to the O’Haver’s room. He heard Violet asking about the health of Chosen Ones, but didn’t hear Dr. Mason’s answer. Tapping on the door caused the conversation stopped.

“How are the patients, Doc?”

“They’ll be fine. The O’Havers were in a group of people that were injected with an experimental vaccine against influenza. They’re experiencing a bit of a reaction. Use aspirin, and the usual things you would for the cold symptoms. They should be up and about in a day or two.”

“Good. There’s a pot of soup and some fresh bread in the kitchen if you’d like to eat before your leave.” Suddenly shy, Tristan ducked his head. “I’ll fix you a tray.” He slipped out of the room.

“Such a nice boy.” Violet gave Tim a look. “Not many boarders would take responsibility to care for strangers.”

“Has he said why’s he’s in New Orleans?” Both Vampires kept their hearing tuned for the returning Tristan.

“Said he’s looking for a boat to Africa.” Otha offered.

“We think we might be able to help him out.” Clara looked at Tim, who nodded.

Tristan got Violet and Otha settled with lap trays then offered to walk Dr. Mason and Nurse Barton to the door.

“Mr. Ludlow.” Everyone stopped when Tim paused in the doorway. “Otha said you’re in search of a boat going to Africa.”

“Yes. I sailed growing up, and I served on fishing boat, Nordlys, out of Gothenburg.”

Two sets of eyes widened to hear the blond had sailed with Liefr. The Norwegian was notorious for chewing crew up and spitting them overboard on a regular basis.

“A friend of ours just launched a new fishing schooner, and is beginning to look for a crew to sail her back to Cape Town. Come by the house in three days around two in the afternoon, and talk to Captain James Yeo.”

“Thank you, Dr. Mason.” Tristan extended a hand to the doctor and nurse.

“You’re welcome, Mr. Ludlow.”

The Vampires headed back to the house giddy as teenagers. The Mate had survived Liefr, and they got to meet him before Anasazi.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Anasazi,  

New Orleans had an interesting visitor in the middle of the month. Probably a good thing he came after the worse of the influenza epidemic, though he looks like he’s a survivor. All I can say is you are a lucky man, and I don’t know why you haven’t drug him back to your tent. The man is so pretty I was afraid we would have to lock him in the tower of the Garden District house to keep the city’s mothers from kidnapping him.  

The Clan had a chance to give him the once over as he rented a room from a Chosen couple in the District. Even Thomas warmed to him. Said it was nice to be around such a polite young man. He has a kind heart, but a wild and dangerous spirit. Reminds me of that black brute Nico rides, and I’m not talking about his Model T.

Tristan left yesterday on a fishing schooner under the command of Captain James Yeo from Ghost and Darkness Clan. The Dintle is headed to her home port at Cape Town, and should probably make port before Christmas.  

If you trip over a slim man a little shorter than six-foot with long hair streaked by the sun and blue eyes, that will be your Mate. Several older Clan members will be quite surprised when they meet Tristan. Wish I could there to see that.  

Good luck. You’re going to need it.

Strength and Honor,

Timothy Quinn  

Anasazi sat on the dusty ground of the corral surrounded by this season’s weanlings. To get them accustomed to being around people, he would spend several hours a day talking or reading. He let the foals’ natural curiosity draw them to him instead of him chasing them down. He made note of several of the braver younglings that were willing to come in touching distance.

He finished the letter from Timothy, cursing the man in the same quiet voice, so not to spook his babies. He’d never hear the end of how his Mate had cut a swath through nearly all the Clans but his. When the ornery black colt he’d delivered tried to snatch the letter from his hand, Anasazi tucked it into an inside pocket and reaching out his hand … Was rewarded by the feel of velvety nose brushing across his palm.

 

~ Eagle (March) Moon 1919, Cape Town, South Africa ~

 

Tristan sat in the taproom of the hotel on the outskirts of Cape Town proper. He’d worked on the boat for Captain Yeo until his permanent crew for The Dintle was in place. Now he was nursing a beer waiting for a man he’d met in his hotel’s restaurant.

The restaurant had been busy to the point of little available seating. Tristan had offered to share his table with a man dressed like most of the people that worked out in the heavy brush. The brown-haired man introduced himself as Jeffrey Durst. When he found out Tristan was from Montana, and a hunter, he offered to introduce him to his boss, Leonard Martin, who ran a company outfitting safaris. Jeffrey gave him the name of the bar where he sat with his back to the wall watching the door. Just as he was about to leave, Jeffrey came through the door followed by a swarthy skinned man with dark hair and a cigar stuck in his mouth. With a wide smile, Jeffrey introduced the two men.

Another drink, and an offer for hard work and good money hunting African animals for rich people had Tristan saying ‘yes’. The men would meet at Tristan’s hotel for breakfast, then return to the outfitter’s compound east of Cape Town. There they’d start preparing for the group coming to celebrate the money they’d made off the war with a big game hunt. The number of permits they’d bought would keep his workers in meat, and the outfitter in money through the rainy season.

Tristan was given charge of the weapons, horses, and mules. Jeffrey and his Swahili assistant, Mosi, the porters, and Leonard figuring camps and supplies between the compound and Maputo where the clients would catch a luxury yacht to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. Leonard would arrange for their trophies to be shipped to their mansions to hang on their walls.

The skills taught him by One Stab, his heavy chaps and work clothes stood him in good stead moving through the African brush. It felt good to be one with land as he stalked his quarry. The joy of the kill, cutting out the warm heart, holding it in his hands, and setting its spirit free.

The porters understood his ways, Jeffrey and Leo even understood, but the rich fools for whom he’d made the kill would never understand. By June, he was once again becoming numb to death. They made Maputo by October, and Tristan was glad to see the back of the group of callous young men who’d never dirtied their hands with work.

Mosi worried about him enough that he assigned his younger cousin, Joshi, as Tristan’s runner. The young man’s high energy and smiling curiosity about America, and wanting to learn English while he taught Tristan Swahili kept the young hunter in touch with the real world.

“That boy always hears sauti katika kichwa chake (the voices in his head).” Mosi told Jeffrey.

“You mean he’s crazy?” Leonard sounded alarmed that the heavily armed man might not have all his faculties.

“No, yeye ni mtoto wa pepo (he is a child of the spirits).”

“As long as he keeps the customers happy he can be the child of whoever he wants.” Leonard wandered off to finish his inventory.

They spent a month at Leonard’s compound outside Maputo, making repairs to equipment, and waiting for the next hunting party. They would be taking the northern route back to Cape Town since they were going to hunt the Kalahari.

Tristan always loved the wild places, and loved hunting to feed his family, but this … He wasn’t sure he understood this type of hunting. Nothing went to waste. The compounds and workers got the meat, the clients got their trophies, and maybe that was what bothered Tristan … Trophies. Hunting was for survival, not for heads to hang on the wall while men told lies about dangerous hunts. To the young American it dishonored the spirit of the animal that had given its life.

The clients they picked up in Maputo could actually shoot their own guns, but couldn’t track worth a damn. Tristan would track the game, then send Joshi back to bring the men to his position. If they missed their first shot, Tristan was there to bring down the target.

They had been in their present camp for ten days, which was five days longer than planned. The big money man in the group, Baron von something Tristan could never remember, wanted an elephant, but the herds were being shy about walking in front of his gun.

On the tenth day, they woke up to find the Baron had left camp during the night. When questioned, the night guards thought he was going to relieve himself even with his gun. It wasn’t wise to walk around without being armed. While everyone else searched around the perimeter for the Baron, Tristan saddled his Grulla mare, Kivuli. He turned, and nearly ran over Joshi, and told him to saddle the horse the Baron had been riding.

Mosi waved them over when he found the Baron’s tracks. Leading their horses, the two men soon joined Jeffrey’s second-in-command.

“Look. See the imperfection in the sole from where the Baron slipped on the rocks yesterday.” The older Swahili pointed out for the tracker. “If he crosses the Krokodilriver into ardhi roho (the ghost land) he could be lost forever. The Elders speak of hunters going in, but never returning.

“Like someone owns the land, or they just protect the animals on the land?”

“The Guardians have protected the land and the animals for more years than our tribe’s Elders can remember. It is said that if you are not welcome, you become a sacrifice to the river and its inhabitants so members of the Guardians’ tribe may pass safely on the waters of Africa.” Mosi finished in a hushed voice.

“I think we’ll be just fine. I’m not so sure about the Baron, but maybe I can put a word in for him.” Tristan gave Mosi a mischievous grin. “Let’s go, Joshi. How far can a fat Baron get in the dark?”

“He wanted an elephant very badly.” Joshi reminded him.

Following the Baron’s trail was like tracking an entire herd of elephants. Stumbling around in the dark had left rocks overturned and branches broken. The men imagined he’d be a mess of scratches from all the acacia bushes when they found him.

They paused as they reached a ford in the river. Looking across the narrow crossing, and seeing boot tracks on the other side told them the idiot had entered ardhi roho (the ghost land).

“Hell.” Tristan whispered.

“Maybe for him, but not for us.” Joshi assured him.

“I know … I’m maria kwa pepo (favored by the spirits).” Tristan rolled his eyes as he urged Kivuli into the water after checking for crocodiles.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

It was close to noon when they finally found the Baron. He was standing behind the wide trunk of a marula tree watching a small herd of elephants browsing their way toward him. The Baron was lifting his rifle to get a bead on the bull when Kivuli swung her head to snort at something off to the left. The Baron remained oblivious.

“You’re a good ways out from the perimeter of camp aren’t you, Baron?” Tristan leaned his arms on horn of his saddle using the motion to grip the handle of his revolver.

“Well you idiots weren’t finding me an elephant.” He snarled still aiming at the bull elephant.

“I wouldn’t shoot if I were you. In fact, I would put my rifle down.”

“Why the fuck would I listen to an American half-wit?”

“If you don’t listen to me, these fine gentlemen will probably take exception to you shooting their elephant.”

“Their elephant! No one owns these elephants. They’re out in the middle of nowhere.”

“They’re on our game reserve, and if you point your gun at anything other than the ground, I’ll shoot you and feed you to my crocodiles.” The older plain faced man in bushman’s hat snarled at the Baron.

The stout man turned toward the new voice, his florid skin turning even redder with his temper.

“Do you know who I am?” He drew himself up to his full height.

“This lion isn’t going to care who you are when he rips your head off.”

A young handsome man bearing a strong resemblance to the older man taunted. As if to let the Baron know he understood, the large black maned lion yawned.

“Thought they were nearly extinct.” Tristan commented.

“Thought horses were afraid of lions?” The younger man grinned at the American as he watched the horse Joshi was riding refuse to come up beside Kivuli.

“Well, she’s a Spanish Mustang that only likes me, so, she’s a bit on the cantankerous side.” The mare stamped her foot and jangled her hackamore as though agreeing.

“What about you?”

“I cut the toe off a pissed off grizzly when I was seven. Not much excites me.” Tristan’s smile was all teeth.

The younger man chuckled as the older man scowled and pulled the hammer back on one barrel of his shotgun.

That was about the time the Baron had enough of being ignored.

“I’ll pay you a godly sum to take the bull from that herd. I have a permit.”

Tristan stepped down and walked over snatching the rifle from the Baron while grabbing a large ear lobe. Dragging the man by his ear toward his horse, Joshi climbed down and held the gelding steady.

“Unhand me you uncouth beast. I will have your job, and see you stripped of everything. This savage will have more than you when I’m finished!” He roared.

That’s when the lion took exception to all the noise, stepped in front of the younger man and gave his own roar. The Baron’s gelding tried to dance away while Kivuli flattened her ears and bared her teeth at the lion.

“I’m trying to save your life, you damn fool.” Tristan hissed.

“He’s a cheeky whelp, but you should listen to him.”

Just as the Baron walked past, the Mustang she planted her hind foot on his well-padded ass.

“You should shoot that creature. It’s a menace to civilized people and animals.”

“I’ll take her company over most people any day.” Tristan fought hard not to laugh as he shoved the Baron up into the saddle.

“We shall take our leave of you fine gentlemen.” Tristan tipped his hat and started to move away from the men. He heard the lion grumble in complaint. Turning to look over his shoulder, Tristan looked at the men, then the big cat. “Nice kitty, but he’s got nothing on a pissed off grizz.” He winked as he swung back up on his horse.

Joshi gave a negative shake of his head when Tristan offered him an arm up on Kivuli. He wasn’t riding no shadow horse with a man that laughed at lions. He started leading the indignant Baron back toward camp.

“Now wait just a minute …”

Tristan ignored both of the sputtering men as he followed Joshi toward the river.

“Dad, let them go. They didn’t shoot anything on our side of the border. Come on. Let’s take care of marking the rest of the border.”

As soon as they got away from the threat of the shotgun and the lion, the Baron started complaining loud and long. Tristan was tempted to push him in the river when he heard a crocodile slap the water, but he didn’t want to ruin Leonard’s record of never having lost a client. He pulled out a rolling paper and pouch of tobacco trusting Kivuli to get them back to camp, he concentrated on rolling a cigarette.

To Tristan meeting the two strange men with a pet lion stirred the voices that had been silent since he left Montana. It would soon turn a new year, and that seemed to be a good time to find a new profession.

Halfway back to the campsite they met the baggage train. There were a lot of questions as they kept moving. After hearing Mosi’s story, Jeffrey and Leonard had convinced the rest of the party it was time move away from the ‘ghost land’ before they all ended up as sacrifices to the crocodiles. An added bonus of the morning’s events was a greatly subdued Baron. It made the trip more enjoyable for the cronies he had insisted come along.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

December 12, 1919

Dear Susannah,  

I’ve become a hunter. Tell Stab there are creatures here that cannot be found in books, and I have killed them all.

Susannah Fincannon read the rest of the letter to Colonel Ludlow and One Stab. The elder Ludlow had suffered a stroke after arguing with Alfred over Tristan’s leaving. He was just now regaining enough strength to relearn how to walk and talk. Isabel Too had taken over his care, but being heavily pregnant with her first child made it difficult, so Susannah had stayed at the ranch while Alfred remained in Helena.

Tucking Tristan’s letter away in the bottom of her stationary box, she wondered when she would get the letter the inform them that he had found a home, and would only return to Montana to visit. She should marry Alfred and forget all this foolishness with Tristan. Even though the tone of his letter had seemed sad, he was a wild thing, and she enjoyed her creature comforts too much to throw convention to the wind.

 

~ Old (February) Moon 1920, Casablanca, Morocco ~

 

Tristan watched as the deckhands lowered Kivuli to the dock. He’d strapped her in the sling since she wouldn’t allow anyone near her. He’d raced down the gangway so he would be the one to help the ornery mare once she had her feet.

The two had taken to each other the minute he’d stepped into the corral at the safari outfitter’s Cape Town compound. When he’d questioned Jeffrey about how an American Spanish Mustang had ended up in South Africa, the older man told him a story about a Texas cattle baron that insisted on bringing his own horses for his safari. He touted the toughness of the Mustangs that had run wild on his family ranch since the time of the Conquistadors. The mare belonged to the man that rode ramrod on servants, luggage, and animals for the cattleman. The man had died protecting his boss from a charging warthog. No one else could handle the horse, so they’d left her behind.

When Tristan informed the partners that he was no longer interested in hunting animals for sport, they’d presented him with a sizeable sum of money for the two safaris he worked, and Kivuli, along with her tack that been left behind. He’d thanked the men for everything, and headed into Cape Town to find James for advice on a ship to take him and Kivuli north.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Entering the fishing fleet’s office, Tristan heard two men and a woman’s voice coming from the inner office. Before he could announce his presence, James was coming out of the office with a warm welcome.

“Tristan! It’s good to see you again.”

“It’s good to see you, James. If you’re busy, I can come back later.” Tristan offered.

“It’s fine. Just trying to help some family who are looking for a ride to Morocco. I was concerned about them traveling alone. There are many small wars going on all across Africa as the Europeans attempt to grab all the land they can hold.”

“I’m looking for passage to Morocco myself … Me and my horse. I know that makes it harder …” He trailed off as the couple came out of James’ office.

“Ah. Members of my Clan. This is Ababuo, one of our fiercest Hunters, and her Mate, Sebastian de Rosa, who is an archeologist.” He paused for a moment as though something occurred to him. “Tristan, would you be interested in traveling with Ababuo and Sebastian to add another set of eyes to their expedition?”

“You are a hunter not a warrior?” Tristan gave the beautiful woman a confused look.

“I have been both for a while now.” Ababuo winked at James and Sebastian.

“Do you work for the safari outfitters? I just finished a job for Leonard Martin.”

“A good man. A taskmaster, but he cares for his people.”

“You know him?” Tristan tried to figure out why he seemed to be having two conversations.

“Not personally, but the Clan knows of all the outfitters in South Africa. Robert and his boy, Owen make sure they are all aware of the boundaries to our Reserve.” James chuckled.

“Father and son?” Tristan’s thoughts turned inward. “Huge black mane lion?”

“You have met?” Ababuo looked momentary alarmed.

“In passing.” Tristan chuckled. “Do you still hunt?” He asked Ababuo.

“Only very special Hunts.” She pushed her hair back exposing the scarring on her cheek. “You say you quit Leonard?”

Tristan never turned a hair at her ritual scars. “Yeah. Killing all those beautiful animals so some rich fat man can hang their heads on a wall seemed dishonorable to the spirit of the animals, but it did get me Kivuli.”

“Of course, she can travel with us. The expedition will take care of your expenses, and provide you with a stipend.” James broke into their conversation before Tristan and Ababuo started trading stories.

“What kind of expedition?” Tristan asked cautiously.

“An esteemed colleague is conducting an archaeological excavation in Morocco. He needs to return to Paris to answer to his superiors, and has asked me to continue his work until his return.”

“Morocco is where I was headed anyway. A job makes the trip sweeter. Now, I only know about archaeology what I’ve learned in school, but I can protect and hunt for the camp.”

“It’s settled then. You let the archaeologists worry about grubbing in the dirt while you and Ababuo keep everyone safe and fed.” James glared at the couple.

Since the young American didn’t seem uncomfortable with a mixed race couple, Sebastian was grateful for the extra help. He continued to observe the handsome young man as James gave him directions where and when they’d be leaving. One the way out the door, Tristan stopped to shake Sebastian’s hand. They were surprised when he offered his hand to Ababuo.

“Nice to meet you folks. I look forward to traveling with you. Maybe you can teach this cowboy a thing or two.” He gave them both a boyish grin.

They watched out the window as the blond took a few minutes to speak to his horse. With the grace of a person who’d spent most of their life in the saddle, Tristan swung up on the mare and rode off toward the hotel. The couple turned as one on their Clan brother.

“What is so important about this American that you are sending him out as a protector to two trained Vampires?” Ababuo glared at former British Commodore.

“I’ve been hoping for the past year Tristan would make it to North Africa. Now, it looks like I can finally get him there.”

“Why do you care if he goes to North Africa?” Sebastian leaned against his wife.

“He’s the Mate to a Medjai Hunter.”

“You know this, how?”

“Remember when I went to pick up The Dintle?” The couple nodded. “Through a series of coincidences, if you believe in that sort of thing, Tristan became a crew member that helped sail to boat home. Nico and Timothy knew of the young man because he had been watched over by Tallikut Clan until he left home for the war. Anasazi had seen the boy the night he was born, and asked Benoit to keep an eye on him until he was grown.”

“You are hoping the Gods will bring them together?”

“This young man has woven in and out of the realm of most of the Vampire Clans during his short life. He is a bright flame, and I would like to see him Mated before someone tries to snuff out that flame.”

“It shall be as you wish, James. If Anasazi is not at the Kasbah, then perhaps we will travel to Italy by way of the Medjai compound.” Ababuo wrapped her arm around Sebastian’s. “Come, Husband, we need to finish gathering supplies.” The Hunter pulled her Mate out the door.

Smiling at their antics, James sent an entreaty heavenward for the Human. There was nothing worse than a bunch of Vampires trying to play matchmaker.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

~ Eagle (March) Moon 1920, Casablanca, Morocco ~

 

It was smooth sailing from Cape Town, but Kivuli wasn’t the only one happy to get off the ship and be able to stretch. There were men with wagons waiting for them, and greeted Ababuo and Sebastian with familiarity. Tristan stood off to the side and watched, learning who was who and where they fit in the big picture.

The man who introduced himself as Ali seemed to be the one in charge. Soon the supplies were loaded in the wagons and they were winding their way through the busy streets to the Colonial section of town. Tristan and Kivuli brought up the back the procession, watching for trouble, and giving the friends a chance to talk without a stranger making things awkward.

When they pulled into the courtyard of a building that covered an entire city block. The stables surrounding the courtyard looked like something from a king’s stables.

“Damn, Girl. We’re not in the bush anymore.” Tristan muttered to his horse. As the groom came toward them, black ears flattened, and large white teeth were displayed. “Hang on there, Brother. She’s a mite touchy about strangers handling her. You just direct me to where you want us, and I’ll take care of her.”

The same man was waiting when he stepped out of the stall and grabbed his saddlebags. If not for his tracking skills, Tristan was certain he would have been lost at the second set of stairs.

“This will be your suite while you are here. He pointed over the railing to the courtyard. “After you have cleaned up from your trip, the family usually gathers in the courtyard for refreshments before dinner.”

“Thank you …”

“Samir.”

“Thank you, Samir.”

The man nodded in acknowledgement before leaving him to his own devices. Turning to look at his room, his jaw dropped when he realized the size of his suite. Samir hadn’t said what time they were supposed to be in the courtyard, so he bathed, shaved, and changed into fresh clothes. He’d no sooner settled into a chair than a tea service appeared, and the servant poured him a glass of hot tea.

As Tristan enjoyed his tea, he studied the beautiful carvings, the mosaic work, and the music of the fountain in the courtyard.

“When you live in a country with limited rainfall and deep wells, water becomes the center of your life.”

Tristan turned to see a beautiful woman on the arm the man who introduced himself as Ali.

“Understandable. You have a beautiful home.”

“Thank you. I am Marjanah. You have already met my husband, Ali.”

“Pleasure to meet you, ma’am. If the others haven’t told you, I’m Tristan Ludlow, and I’m sure James sent me on this expedition because he felt sorry for me and wanted to get me out of Cape Town.” Tristan presented them with a shy grin.

“Hardly a charity case, Tristan.” Marjanah cooed. “I understand you are a man of many talents.”

“Thank you. I hope I can be an asset to the expedition.”

“I am certain things will turn out very well. I know you will be leaving early tomorrow, but I hope you will enjoy our home.”

“Thank you. I appreciate your hospitality.”

It was an interesting dinner where everything from woodworking to politics were discussed. Tristan made a last trip to the stable to check on Kivuli before calling it a night. The next morning, he grabbed a quick breakfast before going to the stable to help get the horses ready. Ababuo and Sebastian went over their route to the dig with Tristan. Sebastian took the lead, Ababuo rode near the middle of the wagons, and Tristan took rear guard.

It took two days to make it to the capital city of Rabat where they spent another night in a luxurious house. Tristan didn’t know what this Clan thing was everyone was involved with, but it certainly paid well.

Eight days later, they entered the camp for the archaeological dig at the ancient city of Volubilis. Sebastian was over the moon, but Tristan and Ababuo exchanged a look that said, ‘What can you do?’

Once everyone was settled in, any time Cook got low on fresh meat, Tristan would go out and come back with an antelope, deer, or braces of hares. Ababuo decided he was going to be her sparring partner since Sebastian was too immersed in dirt and pottery shards to practice. Tristan was never so bruised in his entire life. Whatever she hunted it certainly made her a hell of a fighter. The last time he ended up eating this much dirt he was in basic training, but he was improving. Until the day she pulled out the swords.

“What?” She asked Tristan with a gleam in her dark eyes. “I must keep in practice, and teaching you will make sure my own form does not get sloppy.”

On occasion when he walked the perimeter, he’d find Ababuo or Sebastian out in the dark with one of the workers, and at other times with each other. He took to avoiding those spots when one or the other of them weren’t in camp. He’d seen and learned a lot of strange things since he left Montana, and most of them he was able to figure out, but the things he’d seen on the Nordlys, the McManus twins, and now Ababuo and Sebastian … He just didn’t have the context to figure out what was going on, so he tucked it in the back of his mind until he could get the context he needed.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Six weeks after they’d arrived at the dig site, Tristan rode out of camp after breakfast to go hunting. The archaeologist that had gone to Paris would soon be back on site, and Sebastian, Ababuo, and Tristan would be leaving. He wasn’t sure where he was going, or even if he would still be with the couple that had become dear friends. Deciding to worry about that when it happened, he immersed himself in his renewed joy in the hunt.

Riding back into camp with the Moroccan version of a big horn sheep, and a stag, Tristan noticed a paint horse in among the others. The cook and his assistants rushed over to unload their bounty off the pack mule after which, Tristan took Kivuli and the pack mule to the corral for a good rubdown and their dinner. Curious, the paint gelding came over to make friends with Tristan, and check out Kivuli. A stamp and a squeal from the mare had the gelding hiding behind Tristan.

“Not a very brave fellow, are you?” Tristan ran his hand over the velvety nose hanging over his shoulder.

“He is an American Mustang. Usually very stout of heart until it comes to facing a lady with attitude.” A strange voice came from outside the fence.

“Smart boy. Kivuli is a Spanish Mustang left behind by some Texan on safari.” Tristan chuckled as he left the horses to figure out their pecking order.

“Tristan Ludlow.” He pulled off his glove and offered his hand to the stranger.

“Frank Hopkins, though some people call me Anasazi. I am here to deliver messages to Sebastian.” He shook the younger man’s hand.

In truth one of the Amazigh tribes had stopped by the Kasbah for water, and told Anasazi of rumors of deaths by blood loss near Volubilis. There seemed to be new Vampires cropping up without knowledge of their Sires, though a few he’d found since the French, British, and Spanish had colonized North Africa, were zealots to reclaiming their countries from their European oppressors.

Tristan paused as he felt a tingle travel up his arm. He looked up into blue/gray eyes that seemed as though they looked back to the beginning of civilization.

“Anasazi? You were named for the Pueblo people that abandoned their cliff dwellings?” Tristan shoved his hat back to hang by the stampede string.

“It is a long story I will tell you sometime in a more comfortable setting.” His voice held a promise.

“I look forward to it.”

A shout from Cook giving a five-minute warning for dinner interrupted any further conversation.

“I better go scrape off the trail dust and blood, or Ababuo will chase me from the table. She treats me like a son who has forgotten his manners.” Tristan chuckled as he grabbed his saddlebags and headed for the creek that ran close to the corral.

“I look forward to continuing our conversation.” Anasazi gave him a small smile.

Glad to hear one of his oldest friends had accepted his Mate eased some of the anxiety about the man Tristan had become. Reports of his exploits could only tell you so much about a person’s character. He would make an effort to speak with Ababuo and Sebastian to hear their impressions of the man.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Tristan had gained a shadow. He had become accustomed to being alone on his patrols, and hunting trips. Ababuo stayed around the dig and camp, leaving the rest to Tristan. Sitting on top of the highest point, he scanned the surrounding countryside. He felt strange that he was so comfortable with this man he’d only just met. Life had quelled his trusting nature so that he had more in common with his horse than people.

“Why did you come to Africa?”

Anasazi had not wanted to break the comfortable silence, but he would never get to know his Mate if they did not talk.

“See new things … Meet new people. It’s one of the few places that’s not settling every square mile of land as fast as possible. Plus, if you want to go to war, you can find one in just about every country.” His chuckle was bitter.

“Is that what you want … To go to war?”

“No. No, I don’t want to fight anymore wars run by some government. I’ll only go to war to protect my family.”

When Anasazi looked into his Mate’s blue eyes, he felt the weight Tristan carried in his heart. He’d soon take him home to the Medjai, and let the desert heal his spirit. Before he could think of new topic of conversation, Tristan pulled his binoculars out of their case. Tuning Vampire eyesight on the cloud of dust that had caught Tristan’s attention, Anasazi tried to determine if it was friend or foe.

“Looks like the French doc is back.” Tristan tucked away the field glasses, and turned Kivuli down the hill. “I’ll go warn the camp, start packing my gear, and figure out where I’m going next.”

The Vampire shook off his shock at Tristan’s words. *Leave. He could not leave him. He had only just met him. Come on, Anasazi … think. How do you keep him by your side?* Following the black dun mare down the hill, it occurred to him that keeping Tristan would mean a new bloodline for his herd, if she would let any stallion close enough to get her pregnant. Anasazi chuckled at the picture that brought to mind as they made their way back to camp.

 

~ When Leaves Come Out (June) Moon 1920, Kasbah min Aleashira ~

 

Tutankahemen laughed at his frustrated friend. There were signs all around the Kasbah that it was owned by Vampires, but Tristan Ludlow accepted the things he saw, and continued on his way. As verbally challenged as Anasazi usually was due to his lack of memory, he was going to have to actually tell his Mate about Vampires, and what he was to the Hunter.  When he had introduced himself to the young man as Tutan Hamun, his reply had been, “Huh. Like the Pharaoh.” He had returned to the corrals where he was preparing the weanlings and yearlings to return to Egypt. The jeweler had several ideas for new designs based on the impressions he had of Tristan Ludlow.

When Louis Chatelaine returned to Volubilis, Sebastian, Ababuo, and Tristan went with Anasazi back the Medjai Kasbah. The couple were driven to Nador to catch a passenger ship to Rome for a check in with Lealta Clan, before traveling on to Geneva, and meetings with Lamont. Anasazi had convinced Tristan he needed his help to ready the young horses for a 250-mile overland trek to be loaded on one of Sinbad’s ships to travel back to the Medjai compound. Since the war had ended, Anasazi was working to get most of the horses that had been moved to Morocco back to Egypt. This would be the first step.

Before they left on their journey, he needed his Mate Turned and Claimed. He could not risk losing what was right in front of him. Decision made, he went in search of Ziri, the Kasbah’s Chief of Staff.

As it got close to dinner, Anasazi went in search of his Mate. He’d installed him in his rooms over the stables that he used during foaling season. The smell of cigarette smoke caught his attention. Looking up, he saw boots propped on the railing around the balcony attached to his suite. Feet and chair legs thumped on the floor when Anasazi called his name.

“Time to head to the big house for dinner.” He informed the blond.

“Be right down.”

As the two men walked the distance between the stables and main house, Tristan was amazed at the twists his life had taken. When James offered him a position traveling with Ababuo and Sebastian, he’d thought it was out of pity for a man without family or connections to call upon. Now, he was glad he hadn’t let his pride stand in the way of agreeing to the job. The de Rosa’s had become friends that he hoped he would get to see again. The thing that confounded him about the whole situation was Frank … Anasazi.

From the time the man had appeared outside the corral at Volubilis until now, he felt himself drawn to the enigmatic man. Usually he had no problem keeping an emotional distance from people so he didn’t end up doing stupid things like having affairs with his brother’s fiancée, but Anasazi was different. His intuition, or whatever you called the voices in his head, liked the older man, and pushed him to let go the tight rein he kept on his emotions.

Following the man up the stairs to the roof terrace, Tristan was amazed at the transformation. Lanterns and candles created a warm ambience around the table beautifully set for dinner for two.

“I feel like I’m being courted.” Tristan joked as he sat at the table.

“You are.” Even in the low light Tristan could see Anasazi’s blush.

“But …”

“Tristan, please hear me out before you do anything. Enjoy your dinner, and I will tell you that long story I promised you.”

Intrigued, but feeling like whatever Anasazi had to tell him would change his life forever, he nodded his agreement before starting on a wonderful supper. While they ate, Anasazi told him about not remembering anything about his life until he woke up in Egypt. The people who found him took him into their Clan because he looked like the man who was their Head of Security. Tristan laid down his fork, and took a fortifying drink of wine.

“That’s a term I’ve heard before. When I was in New Orleans, Sweden, England, and South Africa, there was talk of Clans, Mates, and Chosen Ones. Then there’s the biting of people on the neck, on the wrist, and they walk around looking like they just had the best roll in the hay of their life.” Tristan blushed darkly from talking about sex. He wasn’t a prude, but it had been a long time since he had any kind of sexual relationship that didn’t involve his own hand or a brothel.

Anasazi grabbed his courage in both hands and prayed Tristan didn’t run when he told him the meaning of what he’d heard.

“That is because we are Vampires. Clans are Vampires that swear their allegiance to a Leader in different areas of the world. My Clan is called Medjai, and is the oldest. Liefr is Mod Kin Clan. Lady Marion and the McManus brothers are Camelot Clan. You also met Timothy and Clara who are Sylum Clan, and the O’Havers are Chosen Ones for the Clan. James, Sebastian, and Ababuo are Ghost and Darkness Clan though Sebastian and Ababuo also belong to Lealta Clan from Italy.” He waited tensely while Tristan absorbed all he’d heard.

“Is there a Clan close to the ranch in Montana?” Tristan asked.

“Yes. Tallikut. I was in Fort Benton the night you were born, and asked they keep watch over you as you grew.”

“Why?”

He saw the frown forming. His worry ratcheted up another notch.

“You are my Mate.”

“Ellison and Tecumseh that befriended One Stab and the Cree at the Reservation.

“Yes.”

In South Africa, there was an older man with a shotgun, and younger man probably his son, with a lion.”

“Robert Muldoon and Owen Grady.”

“What’s a Chosen One?”

“They are people that help us survive. We feed from them in small amounts. They protect us, and we protect them. Some families have been Chosen Ones for many generations, like the people that work here at the Kasbah.”

“How old are you.”

“1,180 years old.” Anasazi was beginning to relax since Tristan was asking the right questions, and asking them calmly.

“Damn you really are the older man in the relationship. Did all the Vampires I’ve met know I was your Mate?”

“No. I did not come and look for you sooner because I lost track of you after you were discharged from the army, and then when you went to South Africa with James.”

“What does it mean for us to be Mates? I know Sebastian and Ababuo are married, but …” He trailed off not knowing what he wanted to ask.

“You are half my soul as I am half of yours. Once we are Mated should one die so will the other.”

“So … Not immortal?”

“Beheading is the only way to kill us.”

“Is this dinner the start of your courtship?”

“Courtship? Oh. Yes. The only thing is … It needs to be a short courtship. I would like to be Mated before we leave for Egypt.”

“You certainly know how to make a boy feel special.” He grinned at his soon to be Claimed Mate.

“I have waited your entire life for you.” Anasazi pointed out. Without a Bond he couldn’t read Tristan, and the blond had a very good poker face. “You’re taking this rather well.”

“I’ve always been something of an odd duck even in my own family. I belonged more to One Stab than I did the Colonel. I think if those two were Vampires they’d be Mates.” He sipped his coffee, and took a moment to savor it. Moroccan spiced coffee may have become his favorite type of coffee. “I’m assuming being Mates means sex?”

“That and we have to bite each other … Exchange blood to build our Bond.”

“Bond?”

“A mental connection between Mates, or a familial Bond with anybody we Turn. You can feel what each other feels.”

“Thoughts?”

“I’ve never heard of a Bond allowing the exchange of thoughts … Only emotions. Maybe if a pair are Mated long enough. No one has ever really done a study of Bonds.”

“So, Vampires have jobs, go to church … Basically live like anyone else.”

“We have good and bad just like Humans. If you were a bad Human you will probably be a bad Vampire. Escape our Hunters long enough, and bad Vampires do sometimes change their spots. Usually because they found their Mate who is not a Rogue.”

“Hunters and Rogues?”

“Every Clan has Hunters. We hunt down the Rogue Vampires that live outside our rules.”

“You’re a Hunter.” Tristan continued to savor his coffee wishing he had one of his father’s excellent cigars.

‘Yes. You can be trained to Hunt with me.”

“That’s why Ababuo kept pounding the tar out of me.” Tristan chuckled.

“She is a fine Hunter for Lealta and Ghost and Darkness Clans.”

“But Sebastian doesn’t Hunt. How does that work?”

“Like any marriage. They love, they fight, they compromise, they fight against bigots that do not believe love is love, and the color of skin or the sex of the person does not matter.” Anasazi ran a finger gently across high cheekbones.

“Yeah. Two men. Unenlightened society. We’ll be under scrutiny as much as they are.”

“That is why the support of the Clan structure is so important. There are brothers, brothers and sisters. We don’t control the package containing the souls of our Mates.”

“I have to warn you, I have nightmares. I almost killed one lover because I was caught in a flashback.”

“We will work it out. Being Mated may help. If nothing else, I will feel your distress, and be able to get out of the way until I get you to wake.”

The temperature had dropped with the sun so they moved into Anasazi’s suite of rooms. A tray of mint tea sat on the hearth with a plate of sweets. Whoever left the tray had taken the time to light the fire laid in the hearth. Slipping off his boots, Tristan settled on the plush oriental rug in front of the fire, and gave in to the temptation of his sweet tooth. When Anasazi settled beside him, Tristan handed him a glass of tea and a piece of his Halwa dyal Makina before leaning against his side.

Confused by Tristan’s easy acceptance of the different relationships among Vampires, Anasazi questioned him further as he snugged his Mate against his chest.

“When Samuel turned five, my mother decided she wasn’t strong enough to survive Montana, and moved back East to her family. I was so angry, this is the first I’ve talked about her since. Father was wearing my ass out for being a petulant brat. Alfred was Daddy’s little man, and Samuel was the baby, and the Colonel’s wife had just left him. Stab took me to live with him on the Reservation when he didn’t have work at the ranch. When he was gone, I would stay with a couple who were kin to Stab. The whole gender thing … Not really a concept with the Cree. They call it ayahkwew, one who is neither male or female, and has both sexes.” Tristan chased his sweet treat with a drink of tea before licking the chocolate off his fingers.

“Thank the Gods. I was not looking forward to having Heather and Evy give us the male on male sex education lecture.” Anasazi murmured in Tristan’s neck.

“They have such things in Egypt?”

“Not just Egypt. Wherever those two are, they are always studying sex in all its forms, good and bad.” Anasazi laughed out loud.

“I think the babies are ready to take to the ship. When do you want to leave?” Tristan relaxed against Anasazi and watched the flames.

“Tomorrow. I need to check with Ziri, find out which Chosen Ones are available.” He placed a kiss on Tristan’s neck.

“This is nice. I’ve forgotten how good it feels to have someone care about you.” The blond relaxed further into his Mate’s embrace.

“We will have this for the rest of our lives.” Anasazi murmured as he nipped the tanned shell of an ear.

“What I always wanted. Someone that didn’t belong to someone else first. Someone that doesn’t have an agenda. Brother vs. Brother. My Mate. I like the sound of that.”

They sat quiet in front of the fire, exchanging the occasional kiss. When Tristan began to doze, Anasazi convinced him to stay the night. Stripped down to their underwear, it did not take long for the men to learn how they best fit together.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

When they woke, it was to find Ziri had been at her efficient best, finding Tristan’s gear sitting inside the bedroom door. Taking care of their morning routines, they were soon having breakfast on the patio. When Tristan left to take care of Kivuli, Anasazi pulled Ziri to the side and explained what he needed. Giving him a wide smile, she assured him everything would be ready.

The men worked companionably with the fifty youngsters they would be taking to Egypt. They had accepted Kivuli as their leader, and the mare looked after them, but accepted no nonsense, even from the young stallions. Anasazi’s gelding was never far from her side in case his help was needed. The pair laughed at the antics of the horses before retiring to the house.

Ziri had outdone herself. The fires in the bedroom and bathroom were lit. Lanterns softly lit the room. Fresh linens were ready … Everything was perfect. Tristan pulled his knife from its sheath and handed it to Anasazi.

“Stab gave it to me when I was old enough to learn how to use it.” Tristan explained with a pink tinge on his cheeks.

“Thank you. I will treat it with the care it deserves.”

“Because you are young and healthy, there will be pain when your body dies, but I will be with you through the pain, and I will be with you when you awaken. We will get you cleaned up, and then teach you to feed.”

Tristan stripped, and climbed into their big bed. Exchanging kisses, learning each other’s bodies, Anasazi waited until Tristan was becoming lost in their emotions before he dropped his fangs, and pierced the strong neck of his Mate. He savored the rich life-giving fluid tinged with anticipation, caring, and passion. As the strong heart began to slow, he felt Tristan begin to panic until he opened his eyes, and saw who was holding him fast. He relaxed and let go.

Anasazi knew a moment of panic himself when he felt Tristan go limp in his arms. He was afraid he’d missed that moment between life and death, and killed his Mate when he saw the long lashes flutter. Grabbing Tristan’s knife, he opened the vein in his wrist and urged his Mate to drink. It took so long to get a response, he nearly shook the blond to get him to drink. He was nearly limp with relief when Tristan finally latched onto his wrist and sucked. He heard his name breathed softly, and then Tristan was gone.

Tristan twitched as though caught in a dream. Anasazi laid aside the paperwork he’d be doing in preparation to ship his babies. Taking the slim body in his arms he waited for the process of Tristan’s conversion to finish. True to his words, he held his Mate through the cramps, spasms, and pain. When it was over, he settled him in a warm bath while he and Ziri changed the sheets, and straightened the room.

Warmed by the heat of the bath, Tristan scrubbed the sweat and blood off his body. Dressed, but weak and wobbly as a newborn foal, Anasazi was by his side in a heartbeat as he used the door frame to hold him up.

“You didn’t tell me I’d feel like the worst hangover ever.” Tristan tried to tease. “I’m really hungry, and everyone in the room smells really good.” He crooned toward Ziri.

“Down boy.” Anasazi kept a firm grip on the new Vampire. “Remember this so you never feel this way again. This is the line where if you step over you could lose control, and kill the person you Feed from. Ziri brought three of her sons, and her son-in-law for you to Feed.”

“Thank you.”

Tristan cupped the smooth brown cheek, and let instinct take over. He thought about how thankful he was this stranger would help him to survive as he sank his fangs into The Chosen Ones’ throat. The blood was warm, rich, and he wanted more until he heard a voice that meant everything to him whispering in his ear. He retracted his fangs, and licked the punctures closed, and in stumbling Tamazight thanked the man. He did the same with the other three men until his hunger was gone, and he felt steady on his feet.

“Thank you, Ziri.” Tristan yawned as Anasazi maneuvered him into the freshly made bed.

Anasazi yelped and Ziri hid her giggle behind her hand as Tristan pulled him down on the bed with him. Pulling away from the tempting body, he put out the lanterns until the only light was from the moon and the dying fire.

“Naem, Ya Hayati (Sleep, My Life).” He pulled his exhausted Mate into his arms.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

The sun had barely begun to chase the darkness from the sky when Anasazi woke to the feel of lips and teeth on his neck then traveling down to begin teasing his nipples.

“Tristan …” He hissed out.

“Hmm?”

Anasazi arched when the hum set more nerves firing erratically.

“What are you doing?”

The sun streaked head lifted from the area of his bellybutton to show twinkling blue eyes.

“At your age, I should think you would know.” He chuckled against the flat belly.

“Not what I meant, smart mouth.”

“Yesterday was the pain … I thought we’d start today with the pleasure.”

His cock went from half-mast to fully erect so fast when the warm mouth closed over it, Anasazi closed his eyes until the blood flow evened out again. Realizing he was practically lying back and thinking of Egypt, the older Vampire tightened his legs around Tristan’s ribs, and with ease flipped his Mate on his back. Talented man that he was, Tristan never stopped his ministrations to his erection that was getting almost painfully hard.

“Tristan, you keep this up, and the pleasure will not last long. It has been a long time for me, Habibi.”

He pulled Anasazi’s face down to latch onto his lips. When they came up for air, the younger man’s expression turned serious.

“Am I really, or is that simply the Vampire wanting its Mate?”

“What?” Anasazi took a moment to clear his head. How could Tristan’s mood and thoughts change with the snap of his fingers.

“Your life … Your love. Is that Anasazi Frank Hopkins or the Vampire?”

“I am the Vampire and the Vampire is me. We are one and the same. It started the night I snuck into the doctor’s office after your birth. When you disappeared from Calais, I reached deep inside my soul to determine if you still lived. When I found that tiny flame still flickering, my relief was infinite. Every letter I got from members of the various Clans gladdened my heart that you seemed to be making your way to me. Rumors of a Rogue Vampire brought me to Volubilis, and the short time we have been together has solidified what started 27 years ago.”

Yanking his Mate down, Tristan went back to what he was doing before his insecurities reared their ugly heads. This time Anasazi happily gave as good as he was getting.

Tristan was lost in a cloud of sensation when he felt something cool and slick spread on his fingers. Turning his attention outward, Anasazi set a bottle back on the nightstand.

“Love me. Fuck me. I want to feel one with you.” His Mate whispered in his ear.

Tristan was so turned on by Anasazi’s words, he nearly lost it. Taking several deep breaths, he put to use the lessons he’d learned in a Rotterdam brothel when he worked for Liefr. By the time his cock slid into the willing body, both men were so close to the edge it would only take a breath to throw them over.

Head thrown back … Eyes closed … Sweat glistening in the pre-dawn light … Tristan was more beautiful than anything Leonardo ever created. Finally, Tristan began to move, thrusting long then short, brushing over his prostrate keeping him constantly teetering on the edge. When he thought he was at the end of his endurance he felt his Mate’s fangs pierce his skin.

Balls deep in his Mate, Tristan savored the feeling. This is what he’d been looking for all his life. This is what was missing with Susannah. This feeling of connection. The feeling of being the most important thing in the other person’s life. He knew without a doubt that Anasazi’s thoughts were for him, about him, that Tristan was the center of his world beyond anything. Awe piling in on everything else he was feeling, he began to pull out and thrust back into his Mate’s body. Long, short, brushing over that sensitive bundle of nerves that amplified sensation had him positioned to push Anasazi over the cliff. Running his fangs over the tanned skin, Tristan settled on a particular spot, sinking his fangs through skin and muscle into an artery. When the first drop of blood hit his tongue, there was a flare of light in his brain, and suddenly Anasazi was simply there. The intensity of his orgasm, his feelings for HIS Mate, the joy of never again being alone. It was all there for Tristan to feel, and as he fell over the edge behind Anasazi, the voices in his head fell silent.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

The sun barely shone from behind the mountains when both men woke. Running a bath, there was smiles, kisses before an enthusiastic Tristan settled down on his Mate’s hard cock, setting water sloshing across the tiles with the hard rhythm the men set. When Tristan’s blood hit his system, Anasazi nearly passed out from the intensity that was his Mate. It took a few minutes for the younger man to regain his senses, but the smile he gave Anasazi was worth a flooded bathroom floor.

Ziri gave the men a warm smile when she served their breakfast, and sent Durya to the Clan members’ wing to clean their room. She knew they would soon leave for Egypt, and it may be a long time before she saw them again. Young Tristan had warmed her heart with his impeccable manners and shy ways with the women, and respectful way with the men of the household. She prayed to the Gods of her mothers for them to remain safe in their journeys.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Always aware of their surroundings, the new Mates knew the only place they were safe to act as Mates and lovers was the safety of the Clan wing of the Kasbah. They leaned on the top rail of the corral watching the young horses.

“We need to leave tomorrow. At best, it will take us eight days to reach Nador. I hope the noise and commotion of the docks do not send the younglings into a frenzy.” 

“I think most will be fine. While you were out checking the mares, we’ve been having noise competitions to acclimate them. The older horses should help when we get to the ship.”

Tristan had made Kivuli the bell mare for the herd of younglings, and they had gotten used to Badru making sure they all got where she led.

“You have done much in a little time to prepare for this adventure, Habibi. You have picked those who will travel with us?”

A blush tinged the high cheekbones at his Mate’s praise. “I talked with your managers. They are sending their best handlers. Mostly their own children. There’ll be ten handlers each with a pack mule and five younglings. They will bring supplies for the Kasbah on their return trip. Their families are all Chosen Ones.”

“Efficient.” Anasazi chuckled.

While he was laughing at Tristan, Kivuli had been standing at the water trough. Curious, the mare walked over to her person. Noticing the other now also smelled like her person, she ran her wet nose over his cheek, letting water dribble down his face into the collar of his shirt. Now it was Tristan’s turn to laugh as Anasazi sputtered, cursing the Mustang in several languages.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

In hopes of deterring bandits, the horses and riders wore colors and markings of the Medjai Clan. Needing to be free to move, Tristan kept his burnoose strapped to his bedroll. Scouting out ahead, he used the lessons Anasazi had been giving him on using his enhanced senses. Noticing shadows where there should not be any, he rode back to the group.

“I think we have trouble waiting over the next rise. Maybe ten or twelve that I could make out. We could probably take a few out from the top of the hill. Maybe encourage the others to find easier pickings.”

“Horses are worth too much to give that easily, but dead and wounded men can be a strong deterrent. They do not usually mess with the Clan since a lot of tribes have family that work for us.”

“You said when you came to Volubilis that you were checking out rumors of a Rogue.”

Tristan looked worried. He had continued his lessons that Ababuo had started. His father had taught him and his brothers fencing, and how to handle a sword on horseback, but taking on Rogue Vampires less than a week after his Turning was not an optimal situation.

“Shoot first. If they are Rogues only a head or heart shot would cause enough damage to keep them down. They would simply get up unless you shot their legs from under them. Their horses’ heartbeats would make it hard to determine Human or Vampire.”

They explained to the handlers what was happening. They moved the horses back down into a corpse of trees along the river before they returned to the top of the rise. The men pulled their rifles from their scabbards, and settled their swords on their backs.

Moving in opposite directions, they hoped to catch the bandits between them. Two shots fired, two bodies fell. Watching men scrabbling to change positions gave them the opportunity to drop two more targets. Their window of opportunity for surprise closed as the bandits returned fire. The next time Anasazi fired, Tristan moved over the rise to a set of boulders putting him closer to the bandits’ position. He could feel his Mate’s burst of anger before he got it under control. He sent back a silent apology as he turned his attention the men below shifting their positions.

Several of the bandits showed self-preservation when they grabbed a horse and headed in the opposite direction. Tristan relaxed thinking they had won the day when Kivuli let out a squeal of anger. Taking advantage of his Vampire enhanced speed, he ran toward the courageous Mustang. Searching for the cause of the mare’s outrage, he saw two of the bandits moving toward the strings of young horses.

Anasazi heard the commotion behind him, but could not take his attention away from the men remaining below. Firing at the few remaining men, convinced them if would be a good idea to follow their compatriots in running away. Satisfied the frontal attack was over, he turned back in time to see Tristan run alongside Kivuli as she charged the two strangers who dared come into her territory. His Mate grabbed the saddle horn and allowed the Mustang’s momentum to pull him into the saddle.

Hoping to distract the men aiming at his Mate, Anasazi fired in the direction of the invaders. Rifle empty, he pulled his pistol whistling for Badru. Scrambling into the saddle, the pair took off after the fleet-footed Mustang.

No longer distracted by stray bullets from Anasazi, the men turned their attention back to Tristan and Kivuli. Tristan seeing two rifles aimed at Kivuli, kicked his feet free of stirrups, and slid to the side, hooking his left leg around the saddle horn so he could use his body to hopefully shield her vulnerable shoulder and ribs. Anasazi pushed Badru harder. Vampire sight tunneled down to watch the bandit pull the trigger … He watched as the bullet struck his Mate in the back. Tenaciously, Tristan kept his hand twisted in the long mane as Kivuli plowed over both men, slid to a stop, spun, and was ready to finish the job until her rider fell under her feet.

Smelling the blood, watching as Tristan didn’t get up, Kivuli stopped and positioned herself to protect her injured owner. Several of the handlers had run out of the trees, rifles at the ready when they heard the shots so close to their hiding place. They ran to the downed bandits in case they were still a threat, but the men had died when iron shod hooves connected with their skulls.

Badru slid to a stop as Anasazi rushed to his Mate only to be brought to a halt as teeth snapped within a hair’s width of his arm.

“Dammit, you stubborn bitch … Let me help him.” Anasazi growled, the smell and sight of blood pushing his Vampire to battle the mare for his Mate. “Tristan … Come Hebibi, wake up and call off your jealous girlfriend.”

The body on the ground moaned, and pushed himself to sit up. “Is it over? Did we win?” He leaned against the black striped leg.

“We won, but you are hurt. Kivuli will not let me see to your wound.”

“Okay.”

Using his right hand, he grabbed the stirrup to pull himself to his knees. Kivuli snaked her head around and nuzzled the back of Tristan’s neck causing him to chuckle as he grabbed a handful of mane and pulled himself to his feet. He leaned against the muscled shoulder trying to push away the pain.

“I really liked this shirt. It was just getting comfortable.”

“You need to take it off. I am sure it can be repaired.”

“I think I need to sit back down.”

“Most people merely have a guard dog … You have to have a guard horse. Let us sit over here.” He looked around to see that the handlers were already settling the horses for the night. Water was heating on a fire, and bodies were being dragged far enough from camp that the scavengers would not spook the horses. Badru was collected, and led away to be stripped of his tack, and turned loose to graze. Kivuli looked between her herd brother and Tristan. Holding out his hand, the mare lowered her head so he could pull off her hackamore. Speaking softly, he convinced the loyal animal to allow Anasazi to strip off her saddle and breast collar. Admonishing her to behave, Tristan shooed her off to join the others.

“Can I take the bullet out of your back, now?” Anasazi’s tone was dry as the Sahara.

“This is going to hurt worse than being shot, isn’t it?”

“Probably, but my knife if very sharp. Know that I would never cause you pain if it were not necessary.” He rested his forehead against his Mate’s.

“I know.”

He leaned forward to give Anasazi better access to where the bullet lodged against his shoulder blade. He barely felt the slice of the razor-sharp blade, but it took everything he had not scream as he dug out the bullet. He looked up to see the three oldest handlers waiting patiently while Anasazi bandaged the wound.

Fed, clean, tucked into his bedroll, head pillowed on his Mate’s thigh, Tristan slept and healed. Anasazi set guards for the night leaving last watch for himself. Just before full dark, he smiled when he noticed Kivuli and Bardu nearby, rumps to the camp, keeping watch over their people. Proud of the youngsters from the Kasbah, Anasazi would send a letter back with them letting their fathers know they had done their training and families proud. With that thought, he fell into a light sleep.

 

~ Young Ducks Begin To Fly (August) Moon 1920 ~

 

Tristan sprawled in his chair sipping coffee. Nightmares had driven him from his Mate’s arms before the first rays of the sun touched the butte behind the compound. Sallah had scolded him quietly for roaming the compound like a restless spirit.

The Medjai Caretaker had taken to the young man, and spoiled and scolded equally. That was why he was ensconced on the patio that was comfortable even in the chill of desert dawn. Good coffee and a plate of his favorite sweets were his only companions.

Looking out over huge oasis that the Medjai called home, he watched Kivuli establish that she was not only the queen in Morocco, but also the queen in Egypt. Tristan found it funny that the feisty Spanish Mustang ruled over the Clan’s high bred Arabians. She was a fierce protector of the young horses she watched over since they left the Kasbah. It was taking time for them to acclimate to Egypt and a new herd.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

The rest of their trip to Nador had passed without any more incidents. Leaving bodies strewn through the Moroccan mountains was an excellent deterrent. Thankfully, the ship had enclosures for the horses on the deck instead of the dark, dank hold. It was less traumatic for the young animals, but kept Anasazi, Tristan and the two older horses run ragged keeping everyone calm.

He had breathed a huge sigh of relief to see the group of black robed warriors that would be assisting them getting the youngsters to the compound. Though there was still a danger of storms, bandits, and snakes, it was good to see the youngsters able to stretch their legs and play in the deep sands.

Thinking back on the afternoon he was shot, Tristan thought he was finally starting to get a handle on just how much his life had changed with his Turning. Originally, he thought the biggest changes were needing blood to survive and having a male Mate, but those changes were quite small when compared to the big picture.

When he left the ranch he’d felt, for lack of a better word, like an orphan. His mother gone, Samuel dead, Alfred ready to shoot him, his father disappointed in his behavior, and … Susannah … Sweet Susannah was toxic. Trouble wrapped up in a burlap bag full of bobcats. Beautiful, passionate, adventurous, smart Susannah. She would have made a good pirate. She was the reason he’d lost his home.

Here in this land, far away from his blood family, he found a family that spoke to his soul. In Montana, he’d been a child of two cultures even though he was white. As a Vampire, he could be a child of many cultures. Vampires needed Humans, but Humans didn’t need Vampires. Humans, as were want to do, formed communities where they protected and sustained each other through generations.

Half-starved from blood loss, Tristan looked up from where he sat as his Mate dug a bullet out of his back with a stiletto to see three young faces showing nothing but concern and respect for a baby Vampire. It humbled him. When he remembered Liefr, Randolph, James, Timothy, Ababuo, and all the other Vampires he’d met throughout his life. He was amazed how the Clans, no matter where they were located would take the time to watch over a child and then the man because he was someone’s Mate.

Feeling blessed instead of damned for the first time since he held his dying brother in his arms, he knew what needed done. Before he got on the ship at Nador, he handed a letter and some money to the eldest of their handlers, and ask the young man to get it on a mail packet ship for him. Walking up the gangway, Tristan felt free for the first time in years.

When they got the horses settled, Anasazi had grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the huge house. Sitting in the exact spot he where he now enjoyed his coffee, were the Clan Leader and Co-Leader of the Medjai, Ardeth Bay, and his Mate, Netjerikhet. Tristan was still wrapping his tongue around that one so he called him by his nickname, Rick.

He’d liked and respected Ardeth with his wry sense of humor. He reminded Tristan of One Stab with his quiet spirit in the chaos of the world. Rick so reminded him of Samuel, he felt the sting of tears. Rick had embraced him, and their friendship had been sealed. There had been no hesitation swearing loyalty to Ardeth and the Medjai Clan.

Anasazi and Ardeth had been watching when their Mates shook hands, then embraced. The signs of kindred souls that had found each other was easy to see. Fear ran like lightning through both men. Rick was a trouble magnet, and Tristan protected those he loved to the end of his life and his sanity. Ardeth and Anasazi snatched their respective Mates away from each other, and dragged them to their rooms in a blur of Vampire speed.

“Frank! What the hell?” Tristan finally dragged his Mate to a stop before he broke through the front door of their house near the stables.

With a growl, the Hunter hefted his Mate over his shoulder and didn’t stop until he dropped Tristan on their bed. Growling and stripping his Mate to his skin, he kept him pinned when he would have twisted away.

“Rick is the biggest trouble magnet in the Clans along with Daniel and Nico. You do not realize the chaos and destruction that will happen.”

He continued to growl, but he was also kissing, biting, and licking. Pinpricks of blood dotted Tristan’s long muscular torso as the thought of his Mate being caught up in one of Rick, Evy, and Jonathan’s adventures made his blood run cold. When Tristan squirmed free so he could join in their foreplay, Anasazi slammed his hands on the mattress and growled in his ear he was not to move.

Tristan was confused by the jumble of emotions traveling down their Bond. Exasperation, fear, confusion, jealousy, love, and a need for his Mate so deep and dark it nearly consumed everything that was Anasazi … Frank.

Seeing Tristan had turned inward pushed the Vampire over the edge. Tristan’s attention snapped outward as pain and pleasure pulled his attention back his Mate. The rock-hard erection penetrated his barely prepared ass.

“Frank!”

“You will not leave me behind. Not when you and Rick are neck deep in trouble, and especially not in our bed.”

Every word was punctuated with a thrust so deep and hard, all Tristan could do was get lost in the sensations in both his body and mind. When he began to chant Frank’s name, he clamped a hand around the base of Tristan’s cock to stop his orgasm. When Tristan began to babble in English and a language Frank barely registered as probably being Cree, he pulled his head to the side, let go of his cock, and bit down to taste the sweetest nectar to ever cross his tongue. As his own orgasm hit, their Bond seemed to take a life of its own as it sought out every dark corner of their minds. Exposing everything to its light, it was as though they had climbed inside each other’s soul.

When they came back to themselves, they remained sprawled across one another enjoying the mental and physical closeness left behind by the Claiming. When Tristan made the same Claim a short time later, neither man was seen until the next morning.

Smiling at the memory of their initial Claiming of each other, he let his thoughts roam to his blood family. Tristan knew he’d return to Montana to visit, but where Anasazi was would always be his home. His thoughts were interrupted by a kiss on the temple.

“Nîcimos (My love). It’s early for you.”

“I woke up to an empty bed. That gives me very little incentive to remain. Dreams?” He asked as he poured a cup of coffee.

“Uh-huh. Doing some thinking.” Tristan still had nightmares of Samuel’s death, but being so closely Bonded to Frank was causing them to fade into the back of his mind.

“What’s on the schedule for today?”

“Getting my ass handed to me by several Humans who have been wielding swords since the cradle. Then if my Mate can tear himself away from his babies, he can help them.”

“Maybe if you work very hard at your lessons there will a trip to the swimming hole … Just you and me.” He leered at his Mate.

“That’s what I call incentive.” Tristan’s warm laugh carried across the courtyard.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Dear Susannah,

I hope this letter finds everyone doing well. Pass my regards on to Father, Stab, and the rest of the family. I fear this missive will be short as I need to return to the tasks at hand. Though I doubt you have waited for me to return to your side after all this time, I am writing to encourage you to carry on with your life as I will not be returning to Montana any time soon.  

I have found a place I truly belong with people who accept me as I am. I have also found the one person whose soul was born specifically for me. You may scoff at the concept of me believing in the Mate to my soul, but I have seen more than one example of such a phenomenon, and have never felt more blessed.  

Marry Alfred, make him the happiest man in Montana, and give Father grandchildren to help keep him young. I’m sure Alfred will take you everywhere you wish to go.  

May you be as blessed,

Tristan

Susannah placed her hand over her mouth to stifle the sound of distress the letter from Tristan caused. She stepped out on the porch to gather her scattered emotions and shattered dreams of a reunion with the most exciting man she’d ever known. The ring flashing on her left hand showed she had wasted time in securing what she wanted, but now she knew those dreams would never come true. Putting on the face she wore for the men paying for her fiancée to be the face of their ambitions, she went back in the house to announce a letter from Tristan and the wonderful news he was in love.

“Does he say when he’ll be home?” Alfred actually sounded like he wanted to see his brother.

“No, just to pass on his regards to everyone, and for us to know he is happy, and will try to stay in closer communication.”

Seeing the light in William’s eyes was worth all the fake emotions she could summon. She and Alfred both carried their share of quilt over the argument that caused his stroke. One Stab simply smirked like he knew a secret the rest of them would never understand. He was probably right. The rest of the family had never truly understood Tristan … Not even she understood Tristan. She simply enjoyed riding the storm that accompanied him.

 

~ Eagle (March) Moon, Liverpool, England, 1925 ~

 

Staring in awe after the two women moving up the gangway, he heard his Mate chuckling behind him.

“They are both a force to be reckoned with.” Frank reached over to pick up their bags.

“I know Evy can travel light if she has to … Is this her way of reverting to her princess-ness?” He asked as he watched the porters loading their trunks onto the cargo lift.

“She’s worn out many a camel in her time.” Frank answered as they followed the Clan’s Second-in-Command and Advisor, as well as being Mates.

Traveling first class with an Egyptian princess and Priestess of Ra was definitely an experience. Tristan had never spent so much time changing clothes in his entire life. Spending their lives studying human behavior and sexuality led to many intriguing conversations that kept the young Vampire’s face red half way across the Atlantic.

Usually Tristan found himself tongue tied around beautiful women, but the calm exuded by Heather and the enthusiasm of Evy for her subject matter put the women firmly in an older sibling/mentor place in his mind. The more he relaxed around the women, the more he revealed about himself until he had told them the entire story of Samuel’s death, and his affair with Susannah.

It wasn’t until he was dressing for dinner that he realized the heaviness that had been his companion for so many years was gone. When he and Frank called for the ladies at their cabin, he bowed low over Heather’s hand, and kissed the gloved knuckles.

“Thank you, Milady.”

“You are quite welcome, my dear.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Shall we go?”

Frank exchanged a look with Evy.

“He should sleep better. Heather is very good at what she does.”

“As long as talking is all she does.” Frank growled as he watched the fall of long blond hair contrasting with the black suit.

“You’re so cute when you’re jealous of your pretty Mate.” She teased.

Growling until they reached the dining room only made her smile.

When they reached the Port of New Orleans, there was a car and a truck waiting to take them, and their trunks to the Manor. Frank and Tristan would be staying in town as they would be boarding a train to Chicago in the morning. They were staying at Sylum’s Garden District house, but Tristan wanted to stop and check on the O’Havers.

The older couple must have been warned he was coming for they met him at the door with open arms, and pulled him into the house, his Mate smiling indulgently behind them. When they left the boarding house, they decided to take the trolley down to the French Quarter. They wondered into The Pirates Cove, the club owned by the Sylum’s Co-Leader, Warrick Brown. Looking around the room, it didn’t seem like America was in the middle of Prohibition. Enjoying the jazz and a drink or two, they finally caught the trolley back to the house.

Tristan would have liked to explore more of the city, but he was anxious to see his family. Now that he was back in the States the voices were pushing him toward Montana. When they got back to the house, it was Tristan that initiated the lovemaking between them … Taking comfort from his Mate and their Bond.

“Tristan, Habibi, what is wrong?”

“Nothing I can say definitively, just an uneasy feeling.”

“Sleep now. We will put your mind to rest soon.”

Using Frank’s shoulder as a pillow, he let the peace flowing through their Bond sooth his mind into sleep.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Watching the scenery fly by the window, Tristan was amazed at the changes that had occurred in only seven years. That thought made him pause. Only seven years. It wasn’t that long ago seven years seemed a long time. Now, it was barely a blink. Amazing how his world view had changed in those same seven years.

Chicago was an insult to his Vampire sense of smell. Frank saw him wrinkling his nose, and reminded him it was good practice controlling his enhanced senses. Feeling mischievous, the blond wrinkled his nose and stuck out his tongue. Both men were laughing as they strolled through Union Station looking for their train.

When they pulled into Fort Benton two days later, Tristan didn’t care if he ever got back on a train. He knew eventually he would have to, but he hoped that was quite a ways down the road. A night in the hotel, dressed in his ranch clothes, he was ready to see if there was still a livery.

Both men breathed a sigh of relief to see the livery with horses and automobiles. Jim Hobarth and one of his sons still owned the business.

“Land’s sake … Tristan Ludlow. We all thought you dead and gone it’s been so long since we saw you.” Jim grabbed his hand for a vigorous shake.

“Been traveling, Jim, but got a hankering to see home. This is my partner, Frank Hopkins. We need a couple horses to get out to the ranch.”

“Partner? What kind of deal you got going?”

“Raising some of those high bred horses overseas.” Tristan hedged.

“You always did have a way with the critters.” Jim looked around as though he was afraid someone might be listening. “Good thing you came back. Things are bad out at the ranch. After you left the Colonel and your brother had an awful fight. Caused the old man to have a stroke. He ain’t been the same since. Alfred went off to the government, taking dirty money from the O’Banion brothers.”

“You saying he let the ranch go downhill?” Tristan could feel his temper ignite.

“Them Indian friends of yours are keeping hearth and home together for your father, but not a penny is making it home from Washington, D.C. since Alfred married that woman that came here with your little brother.”

“We’ll get the horses back quick as we can, Jim. Thank you for letting me know what’s been happening. How’s Prohibition setting on people around here?”

“Not so’s you’d notice. O’Banion’s own the sheriff and the cops. Their boys are running bootleg hooch in from Canada.”

“You’ve always been a good friend, Jim. Take care of yourself.”

“Always do. You boys be careful … Lot of riff-raff running around these days.”

Jim’s son came forward with their horses. Buckling their scabbards to the saddle, the men strapped their gun belts in place before settling in their saddles. Keeping his hat low to hide his features, Tristan took the long way out of town to get feel for the changes. People seemed tense, fearful, and keeping to themselves. Not the open, welcoming town he’d left seven years ago.

“Not good.” Frank muttered low for Vampire ears.

“Nope. Let’s go see the Colonel and Stab.” Tristan kicked his horse to a jog once they were out of town.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Tristan noticed as they rode through several bunches of cattle that they were still in the winter pastures near the house. The calves looked good, but he could see some of the cows had a bit of age on them.

“Looks like first thing will be spring round-up.” Frank stopped his horse next to Tristan’s.

“Yeah. We’ll come out and get the horses before dark.” Frank felt a wave of guilt across their Bond. “Maybe I should have come back sooner.”

“You were not ready to deal with all this sooner.” Frank countered. “You have no cause to feel guilt. You cannot help others if you are in a bad way.”

“Have I told you lately that I love you, Nîcimos?” He turned his horse toward the house.

“Not since I swallowed your screams this morning.” Frank liked seeing the blush on the high cheekbones. Tristan was like running in front of a desert haboob … All wind, fury, and stark emotions. There was nothing blurry about what came across the Bond with his Mate. He always knew exactly where he stood with the young Vampire.

When they stepped down off their horses, and tied them to the fence, One Stab and Roscoe came out of the house carrying their rifles. Tristan pushed his hat back so they could see his face.

“Stab … Roscoe?” Tristan stopped walking toward the porch.

“Tristan?”

Roscoe paused to ask, but One Stab was already in the yard taking the blond in his arms. Pet and Isabell Too rushed past him before he got his wits together. He soon joined the others welcoming the prodigal son home.

Finally, Tristan was able to look toward the front door to see his father, wrapped in his bear skin coat, face pulled to the side, a child sized chalk board hanging around his neck.

“Father?” Tristan ran up the steps to wrap his arms around his father.

Tristan was so used to the strong vital man his father had always been that he could feel his heart break to see him in this condition. The good thing was he was alive … He could work through everything else.

He stepped back unashamed of the tears running down his cheeks. “Father, this is my partner, Frank Hopkins. Frank this is retired Colonel William Ludlow, Roscoe Decker, his wife, Pet and daughter, Isabell Too. This is venerated Cree Elder, One Stab.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you all. Tristan has spoken often and fondly of all of his family.”

Frank shook hands all around, noticing William never took his eyes off Tristan. Sensitive ears heard the screech of chalk. The two Vampires looked at the chalk board.

“HAPPY.” It said.

“I’m happy to finally be home. We’ll get this place whipped into shape in no time.” Tristan promised as he turned to pull his saddlebags and rifle off his horse. “We’ll stay in my room, Pet.”

William sat on bench watching as Roscoe and Stab lead the horses to the barn. He took his good hand to dash the tears out of his eyes. *His boy was home. Tristan would figure things out and get the ranch set to rights again. Maybe he could figure out what to do about the O’Banion brothers before Alfred got in with the mobsters too deep to get away.*

He was fascinated about his son’s partner. *Partner in what that he could afford to take time away to travel with Tristan?* The man’s bearing reminded him of Stab, but his eyes were ancient. He’d seen that look in some of the officers when he was in the Army. They had been like minded men that along with him were at odds with the Government Indian policies. Then there was Tristan himself. He didn’t think he’d ever seen the boy so at peace with himself. It appeared that somewhere along the way, the ocean of life had stopped beating against the rocks of Tristan’s spirit.

With Tristan home, it was time for William Ludlow to get off his ass and become the head of his household instead of hiding from the world.

 

~ When The Young Fellow Spreads the Brush (December) Moon, Ludlow Ranch 1925 ~

 

Winter had been kind, so far. Though the temperatures were cold, there had only been a few short-lived snow storms. A letter had come two weeks ago from Washington letting the household know the Alfred and Susannah would be home until Congress went back in session after the first of the year. It would be a much different house this year. Repairs had been made, beef, deer, elk, boar, had been canned or smoked, the garden had yielded them enough that the pantry was bulging, and the herd had been updated with a new bull and younger cows.

With the help of Frank, and a few young men from the Reservation, the ranch had been returned to its former glory. Tristan had run through a good portion of the money he’d carried all over the world until he’d been Turned and Mated. That’s when he set up his first bank account. The expression on the bank manager’s face when he handed him the information to draft money on a bank in Cairo, Egypt was priceless.

On Sunday, when Stab would drive the family to church, Tristan and Frank would saddle their horses and slip off into the mountains to spend the day working with their swords, making love, and simply being Mates. Weekly they would go into town where they would covertly feed on the town’s people … They usually made a point to hunt down the local bully boys, and when they found them out and about, made sure they donated to the Vampires’ continued good health.

In early September, One Stab discovered Tristan’s changed nature. The two Vampires and several young men from the Reservation were using the block and tackle that normally lifted hay into the mow, to lift lumber into the top of the barn for repairs. The weathered rope had snapped under the strain sending the lumber hurtling toward the men on the ground. The Elder had watched the boy he’d raised, and the man he claimed as his partner, move with inhuman speed to save the lives of two of his tribe.

After dinner, Stab found they had dragged chairs off the porch to the edge of the freshly harvested hay field, and were enjoying watching the day turn to night. Each man had a glass of whiskey and one of the Colonel’s good cigars. Their bodies told the aging Cree that they were closer than the story of raising horses warranted. They may be raising horses, but they were more than business partners. As he quietly approached with his own chair, he heard Tristan teaching Frank Cree. The man was catching on faster than most Whites. It was almost like he knew the words, but had forgotten them. Neither man was surprised when a third chair joined them.

“Stab! How are your nephews?” Tristan asked in English. He and Frank had both done a quick check of the men, but it wasn’t the same as a beloved uncle caring for you.

“They are well.” He answered back as he always had in his milk tongue. “This old man has a question for the ‘son of my heart’.” Tristan exchanged a look with Frank, gauging his understanding of Stab’s words. Getting an affirmative nod, the blond turned back to his mentor. “How is it that you and your … Partner, were able to cover the distance from where you were working to where the lumber was falling?”

Tristan rested his forehead against Frank’s shoulder. “Nîcimos?” He said Vampire soft.

“It will be fine, Habibi. Many of the tribes have stories of the Old Ones.” He dropped a kiss on the blond hair. Looking across Tristan at One Stab, he continued in the Elder’s language. “Among my Clan, I am called, Anasazi, and I have walked this earth for more the 1,200 years.”

“Kakîke ka pîmatahk (immortal).” One Stab breathed out.

“Yes.”

“Tristan?”

Throat tight waiting for Stab’s judgment, Tristan nodded. “Môcihitowak (Mate).

“I have seen that he is good for you. Your soul no longer rages like a storm.” One Stab suddenly found his arms full of Tristan muttering in relief at not being rejected for being a Vampire. Seeing the worry in the blue eyes of Tristan’s Mate, One Stab had a few more things to say to this Anasazi. “You will care for his soul? It may be many years for who and what you are to be accepted.”

“We live out in the world, but we also have safe havens and Clans where we are safe to reveal our nature. We cannot stay here for long because Tristan is known, and it will be noticed when he does not age.”

“You will always have a place in my camp.” He paused in thought for a beat. “The ones called Jim Ellison and Tecumseh?”

“They belong to the Clan near the border with Canada. They keep watch over the reservations, and they would check on Tristan. I knew the night he was born he was my Mate.”

Ruffling the blond head that was buried against his neck, One Stab pushed Tristan to his feet. With a final hug and sharp nod, he gathered his chair and returned to the house. Tristan collapsed in his chair, taking a fortifying drink from his glass. Shoulders touching, the Vampires watched the Milky Way put on its show.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Tristan and Frank helped Pet and Issy with the heavy work needed to prepare rooms for Alfred’s family. With two children and no partner to help, Issy had been taking on a larger role on the ranch as her parents aged.

A beautiful Fraser fir occupied the corner of the living room as the chill wind whistling past the house made everyone reluctant to venture outside. Tristan worked on the ranch’s ledgers with Frank settled nearby with a book when the sounds of an automobile engine cut through the sound of the wind. Both men grabbed their hats and coats, sticking their guns in the waistband of their pants. It wasn’t wise to travel unarmed with O’Banion’s men causing trouble in the area. As they stepped out onto the porch, Roscoe, armed with a rifle, watched from the door.

Everyone relaxed their vigilance when Alfred stepped out of the vehicle. It was awkward and confusing until everyone and all the luggage was inside warming by the fires. Frank stayed in the background … Watching and letting his Mate handle his family. Seeing William reconcile with his oldest son brightened the older man’s spirit. His health had improved vastly since their arrival at the ranch, but Tristan worried Alfred would still be holding a grudge against him. Feeling his relief through their Bond even after accepting a hug from Susannah, helped the older Vampire be more cordial with the couple.

After the family had gone upstairs to get settled, Frank and Tristan returned to their previous activities after raiding the kitchen for coffee and cookies. The ledgers had been secured in the safe, and the men were cleaning up their dishes when Alfred came into the Colonel’s office. Looking around he seemed surprise to see the desk clear of bills and receipts.

“I thought I’d come down and get the books caught up before dinner.” He tried to sound casual.

“Taken care of. You can relax and enjoy your time with the family.” Tristan moved to step around his older brother.

“How long have you been home?”

“Long enough to do what was needed to keep the ranch running. Didn’t you get reports from your good friends, John and James O’Banion?” Tristan sneered.

“Tristan …”

“You finance your lifestyle with extortion and prostitution so take care with the glass house you’re living in, Alfred.”

Alfred rubbed the back of his neck. “Look, I didn’t come in here to fight. I just wanted to get through the past due bills before I have to go back to Washington.”

“Now there’s nothing for you to do, so you can go spend time with father.” Tristan’s smile was insincere. “You have to excuse me. I need to go take care of the horses. I’m sure you know where to find everything.”

He pushed past his brother carrying the dishes to kitchen before retrieving his cold weather gear and heading for the barn. Frank followed close behind. Pausing at the barn door after finishing the chores, Tristan pushed his Mate into the shadows long enough to steal a hard kiss

“I miss the desert.” His voice was tired as they trudged back to the house.

Using his Vampire senses, Tristan spent most of the holiday season avoiding Susannah. They took their meals together, but he did the best he could not to be left alone with her. Having children in the house helped, but the weather was against him. Not wanting to interfere with his father’s interactions with the couple, he took to spending a lot of time checking the cattle and horses in winter pastures.

Several times Frank drug his cranky ass to the hay mow, and staked a proper Claim on his Mate. Not knowing where Alfred’s political career was headed, and knowing that he and Frank couldn’t stay on the ranch until the Colonel died … The Vampires came up with a plan.

 

~ Frog (May) Moon ~ Somewhere near the Canadian ~ US Border, Montana, 1928 ~

 

Two Model T delivery trucks on two different routes moved through the moonlit night. No lights shone to reveal their positions as they neared their destination. Collecting their fees, the trucks travelled through the shadows unseen by watching eyes.

The business Tristan and Frank started over a year ago was a little too successful. Started to build a fund for the running and upkeep of the ranch, and to deprive the O’Banion brothers of an income stream, their bootleg liquor business had a reputation for never getting caught.

Knowing their time at the ranch was limited, Frank took Tristan to Tallikut’s Farm and introduced him to the Clan Leader, Council, and some of the members who were in the area. On the advice of Benoit, Tristan had contacted Harvey Specter, who had complained incessantly about the lack of amenities until he got the ranch.

The man might love his creature comforts, but he was terrifying as a lawyer. The Colonel and the ancient Vampire had sized each other up, and quickly came to an understanding even with William’s limited capacity for speech.

Tristan knew his father’s pride had taken a beating after his stroke. So, when he’d glared at his son like something on his boot from the corral, Tristan had fled to Samuel’s grave to talk with his baby brother. Hours later, Frank finally found his Mate, chilled and distressed.

“Come back to the house, Habibi. Harvey has explained the facts of life to your father.” When blue eyes widened thinking they’d told him about Vampires, Frank quickly put his mind at ease. “Not the Vampire Primer … the facts about his health, and the disposition of the ranch since Alfred is not here full-time.

Unresisting, he taken Tristan back to the ranch house. One Stab had taken one look at his wane appearance, and shoved his wrist under the young Vampire’s nose. When searching blue eyes had met his, the Elder had pulled the blond head against his chest in an offer of comfort.

“Drink, Little One. Grow strong for tomorrow’s battles.” He murmured in Cree.

Taking what was offered, Tristan infused all the feelings he’d never voiced for the Cree foreman into the Feeding. Tears welled in the old man’s eyes as he felt Tristan’s tongue lick over his wrist. With a final hug, he turned his boy over to his Mate.

The night before Harvey left, Tristan had one more favor to ask the lawyer. “I need you to stop by Washington and see my brother, Alfred. Explain all this to him.”

“What does your brother do in Washington?” Harvey arched an eyebrow at the blond.

“He’s a Congressman for Montana.”

Harvey wrinkled his nose like there was a bad smell. “Who are his backers?”

“The O’Banion family.”

“Lovely. Irish mobsters. Can’t even get away from them in Montana.”

Frank and Tristan gave him shark’s smiles. “The brothers are having a downturn in the state of Montana.”

“Be careful. You do not want to die before everything is in place.” Harvey warned. “I’ll try and talk some sense to your brother. See how into them he is. I may be able to find a way to get him out without anyone dying.”

“I would appreciate that, Harvey. It’s good to know I won’t have to worry about the Colonel when I’m not here.”

“Beginning to modernize, and getting into hay and grains will go a long way to keeping the ranch viable. Humans are always crazy about natural stuff. Grass fed beef, natural fruits, and grains. Especially rich people. They think it will make them live longer.” The Closer snickered. “Gentlemen, I bid you good night, and I will see you bright and early to leave for the train station.”

Setting down his drink, Harvey left the younger Vampires to finish their drinks, and enjoy a bit of time to themselves.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

After seeing Harvey off at the train station, they stopped by the post office and mercantile. Among the mail was a letter from Susannah saying they would be home … Tristan paused to remember the date, by the end of the week. He and Frank were also making their last runs this week. It was no wonder the voices in his head were chattering like magpies.

Back at the ranch, after talking with Frank, they decided to keep their schedule, but keep a low profile until the runs were finished. Having their Congressman home to campaign would keep most everyone’s attention on the ‘lovely young couple’.

“It’s almost over.”

Tristan lay boneless across his Mate’s chest. Frank pried his eyes open to stare at his Mate. The boy had thoroughly worn his ass out, and now he wanted to talk. The Vampire still glowed in the sapphire eyes confirming the anxiety he felt in their Bond.

“We have done all we can to protect the ranch and your family for the future. We know a confrontation is coming with O’Banion’s. They are losing face. People are no longer intimidated.”

They were both aware that many of the men that traveled from back East as enforcers for the O’Banion family had gone home suffering from unknown illnesses stemming from ‘weak blood’.

“I know, and I’m sorry for being such an agony aunt. I want to be out there with you … Visiting the other Clans … Learning new things, but …”

“You just have that one voice in your head that says you must take care of your family until they die.”

“Yeah.”

“We do take care of our families, but we do it from a distance. At some point Tristan Ludlow will need to die.” Frank lifted his head enough to kiss a bare shoulder. “Let me try again to put your mind at rest.” He growled as he rolled his Mate under him.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Since they had to take two vehicles to town to pick up Alfred, Susannah, and all the luggage a politician needed when they travelled, everybody piled in the Touring car, and one of the trucks. One Stab, as always, drove the Touring car with Tristan in the front. Issy, Pet and Issy’s son and daughter were in the backseat while Frank handled the truck.  Roscoe had stayed at the ranch with the Colonel. The train was on time, and after a lively lunch in town, the caravan headed back to the ranch. Riding through the last canyon before the road broke out along the hay fields, a black car blocked the road. Sitting in the car was John O’Banion, the Sheriff, and four of the town’s corrupt police were on horseback. Tristan stepped out of the car to confront the Irish mobster. As he walked toward the car, one of the officers fired off his machine gun bouncing bullets off the canyon walls.

“Jesus!” Tristan growled.

“Sir, we have information that you’re transporting goods in violation of the Volstead Act.” The trigger-happy police officer barked out.

“Well, if you mean a case of Irish whiskey for my father … I am.”

“I have to ask you to give it up.”

“He’ll be a bit disappointed …”

Tristan was interrupted by a scream from the car. Pet’s anguished scream started the children crying as Tristan hurried to the car to find a ricochet had hit and killed Isabel Too. Pulling the woman he considered a sister into his arms, Tristan’s shouts were as anguished as her mother’s. The Vampire flew to the forefront as Tristan had snatched the machine gun out of the policeman’s hands and proceeded to beat him with it. The other three officers jumped into the fray trying to subdue the out of control man. Several blows to the face and ribs allowed Tristan to rein in his Vampire before he killed anyone else. One officer on the bottom of the pile got ahold of his hair, and pulled his head back until he thought his neck would snap.

Frank nearly wrecked the truck that was chugging up the last rise. The chaos and pain coming through his Bond with Tristan had the elder Vampire fighting to not jump out of the truck and run for his Mate. Alfred gave him a concerned look, but Frank put him off with a head shake.

“Something has happened. I heard shots from a machine gun.”

“Machine guns usually mean O’Banion.” Alfred hissed out not wanting Susannah to hear him.

“Going as fast as possible.” Frank growled.

“Check his pockets.” O’Banion ordered the Sheriff.

“We need to get out of here before the truck with his brother and family get here.”

Not finding any extra money, O’Banion emptied his wallet anyway. Pulling a black jack out of his pocket, James waved it around as he spoke. “My brother told you to stay out of our way.” Hitting Tristan in the head, they left him bleeding in the road as Pet continued to scream out her grief.

“Get him in the car.” O’Banion gestured to the unconscious police officer.

As they pulled away, Tristan pulled himself to his feet, picked up Isabell Too from the car and began carrying her to toward the house. The truck made it just in time to see One Stab following slowly behind with Pet and the children crying in the backseat.

“This is not good.” Alfred muttered.

Frank sent all the love and support the could through their Bond hoping to break through Tristan’s pain and grief. Isabel Too was his little sister in all ways but blood. He considered her children his niece and nephew.

As Tristan approached the house, Roscoe and William rushed out of the house. Seeing his lifeless daughter in Tristan’s arms, Roscoe nearly collapsed, but knowing his wife and grandchildren would need him, he went to the car. While Roscoe took care of his wife, One Stab gathered the toddlers and carried them into the house.

It was a somber homecoming for Alfred and Susannah. Tristan laid her out on the kitchen work table so they could prepare the body for burial. Depending on whether the police officer lived or died would depend on how fast the law came for him. Tristan looked up and caught the expression in the blue eyes of his Mate. Leaving Issy to the tender ministrations of her parents, Frank pulled his Mate out on the porch to clean his face at the outdoor pump.

“You need to Feed, Habibi.”

“Later when things have calmed down. I know the law will be coming for me. We must play this cool or O’Banion wins. Harvey was able to get Alfred out of the clutches of Irish mob, so, he’s clean. If it looks like it’s going bad we’ll get Harvey back out here to take out everyone in O’Banion’s pocket.” Tristan leaned heavily against his Mate, letting his scent calm the emotional chaos running through his mind.

“Your wounds are clean, and already closing. Until you feed, the bruises will heal slower.”

“I can grab a snack on the way to jail.” Tristan let his dark humor out to play while it was just the two of them.

Tristan’s prediction proved right. The day after they buried Isabel Too, Sheriff Tynert showed up without either of the O’Branion brothers. The Ludlow’s, Frank, Pet, and One Stab met them on the porch.

“After talking it over with the judge, and in deference to Isabel’s death … Tristan if you come along quietly you’ll only serve 30 days.”

“Is he dead?” Alfred asked.

“He might as well be. He won’t ever wake up.” The Sheriff saw the glint of satisfaction in the hard eyes that watched his every move.

“I’ll come. Frank, bring me some clothes later?” Tristan winked at his Mate.

“I’ll see it gets done, if that’s alright with you, Sheriff.”

“That’s fine.” He acted like he wanted to say something else, but the way the Colonel was staring with his twisted face was making his skin crawl. He wished he’d never heard of the O’ Banion brothers.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Halfway through the 30 days, the guard announced a visitor. Curious Tristan knew it wasn’t Frank. He’d been at the jail yesterday, and wouldn’t be back for at least a week. Seeing each other without being able to physically connect made them both cranky. When he saw who his visitor was, he wanted to growl.

“Susannah, what are you doing here?” Tristan stood in the back of the cell wanting no question of propriety.

“This is the only way I can get you alone to talk.” She pouted.

Tristan squashed the urge to roll his eyes. “Where’s Alfred?”

“Talking to his backers. Figuring out how to play this whole situation. They’ll probably go with it was some sort of tragic mistake that escalated.” She waved her hand.

“Tragic mistake.” Tristan growled. Issy died. It was like Samuel all over again.”

“Is she the person you wrote about? Is she the reason you told me marry Alfred? We could be together now.”

“Jesus, Susannah, that’s cold even for you. I told you to marry Alfred because he loves you, and wants to give you everything. I don’t.”

Hands over her mouth to muffle her gasp, Susannah took a step back. “How could you say such a thing. What about what we had?”

“What we had. WE didn’t have anything. You had some weird obsession about having all the Ludlow brothers.” Tristan snorted. “I have the real thing with a person that accepts me warts and all. Go back to your husband, Susannah. Frank and I will be leaving just as soon as I’m out of here.”

Tears dried up as quickly as they appeared. “I’ll always love you.” She whispered.

“Goodbye, Susannah. Be well. Love your husband. Give him a couple babies. Be the best helpmate you can be.”

“Goodbye? But you’ll be back to see your father?”

“Maybe. Doesn’t mean we’ll see each other again.”

Susannah Fincannon Ludlow flounced out of the Sheriff’s office mad as a wet hen. She was unaccustomed to the word ‘No’.

At the end of 30 days, One Stab picked him up in front of the Sheriff’s office. Handing Tristan his gun belt, the men who loved Isabel Too set out to avenge her death.

 

~ Snow Goose (September) Moon 1928, Ludlow Ranch ~

 

It was a month of tragedy around Fort Benton. Three police officers, and John O’Banion met a tragic end. Made people talk about how dangerous automobiles had become, and how there needed to be some safety measures installed. How was it that such experienced riders hadn’t been taking care of their saddles to the point where a worn cinch had broken, and that poor man’s neck snapped when he landed wrong. Such a sad state of affairs when negligence got a man killed.

James O’Banion was livid. He couldn’t prove it, but he was sure that eternal thorn in his side Tristan Ludlow was involved. The family had lost their hold on the good Congressman when that shark, Harvey Specter, had taken an interest in his political career.

It had been a week since his brother died in this godforsaken place, and still his father hadn’t called him home. As far as James was concerned trying to get a foothold among a bunch of cowboys and farmers was a waste of time and money. It was time for Tristan Ludlow to pay for his insolence. Nobody made the O’Banion’s look like fools. Decision made, he went in search of Sheriff Tynert. It was time to end this.

 

~>~>~>~>~>

 

Sitting at the table with his father, Tristan took a last look at the photo album. “I damn everyone around me as well as myself.” He murmured forgetting his father knowing the guilt carried by his middle son. “Samuel should never have died, and Issy …” He laid the album on the table.

“Bull. You are not damned.” The Colonel snarled. “I won’t allow that. You’re not damned!”

“Yeah …Well …”

He stood and finished packing supplies in his rucksack. Patting his father on the shoulder he headed for the door. Frank was in the barn saddling the horses. Both Vampires were anxious to get started for the Tallikut Clan Farm. Walking out the door pulling on his gloves, he stopped at the sight before him. James O’Banion was showing Isabel’s son his gun. Dropping his bag, Tristan moved.

“Samuel! … Samuel, come here!” He snatched the boy into his arms, and handed him off to his grandmother. “Get in the house … Now!” He pushed Pet and Susannah toward the porch.

“He’s a fine boy.” He took a step closer to O’Banion. “You know we’re not here to arrest you.”

Tristan glared at the Sheriff then over at his remaining officer, who was armed with a machine gun. Sensitive hearing picked up horses coming around the corner of the house. Stab was holding his horse so it had to be Frank with their pack horse.

“Don’t do anything stupid, Tristan.” Frank said quietly.

“Hey, what are you doing here?” The Colonel demanded.

“Colonel Ludlow, Sir.” O’Banion sneered.

“Father.” Tristan turned his back on O’Banion, and put his body between them and his father.

“What are you doing here?”

O’Banion’s laugh was nasty. “What’s going on here?”

“Yeah.”

Tristan saw Frank smack his horse on the rump, which the horse took exception to, and reared with a squeal, drawing everyone’s eye toward him and One Stab. Colonel William Ludlow went to war one more time for his son. The slug from the first barrel took O’Banion in the chest, the second barrel took the police officer causing his trigger finger to tighten and spew bullets across the yard almost hitting Roscoe. Seeing the Sheriff taking aim at his father, Tristan moved. He was unarmed, so all he could do was step between the two men.

“NO!” He shouted.

It wouldn’t kill him, but it would sure hurt like hell. A shot came from the corner of the house killing the Sheriff. Tristan and William looked over to see Alfred coming around the corner of the house. Handing Tristan his rifle, the brothers exchanged a look of understanding. Tristan was passing the guardianship of the family over to Alfred.

Taking the reins of his horse from Stab, he gave him one last hug before he looped his rucksack over the horn after grabbing his gun belt. He’d switch it to the pack horse later. He hated to leave with the mess laying in the front yard, but the Colonel and Stab knew how to make messes disappear. A hard hug and a stolen kiss from his Mate, then both men swung into their saddles, and turned their horses south. By unspoken agreement, they decided to visit Border Clan, and see the sights in Mexico. He’d write his family as they traveled to let them know he was fine.

Once out of sight of the ranch house, Tristan kneed his horse closer to Frank’s and pulled them to a stop. Leaning on Frank’s saddle horn with his left hand, he wrapped his right in his Mate’s shirt collar and pulled him into a deep, wet kiss.

“Love you, Nîcimos.” He whispered against Anasazi’s lips.

“And I you, Habibi.”

Tristan Ludlow closed the book on his Human life, and opened a brand new one full of empty pages to fill with adventures with his Mate.

 

~ Fini ~

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