The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Shadow of Vengeance
Written by Judith Schaefer aka Stargazer

Part II
 
The town of Red Wing lay in a valley high in the foothills of the Mimbres Mountains about thirty miles west of North Fork. It consisted of a few ramshackle houses, a general store, a saloon with rooms for rent above it, and a livery stable. Snow-capped peaks rose to the north and west where the weather could still turn fierce and wintry at any time.
 
Lucas and Micah rode into the dingy little hamlet as dusk was settling in. Only a few of the towns’ folk were out and not one looked up as the two rode by. Both men were saddle sore and worn out from days of riding and tracking. They pulled in front of the Black Bird Saloon and tied their horses to the hitching rail. Two doors led into the building before them; the one on the left led to the dimly lit saloon and the other had a sign over it reading ‘Rooms for Rent’. As Lucas pulled his saddle bags from his horse, Micah went through the door on the right, stepped to the counter and called out, “Hello, anyone here?”
 
A thin, little man with sparse gray hair and round glasses came through a door behind the counter, “Yes sir, kin I help ya?”
 
“Need two rooms for the night.”
 
The little man took two keys from a box and handed them to the marshal, “Rooms one and three…top o’ the stairs. Name’s Tucker, if ya need anythin’.” Noticing how dusty the man with the badge appeared, he pointed down a hallway separating the hotel from the saloon and offered, “Oh, there’s a bath house out back…jus’ through that door, or ya kin warsh up in yor room, if ya like.”
 
“Thanks, Mister,” said Micah.
 
Lucas appeared in the doorway with both their saddle bags and rifles. “Is there someplace we can stable our horses overnight?” he asked the clerk in a weary voice.
 
“Sure, down the hill. Ol’ man Wilkins runs the livery.”
 
“Any other strangers been here lately?” inquired Micah.
 
“Uh, no, no…ken’t say that there has been,” answered the clerk.
 
Micah held the keys up to Lucas who responded, “Micah, why don’t you get settled in. I’ll take care of the horses.”
 
The marshal handed Lucas the key to Room Three, then took his bags and his rifle and turned to slowly climb the stairs, “I’ll take you up on that, Lucasboy.”
 
Lucas pocketed his key, and said, “Goodnight, Micah.” He threw his saddle bags over his shoulder, walked out to where the horses were standing, and grabbed their reins. Darkness now filled the street and was interrupted only on occasion by a few burning lanterns along the broken boardwalk. As Lucas passed each one, he and the horses cast flickering shadows now and again as they made their way down the hill to the livery. Lucas met Mr. Wilkins, who was about to retire for the evening, and paid him fifty cents to feed and stable the horses overnight.
 
After slowly making his way back to the hotel with rifle in hand, Lucas climbed the stairs, and listened at Micah’s door to find the marshal already snoring in his bed. Lucas entered his room, hung his saddle bags and hat on the rack, and set his rifle next to the bed. He removed his coat and peeled off his worn, leather gloves, and after getting some of the trail dust off of him, sat on the edge of the bed and pulled off his boots. The rancher sat there a moment and breathed a sigh of exhaustion. He dropped his shoulders and head forward as thoughts of Mark made their way back into Lucas’ mind. He sat upright and brushed back strands of hair that had fallen across his face. As he pulled his hand from the back of his head, he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a tattered picture of his son.
 
Lucas leaned back against the headboard, drug his feet and legs onto the bed, and stroked a thumb across the four-year-old picture. ‘How young Mark looks,’ he thought. He remembered the day the picture was taken when the photographer, Abel Goss, came to North Fork. He was the same photographer that had taken Lucas and Margaret’s wedding picture and an old friend of the family. A faint smile crossed Lucas’ face as he recalled how Mark tried so hard to prove Abel’s innocence in a murder by doing his own investigating. He had believed in Abel and was so sure and determined… A lump formed in Lucas’ throat as he pulled the picture to his chest and held it over his heart. “I’m sorry, son…I promised I’d never let this happen to you again…” he whispered. Lucas closed his eyes and said a silent prayer, ‘Margaret, watch over our boy until I can find him. Please, God…please let me get to him in time…’
 
*****
 
Mark had drifted off to sleep for only a short time when a cough suddenly woke him again to the darkness. Aggravated by the cold air, a deep cough plagued him now. He clamped his arm to his right side to brace against the stabbing pain each cough delivered to his ribs where Bantry had kicked him. He pulled the blanket up around his neck and tried to shift in the bunk as pain shot through his left ankle and leg. After days of being shackled and chained, any movement was torturous. He wished it was Pa sleeping in the other bunk and that he was home safe and warm in his own bed. But, it was that scum, Bantry, who lay across the cabin from him and, oh, how the boy hated him.   
 
Mark just knew his pa would still be searching, and he prayed day and night that he would come for him soon. He tried to think of ways to escape, but nothing seemed like it would work. With his ankle hurting so badly, he couldn’t move very fast. The only chance to get away was to get Bantry’s horse and keep the outlaw from following him… and that seemed impossible.
 
But, if Mark were able get to the horse, Bantry would never catch up with him on foot. Mark would ride for the base of the foothills and try to find help. There was no tellin’ how long it might take before Pa was able to find him…if he could up in these mountains. Mark had to be patient and wait for the right time to make his move.
 
*****
 
Dawn broke and the two men from North Fork emerged from their rooms. They found Tucker behind the counter at the bottom of the stairs who inquired, “Sleep good last night, fellas? Ya looked mighty tired when ya come in here.”
 
“Fine, fine,” replied Micah. “Any place to get some breakfast?”
 
“Only place is over in the saloon…jes don’ ask fer the porridge,” warned the clerk with a shudder.
 
Lucas and Micah handed over their room keys and thanked Mr. Tucker, then carried their gear into the saloon and sat at a table near the window. Lucas placed his saddle bags in the seat next to him, sat down and propped his rifle against his leg. Micah’s hat and gear occupied the other empty chair. A frumpy, young waitress in a blue gingham apron appeared with coffee and took their order. Unseen by either man, the waitress peered over her order book and gazed at Lucas with a puzzled look, then disappeared to the back room.
 
The bartender, who had been cleaning and straightening up from the night before, shot a glance or two at the rancher and the marshal as they ate in silence. He shuffled by their table, sweeping with a broom, and offered an observation, “Say…there was a feller in here a couple times this week. He favored you,” he said pointing at Lucas. “But, he was bigger ‘n you and had a mustache…had a powerful thirst fer whiskey, too!”

Lucas dropped his fork into his plate and looked up at the bartender, speechless. Micah nearly choked on his coffee at the man’s words, but he cleared his throat and managed to ask, “Did he have a boy with him?”
 
“No…no one but him.”
 
“Ever hear of Earl Bantry?”
 
“Well, shor, shor,” replied the bartender. “He killt a rancher name of Richards from these here parts…jus’ fore I moved here. Heared his brother moved away after that. Say, that who yor lookin’ fer, I heared he was in jail. He kin of yors…ya sure do look like him, only…”
 
“He’s no kin of mine!” growled Lucas.
 
Micah asked, “Do you know if he’s still around here?”
 
“No, sir…he did ask ‘bout sellin’ some horses and I tol’ him mebbe Mr. Wilkins ud take ‘em off his hands.”
 
Lucas stood up abruptly, said ‘thanks’ and tossed some money on the table for the food, and then he and Micah grabbed their belongings and left the bartender standing there holding the broom and scratching his head. “They’re shor in a big hurry,” he muttered to himself.
 
*****  
 
Mark felt weak; his head ached and his chest hurt from coughing. Days of imprisonment, lack of sleep, and little food or water were taking its toll on him. The boy sat on the edge of his bunk and waited for Bantry to come back into the cabin. The outlaw had gone out a couple times already that day, anxiously pacing about. Cigar butts and whiskey bottles littered the cabin, and Bantry was clinging to his last bottle as if it were a baby.
 
When the outlaw returned to the shack, he uncuffed his prisoner. He ordered the boy to stoke the fire, and Mark, barely able to walk, limped slowly across the room to the fireplace. Noting how Mark was moving, he barked at the boy, “Sit there on da floor by da fire where I can keep a close watch on ya!” Bantry stormed around the cabin cursing at Mark, his pa, and every other rotten, mangy person he could think of. He pulled his handgun from the holster and waved it into the air as he mumbled and slugged on his whiskey.   
 
The smoke from the fire irritated Mark’s throat and he began coughing again.
 
“Quit dat noise,” Bantry ordered.
 
Mark drew up his knees and buried his face in the crook of his arm trying to quiet himself. He hoped Bantry would just forget about him as he raged on; the man seemed to be getting more insane with each passing moment. But, Bantry caught Mark staring at him as he rounded the table.
 
“You scared, boy?” he asked pointing the neck of the whiskey bottle at Mark’s face.
 
Mark jerked his head back away from the bottle, “When my pa gets here, he’ll…”
 
“Heh, heh, heh…you think he’s gonna save you!?  I don’ think so…heh, heh, heh,” he taunted with a sadistic smile.
 
*****
 
Lucas and Micah rushed to the livery stable where they found Mr. Wilkins oiling a saddle. “Mornin’, young fella. Come to collect yor horses? Who’s this with ya?”
 
“Where did you get this saddle and blanket…they belong to my son!” declared Lucas.
 
“Why, I bought ‘em off a man who came in here early this week. Said he needed some cash. Sold me a couple of horses and this here .22,” explained Wilkins as he pulled Mark’s rifle from behind a straw bale.
 
With widened eyes, Lucas took the rifle from the old man and ran his hand over the stock, then turned to his friend, “Micah…”
 
“I’m Marshal Torrance from North Fork. You said you bought some horses…where are they?” asked the marshal of Mr. Wilkins.
 
“Why, I’ve got ‘em out back in the corral…a black and a sorrel. Nice horses…sell ‘em to ya if yor in the market…”
 
Lucas barely heard Mr. Wilkins’ offer as he pushed through the barn door leading to the corral. Micah and the old man followed. Lucas stopped just short of the fence to find Razor and Blue Boy standing there. Razor spied Lucas, walked over to the fence and poked his nose over the top board seeking a familiar pat to the head. Lucas grabbed both sides of Razor’s halter, and drawing the horse’s muzzle close to his face, whispered, “Hi ya, boy…I sure am glad to see you.”
 
“Mr. Wilkins, the man who sold you these horses is wanted by the law…dead or alive! Do you know if he’s still around?” asked Marshal Torrance.
 
“Funny thing, Marshal…he said if anyone come lookin’ for him, to tell ‘em he’s, he’s…”
 
“He’s…what?” demanded Lucas as he impatiently grabbed the old man’s arm.
 
“Here now,” said Wilkins pulling at his shirt-sleeve.
 
“I, I’m…sorry,” Lucas apologized releasing his grip. “Please, go on.”
 
“Well…he said to tell ya…‘If ya want the boy, he’s got him up at a cabin ‘bout three miles up the trail just northwest of here’.”
 
An oddly warm mixture of hope and fear spread over Lucas as tears welled in his eyes. He turned and looked up at the summit looming 10,000 feet above the town, “Micah, we’ve got to get up there…”
 
The marshal explained to Wilkins how Lucas’ son had been taken by Bantry and how they had been searching for days for the boy. Lucas left the horse he had been riding and asked if the stable owner would keep it and Blue Boy until he returned. The old man obliged and bid the two strangers good luck in finding the rancher’s son; he said he’d be praying for the boy’s safe return. Saddled and ready to ride, Lucas and Micah left Red Wing and trekked northwest into the mountains.
 
*****
It was getting close to mid-day and Mark was still sitting by the fireplace thankful for the warmth from the burning logs. Bantry had been raving drunk for some time walking in circles around the confined space of the cabin. He came to a wobbly stop and tilted his head way back as he drained the last drop of whiskey from his bottle. “Empty!” he exploded and hurled the bottle across the room smashing it against the wall.
 
Mark sat straight up jolted by the sound of breaking glass. Bantry holstered his gun, then scrambled around the table, grabbed Mark by the neck, and pulled him to his feet.
 
“I’m hungry, boy… (hick)…fix me up some grub…now!” Bantry commanded.
 
Mark glared at the man and clinched his jaw in defiance as he hobbled over to the supplies. He wanted to throw something at Bantry…he wanted to hurt him!   
 
“There’s not much here,” complained Mark, shaking his head in disgust, as he looked upon the dwindling supply of food. But, Bantry paid no attention to what the boy was saying. Mark knelt down with his back to the outlaw, lowered himself to the floor and drug a cast-iron pot from the pile. He found a few carrots, an onion, and a couple of potatoes in a sack which he cleaned and cut into pieces. After throwing the peelings into an empty bag, he placed the vegetables in the pot and dipped some water from the bucket to cover them. He rummaged through the sacks and found the last of the bacon which he cut up and placed over the mixture with some flour to make a stew. He was fishing in the bottom of a bag but there wasn’t much else to add, except…except what was in a small tin. He held the container in his hands, turning it over and over, and thought for a moment. That’s what he would do…Mark opened the tin of pepper, dumped the entire contents into the pot and stirred it all with a spoon. ‘I’ll fix you, you lousy son-of-a…’ he cursed to himself.
 
He placed the empty tin into the side pocket of his jacket, then Mark pushed up and grabbed onto the table to steady himself as he rose to his feet. He picked up the pot and spoon from the floor and made his way back over to the fire. After setting the pot into the fireplace, Mark turned over an empty crate and placed it between the fire and the stack of supplies near the door. While the stew simmered, Mark brewed the last of the coffee grounds one more time.
 
Bantry sat on his bunk observing as Mark ladled the stew onto a plate and served it up with a cup of coffee. The boy returned to the crate and sat down. The smell of the stew turned Mark’s stomach, and as he wiped away beads of cold sweat popping on his forehead, he made no indication to Bantry how sick he was feeling.
 
The killer slid from his bunk, placed his gun on the table and sat in the chair. He took a gulp of the coffee and said, “Shor smells good.”
 
A faint smile curled at Mark’s lips; ‘Go on…go on,’ he thought as he willed Bantry to begin eating. With one eye on the door, he watched the outlaw and waited.
 
*****
 
Lucas pushed Razor to go faster as he and Micah made their way up the trail leading out of Red Wing. They climbed the rocky mountain-side into the heavy forest of pine and oak trees. It didn’t take Lucas long to discover the tracks of Blue Boy and Razor as they had been led down towards the town by a rider on a third horse. He circled around on the trail in a break of the trees and regained sight of the tracks of Bantry’s horse climbing back up. Micah kept pace with Lucas as the two men followed the trail of hoof prints leading to a clearing on a precipice. A clear-blue stream tumbled over craggy rocks, and as Lucas followed the stream bed with his eyes, he spied smoke rising above the trees and raised a hand for Micah to stop as he reined in Razor. The men dismounted, tied up their horses near the water, and grabbed their rifles and ammunition. They made their way along the banks of the stream until they had the cabin in their sights. Lucas motioned for Micah to take cover in the pines to the side of the clearing as he positioned himself behind a tree down the hill in front of the shack.     
 
*****

Bantry took another swig of the weak coffee Mark had made and placed the tin cup on the table. He shot a glance at Mark and uttered an ambiguous comment, then scooped up a big spoonful of the stew and shoved it into his mouth. Bantry’s eyes grew wide and they looked as if they would pop from his head as his face turned crimson. He grabbed his throat and stood up coughing and spitting.
 
Mark didn’t hesitate. He grabbed the edge of the table, pulled himself up and shoved the table over at Bantry as he made his way for the door. The gun went sliding across the floor as Bantry continued to holler and spit. Mark held his left leg as he fumbled with the door brace and pushed it out of his way. As he started to lift the latch, two big hands grabbed at his collar and belt, picked him up and flung him across the room.
 
The boy landed with a thud on the floor at the end of his bunk and yelled out in pain. He tried to scramble to his feet but he didn’t have the strength. Bantry turned the table over and finding his gun, picked it up and thrust the barrel in Mark’s direction.
 
“You!” Bantry screamed still sputtering from the pepper. “You just made yor last mistake, boy,” he growled. He aimed his gun at Mark’s head and pulled back the hammer.
 
Mark knelt in front of Bantry shaken to his core. He closed his eyes to the horror before him and whispered under his breath, “Pa.”
 
At that instance, a voice shouted from outside the cabin, “Bantry!”
 
*****  
 
“Bantry! Earl Bantry…this is Marshal Micah Torrance! Come on out of there…”
 
The outlaw let his finger off the trigger and reached for Mark. He gripped his hand around the boy’s neck and yanked him to his feet, then steered him towards the door. Mark winced at the unbearable pain. “Open it up!” ordered Bantry.
 
Mark lifted the latch of the door and pulled it back turning his head from the blinding sunlight. He struggled to stay upright and not put too much pressure on his throbbing ankle as Bantry shoved him through the open door. Bantry held his weapon to Mark’s head and wrapped one arm around his neck as he pushed him forward crouching behind the boy for protective cover. Mark blinked at the bright light and took a moment to focus. The sky was clear and the sun streamed down through the canopy of pines and newly-leafed trees. Shadow and light dappled the clearing before him.
 
Lucas and Micah stood hidden at the edge of the clearing thirty yards from the shack; Lucas faced directly at the door and Micah stood just off to the left. A fleeting moment of joy filled Lucas’ heart at the sight of his son, but it quickly faded…he wasn’t sure how he was going to get Mark away from this madman? He called out to his boy to let him know he was there, “Mark…son!”
 
“Pa!” Mark shouted in alarm. “Pa…he’s gonna kill…!”
 
Bantry clamped a hand over Mark’s mouth and pushed his gun to the back of his head. “McCain…McCain, is that you? If ya want yer boy to live, you’ll show yerself!”
 
“Ya keep yer mouth shut, ya hear me, boy?” Bantry angrily whispered to his captive. As Mark nodded in agreement, Bantry removed his hand from the boy’s mouth and wrapped his arm back around Mark’s shoulders.
 
Micah yelled a warning to the outlaw, “Bantry, let the boy go or we’ll drop you where you stand!”
 
“Marshal, if you and McCain don’ drop yor rifles, I’m gonna kill dis rotten kid of his!” Bantry retorted.
 
“Okay, Bantry…okay…you win,” Lucas called back as he tossed out his rifle and stepped from behind a tree.
 
“You, too, Marshal!” yelled Bantry.
 
Micah complied and threw his shotgun in front of the tree that concealed him.
 
Lucas stepped into the light and began to approach the outlaw who was holding Mark in front of him. “Are you alright, son?”
 
“I’m alright, Pa…but, please…please don’t come any closer..,” Mark pleaded; he couldn’t watch Bantry gun down his Pa.
 
“Bantry, you won’t get away…you know that, don’t you?” Lucas kept talking as he inched closer up the hill and across the clearing towards the cabin. “You can kill us, but you’ll never be free! You’ll always be haunted by the faces of your dead brothers…you won’t get a moment’s peace…”
 
“Shut up, sodbuster! Whadda you know? Yor a dead man!” asserted Bantry as he kept Mark in his grasp.
 
As Lucas kept the killer distracted, Micah, still holding his hand gun, hid from view in the pines encircling the clearing and slowly made his way to the side of the cabin.
 
“Listen, Bantry…your brothers are calling your name,” Lucas taunted as Bantry became more agitated and nervous, his eyes darting back and forth searching the outskirts of the clearing.
 
Lucas kept at Bantry, “You shot K.C. in cold blood…he’ll haunt you for the rest of your life!” As he continued his verbal assault, Lucas locked eyes with Mark and tried to convey to his son what he needed him to do.
 
Mark struggled against Bantry’s hold and shook his head ‘no’ at his pa pleading with his eyes for Lucas to stay back. But Pa came closer and when he was just ten feet in front of them, Mark realized he needed to do something to help him. He broke free of Bantry’s grasp, dropped and rolled out of the way. Lucas lunged at the outlaw, knocking him to the ground, as the handgun fell out of Bantry’s reach.
 
The men exchanged blows, with Lucas landing a left hook to Bantry’s chin. The punch barely fazed him, and Bantry wrapped his powerful arms around Lucas’ mid-section and began to squeeze. Lucas kicked and broke loose, then turned and tackled the outlaw. They struggled and fought in the dirt, both managing to regain their footing. The killer swung around and clocked Lucas in the temple bringing the rancher to his knees. Bantry then kicked Lucas in the chest with his boot and pounced on top of him. He wrapped his hands around Lucas’ neck and began to choke the life from him.
 
Mark watched in terror at the scene unfolding before him. Then, without even thinking, he reached for the hand gun on the ground, struggled to an upright position and planted his feet. He pulled the hammer back on the weapon and shot at the outlaw. “Leave my pa be!” he shouted.
 
A bullet shot past Bantry’s head just grazing his ear. Bantry yelped and with one hand still around Lucas’ neck, turned toward the boy clutching the side of his head. “You! You…I’ll kill you…”
 
Driven by all the hate and anguish and fear boiling inside him, Mark stood with trembling hands on the gun. He narrowed his dark eyes and through gritted teeth proclaimed, “No, Bantry! I’m gonna kill you!”
 
Bantry laughed at the boy and let go of his grip on Lucas. “Why you sniveling, little…”
 
Mark aimed the gun at Bantry’s heart and again drew back the hammer as Bantry lunged from his crouching position…
 
From the side of the cabin a shot crossed the clearing and hit Bantry in the leg. He stumbled back, wailed and cursed as Micah fired a second shot hitting the outlaw right between the eyes. Bantry fell dead face first in the dirt at Mark’s feet.
 
*****        
 
Micah emerged from the shadow of the cabin; he ran over and rolled Bantry on his side to check for a pulse. Satisfied the man was dead, he rushed to help his friend as Lucas regained consciousness, “Lucas…Lucasboy?!”
 
Lucas clutched his throat and strained to ask, “Where’s my son?” Lucas and Micah both turned to look at Mark who still pointed the hand gun straight out at Bantry.
 
Micah stood up and slowly approached Mark, “It’s okay boy…give me the gun.” But, Mark gripped the gun tighter and continued to stare down at the dead outlaw.
 
The marshal stepped in front of Mark, held out his hand and gently said, “Mark, it’s over…you can let go.”    
 
Lucas rose up and called out to his boy, “Mark…I’m okay, son…you can put down the gun now.” Hearing the sound of his pa’s voice, Mark eased the stranglehold on the weapon and it slid from his hands into Micah’s palm. The marshal sighed in relief. The boy dropped his arms to his sides and stood in rigid silence as he raised his eyes to gaze blankly at the horizon.
 
Lucas stood up and took a few steps toward his son who he barely recognized.  Mark’s face was swollen, bruised and bloodied, and he had lost so much weight his clothes hung from his body. As he drew closer, the rancher looked into his son’s lifeless eyes and with tears forming in his own, whispered, “Mark?”
 
Mark slowly turned his face towards his pa and stood looking at him for a moment. Lucas reached out for his boy’s shoulders and pulled his son close, then Mark leaned into his pa, buried his face into Lucas’ chest and crumbled in his pa’s arms. Micah reached out a hand to steady Lucas who caught the boy as he began to fall. He dropped to his knees, clutching Mark to his chest, “Son…son. I’m here, Mark. I’ve got you!”         
 
*****
 
Lucas knelt on the ground holding his trembling son for some time. As Mark tried to speak, a deep, violent coughing spell overtook him. Between coughs, he cried out in pain. Lucas laid the boy back against him as Micah said, “He’s in a bad way, Lucas. We should take him into the cabin.”
 
Mark struggled to yell in protest, “No, no! I…I won’t…I won’t go back in there.”
 
“Mark, we have to get you warm,” Lucas explained.
 
“No, Pa…please…please…I can’t,” Mark cried as his coughing continued.
 
“Micah, can you go in and see if there’s something we can cover him up with? Then we can build a fire out here,” Lucas requested.
 
“Sure, sure,” said Micah as he turned and entered the darkened cabin.
 
Micah strained to see his way around the shack as the fire was nearly burned out. He pulled the blankets from the bunks, and as he passed the one where Mark had been kept, he bent down and pulled on the chain and shackle attached to the floor. He wiped at his eyes with the sleeve of his coat and stood back up. He noticed the countless empty whiskey bottles and how the table was overturned. He saw what was left of the stew in the pot, and checked through the remaining supplies. Finding nothing else useful, he walked back out the door to where Lucas held Mark.
 
Lucas looked up at his friend, “Did you find anything?”
 
Micah shook his head in disbelief at what he had seen, “I’ll tell you later, Lucas. Right now, we need to take care of Mark. Here, I found a couple of blankets.”
 
Lucas wrapped his hands around Mark’s shoulders, “We have to move you, Mark. Can you stand, son?”
 
Mark reached down at his swollen and painful left ankle, “I…I don’t think I can, Pa…my ankle…it hurts…”
Lucas picked his son up off the ground and motioned to Micah to move down the hill towards where they had left the horses. Micah took the canteen and bed roll from Lucas’ horse, then laid it down in a clearing and set about building a fire for the three of them.
 
Lucas placed his son on the bedding and wrapped the blankets around him, “We’ll get you warmed up in a bit, son.” He took his canteen from Razor, popped it open, and held it out to Mark. “Can you eat anything? Are you hungry?”
 
Mark shook his head as he took the canteen, “No…my head hurts, Pa…and my stomach…” Mark took two big gulps of water and began to cough again. He wrapped his arm around his stomach and side as he coughed, trying to hand Lucas back the canteen.
 
“Here, son, let me get that,” said Lucas as he knelt again beside his boy. He took Mark’s chin in his hand and turned the boy’s face from side to side. He frowned at the bruises and Mark’s swollen cheek, then pulled a bandanna from his pocket and wetted it with water from the canteen. Lucas held Mark’s head in one hand as he wiped the dried blood from the corner of his son’s mouth. He felt the bump and dried blood on the back of his boy’s head and asked, “What did he do to you?”
 
Mark coughed and groaned, “My side hurts, Pa…Bantry kicked me. My ribs…I think they’re broken.” Though he was covered with blankets and the fire was beginning to warm, Mark was trembling again.
 
“We’ll get those looked at,” Lucas said as he felt of Mark’s forehead. “You’ve got a fever, Mark. How long have you had this cough?”
 
“I…I don’t know…”
 
Lucas tucked the blankets tighter around his son and walked over to where Micah stood observing the father and son. “Micah, he’s taken a bad beating and he’s sick…we need to get him a doctor.”
 
“I know, Lucasboy, but we don’t know there’s a doc in Red Wing. At least if we can get Mark there tonight and get him bandaged up, we can head out for North Fork tomorrow.”
 
“And, what about Bantry?” asked Lucas.
 
“I’ll cover the body with my bedroll, and if you can help me get it strapped to his horse, we can leave him in Red Wing for burial. I’ll have to wire the US Marshal and let them know what happened.” Micah pulled Lucas’ arm and led him further away from Mark so he couldn’t hear their conversation. “Lucas, there’s something else.  There’s a shackle in the cabin…probably the one Bantry was wearing when he escaped. I think he used it to chain Mark up so he couldn’t get away.”
 
Lucas looked over at his boy and rubbed his chin with his hand, “Mark said his ankle hurt…” He didn’t finish his remark and moved quickly back to his son’s side.
 
“Mark, I need to look at your leg, son” he said as he pulled the cover away from Mark’s left leg. Mark winced at the movement, and as Lucas began to pull off his boot, Mark grabbed at his leg and cried out, “No!”
 
“I know that hurts, but I have to check it.” Lucas held Mark’s knee and pulled as gently as possible on the boot, but it wouldn’t come off. He tugged harder as his son cried out again and then passed out from the pain. The boot was off, and Lucas wrinkled his brow and cringed at the sight of watery blood oozing through the sock. The skin around Mark’s ankle was swollen, red and yellow, and the foul odor of infection caused Lucas to turn away for a moment as he peeled the sock back and called Micah over.
 
“Micah, his ankle…it’s infected. Help me get this cleaned and bandaged, will you?”
 
Thankful that Mark was unconscious, they cleaned the wound and took a bandanna Micah had in his saddle bag and wrapped it around Mark’s ankle. As the boy slept, the two men worked to get Bantry’s body loaded on his horse. They gathered their rifles and the outlaw’s holster and gun which Micah placed in his own saddle bag. Then Micah watched after Mark as Lucas made his way to the shack carrying his rifle; he wanted to see for himself what Mark had endured.
 
He walked around the cabin seething in anger and imagining the ordeal Mark had suffered, and when he came upon the shackle, he kicked at it and shot at it with his rifle. He composed himself and then gathered a few belongings Bantry had stolen from them, bundling them in one of the sacks. He turned to look around the cabin once more. He clinched a fist in anger and was about to drive it into the door, when he slowed his motion and thought, ‘Bantry, you’ll never hurt me or my boy again.’ He stepped out into the sun and pulled the door of the shack closed.
 
When Lucas returned to the campfire, Micah was pacing, “The boy called out for you a couple of times, Lucas. He’s still feverish, and that cough is deep…we’ve got to get him off this mountain before sundown.”
 
“I know, Micah…help me get him on my horse. I’ll have to ride with him.”
 
Lucas and Micah put out the fire, broke camp and loaded up their horses. Micah helped Lucas get Mark up on Razor, then he mounted his horse and pulled Bantry’s horse behind him. The men set out for Red Wing as the sun dipped lower in the sky.

Shadow of Vengeance Part III
 

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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