His coat was thick and his boots were sturdy and he wondered if maybe that was all a man ever really needed. A clean, well-oiled gun at your side never hurt, he reminded himself, and a good horse under you. Yes, a good horse is always helpful. He had all those things and for that, he was grateful. He felt a bit greedy though, wishing for a roof over his head and a warm fire that night as he rode through the rain. Yellow-orange lights dotted the land far away from him; a village lay nestled in the arms of the mountain valley.
He rode at an easy pace, not wanting to wear out his tired horse, not slow enough to let his muscles get cold. The grey had taken him far. Too far. The lights blinked in and out of existence as they rode down the beaten road through the trees, tall pines with others mixed in, smelling strong of clean, good earth. He thought of the last town, out on the grassy, quiet plains. They were all much alike, but each with its own heart. Still, they were all full of good folk, bad folk and others simply trying to make a living. He by no means considered himself a good man, for he had come to respect the plight of a man just trying to get by. A cowhand, a gunslinger, even a miner he had been and always a hungry one, since he was twelve, always hungry and with few friends in the world. You’ll be too old for this one day, he told himself as the lights fell out of sight behind an outcropping of rock. Still, he loved this country, the wondrous emptiness, the beautiful, quiet power of nature. And yet he longed for that roof, that fire, and maybe something more.
He shook his head at that notion. Not you, he told himself, and he thought of the war. Those bad things will catch up with you, and no Union or America or anything could justify it. Nothing good will ever come to you, just as nothing good has ever come from you. No, he assured himself, nothing good. His cold hands tightened around the reins and the horse sensed the shift in him, knew what it meant. He began to trot a little faster down the gentle slope, turning left and right with the wind of the path, coming down into the valley.
The click of a rifle action brought him out of his dark thoughts and his Winchester sprang to his hand, searching the darkness for the rifle pointing at his heart.
“Who’s that?” someone called, an old man.
“Nobody. A drifter,” he replied.
“Ain’t nothin’ here for no one to be driftin’ too. How’d you come to find this place?” the old man asked, somewhere further down the trail.
“Just wandering, partner. I like the open country. I don’t bring any fight if you’re not hunting one.” He was well-spoken for a drifter, the old man noted, though his voice carried the accent all men had out west, fast and loose and twanged from countless shots of bad rye whiskey.
“Well, drifter, you come walked right into one. We got Injun troubles in town; a war party taken issue with our town bein’ where it is and we don’t aim to move it.”
“Yep. Renegades, the lot of ‘em. They carried off two women last night.” The drifter smiled, lowering the cocked hammer of his Winchester. Well, well, well, he thought, perhaps he could do some good after all.