Of East and West by James Burke

Sam Cain sighed deeply as the humid air scalded his lungs. Even the ocean breeze gusting behind him did little to quell the oppressive heat. Behind him Hercule de Lion paid and thanked the boatman before splashing into the knee-deep tide. Sam was glad for the Cajun rebel’s company. Hercule had learned Chinese as a young man to read The Art of War, written centuries ago by a general of this hot, miserable land. The ancient text proved helpful in leading his company of Zouaves in the “War of Northern Aggression,” as he called it.

The rising sun cast the foreigners’ shadows across the beach as they sloshed ashore. The air as oppressive and unwelcoming as the ancient land’s Empress, whose hatred of white men rivaled that of the Blackfeet! It was for this hatred that two more westerners had invaded her domain in search of the little missionary village of Thomas’ Legacy, where Sam’s sister, Mary, was chief minister.

Months earlier, at the Cain family home in San Francisco, the widow Mrs. Cain awoke at midnight from a terrible nightmare of her daughter’s crucifixion by a horde of raging Chinamen. Certain it was a premonition of her faithful child’s doom, she frantically penned a letter to her “uncivilized” son, living the antiquated life of a trapper in the Rockies. She begged her wayward son to rescue his sister from the “barbarians” and thus redeem himself for rejecting “God’s society”.

At first Sam scoffed at his mother’s hysterics and insults against the very people Mary had gone to convert. He attributed Mary’s success in doing so to her kinder, gentler preaching methods. He rolled his eyes at Mother’s pretension that he needed redemption. There was nothing dishonorable about fur trapping, apart from it being against Mother’s wishes, which was all it took for her.

Hercule, who had just ridden all day to check for mail at the Denver post office, scolded Sam for not minding his poor mother. Sam dismissed his aged friend, assuring him he had no idea what the woman was like. With a growl, the old Cajun shoved a newspaper into his chest. Sam picked it up to scan the headlines and nearly dropped it in surprise. Lo and behold, reports of the radical Chinese mystics dubbed “The Boxers” and their violently anti-foreigner sentiments had reached America. Churches burned, priests, preachers, and converts assaulted in the streets. The Chinese Army had mobilized against them, but the article suggested Chinese soldiers could not be trusted against their countrymen. With an exchanged glance and a nod, the mountain man and the Cajun rebel mounted their mules.

After days of tireless riding through and down the mountains they arrived at San Francisco, where Mother greeted her “prodigal son” with a tearful kiss. All she could tell them was the name of Mary’s mission and that it was somewhere south of Peking. Making their way to the harbor, where a ship bound for Peking was ready to leave, Sam and Hercule hurriedly sold their mounts to pay passage. Several kisses and loud maternal prayers later, they both boarded the ship and suffered weeks of seasickness, inedible food, and cramped quarters only to find a British blockade barring their way. A Chinese crewman only needed a few coins worth of convincing to rowboat them to shore before dawn. He was even kind enough to direct them, vaguely, to the west, where he said they would find Thomas’ Legacy. Sam silently prayed the boatman proved trustworthy as Hercule and he trekked into the hills beyond the beach.

The repeating rifles slung over their shoulders had seen plenty of fighting, as had the sword sheathed on ones’ belt and the tomahawk and Bowie knife dangling from the others’. Well-kept, well-used revolvers hung from their gun belts. Hercule whistled Dixie as he proudly marched up the dusty road in the same flashy red and blue uniform he had worn in battle against the “Lincolnites,” as he still called them.

It dawned on Sam what an odd pair they were. They had only known each other five years, since Hercule saved his life from a trio of bandits who made the mistake of chasing Sam, unknowingly, right to his front door. The Cajun had heard the ruckus outside a mile away and kicked open the door of his secluded cabin just in time to fire his Henry repeater into all three assailants. The two of them had been inseparable ever since. Sam found himself snickering at the situation; a young man from San Francisco stubbornly living a life decades beyond it’s time and a Cajun rebel still dressed in the uniform of a lost cause, gallivanting side by side through an exotic land to rescue a damsel in distress. If he’d read it in a dime novel he wouldn’t have believed it!

By noon Sam felt his knees buckling and saw the old rebel’s proud strides dragging. He led them off the beaten path to rest in the shade. Both chugged greedily from their canteens. Sam yearned for his mule, kicking himself for having to sell it. He had come to appreciate the slow, stubborn half-breeds. What they lacked in speed they more than made up for in endurance, and tasted better than horses if things got desperate.

“We could always barrow some horses, mon amie,” Hercule huffed, finally grappling control of his breath. Sam shook his head.

“I’m no thief, you know that.”

“Thief!” the Cajun thundered. “We’re at war! You heard what dat English captain shouted back at da blockade! Da game is afoot, mon amie, and WE are da GAME!”

Sam sighed, fanning his head with his wide-brimmed hat. The thought of stealing some poor farmer’s mount did not sit kindly with him. He found himself fingering the wooden cross he’d added to his bear-claw necklace, a token of love from the sister he hadn’t seen in years. He looked up at the grey-haired rebel, visibly suffering in the heat.

“Alright, Herc,” Sam nodded. “We’ll see what we can grab.”

Hercule sighed with relief, “Merci beaucoup mon ami!” They both took another mouthful of water and resumed their march.

After another hour of marching through the hills, they found themselves looking down on a small village in the valley. The curved-roofed houses stood silent, as did the empty street, not a soul to be seen. The stream running through town was bone dry, a painful drought had ravaged the land for years now; adding fuel to the burning hatred of foreigners. Charred remains of a large building, possibly a church, stood at the far end of the village.

Sam and Hercule sighed in unison, there would be little to forage. Both went flat in the dirt as the thunder of hooves rumbled into the valley. Sam blinked as a column of blue-coated cavalry galloped into town, if he didn’t know any better he’d have sworn he was still in America! As they closed in, he squinted to notice the differences in their uniforms, the black hair, and narrow eyes. Sam and Hercule readied their rifles, remembering the blockade’s warning. The Chinese Army had joined the Boxers in their rampage.

An ornate officer began barking orders as they trotted to a halt. After a few more minutes of barely audible chatter the officer wheeled to lead his men back the way they came, leaving behind ten soldiers who dismounted and ventured from house to house, breaking down doors. Sam and Hercule grunted in disgust, whatever was left to forage, the army had beaten them to it!

Screams echoed as a Chinese woman and child, and a white priest were dragged from a house. Both Americans shot to their feet and rushed downhill. The priest’s prayers, the mother’s cries, and the soldiers’ laughs echoed on the wind. Sam recalled Hercule’s tragic tales of southern belles who aided Yankee soldiers during the war. Gripping his rifle tightly, he resolved not to let such things happen here, come what may.

They softened their steps as they entered the village and flattened against the wall of a house along the main road. Around the corner a soldier’s shout, a smack of flesh striking flesh, a woman’s cry, and a child’s whimper echoed. Dark fire blazed within Sam. Peeking around the corner, he saw all ten soldiers surrounding their prey, about fifty yards off. Hesitant to risk catching the victims in a crossfire, he paused a moment in thought. A smile spread Sam’s lips as a trick they had pulled in Denver came to mind. He turned to his breathless comrade and suggested trying it again.

“No, mon amie!” he huffed. “It is embarrassing!”

“Got a better idea?” Hercule rolled his eyes. “Just tell me a few Chinese words right quick.”

Moments later the ten soldiers turned in surprise to a loud coughing fit and a pleading voice. “Jiùmìng! Help!” a white man in buckskins begged, dragging an elderly man in a strange uniform around the corner of a house. The old man coughed violently, his face beat-red. “Fùqīn! My father! He’s sick! Shēngbìng!” the young one cried. The soldiers laughed like hyenas as they closed in on their new prey. They held their rifles loosely, unthreatened by the foreign boy on the verge of tears and his grandpa at death’s door. “Please! PADRE GET DOWN!” Sam cried as he and Hercule drew their revolvers and fired rapidly, fanning the hammers as they gripped the triggers.

The chain of thunder ended in seconds, all ten soldiers laid in lifeless, bloody heaps. None had fired a shot. Sam turned to meet his companion’s glare with a smile. Hercule cursed, “Next time YOU be da sick son and I be da worried father!”

“I’m telling you, old man, they wouldn’t have bought it,” Sam laughed. He ignored Hercule’s venomous reply and rushed to check on the would-be victims. The wailing woman was pressing her whimpering son’s face against her chest like she would smother him. The priest, breathing heavily, was trying to calm her down. “You three alright?” Sam asked.

“Yes, my son,” the priest replied with a slight accent. “Thank you!”

“Our pleasure, Padre!” Sam smiled. “Them varmints needed a lesson in civility!”

The priest sighed. “I prayed so hard that it would never come to this. All this senseless killing! And all we ever wanted to do was share the gospel!” Sam sighed too, even in the height of his disgust with his mother’s general disagreeableness and so many road-side high-and-mighty, fire and brimstone preachers, he never would have dreamed of doing anything like this. Thinking back on it, he might have judged those preachers and even his mother a little harshly.

“I’m sorry about all this, Padre.”

“Von Braun!” the priest said. “Father John Von Braun of Saint Francis Xavier’s’,” he introduced himself with a wave toward the charred remnants of his church. Hercule bowed his head and crossed himself at the blackened fragments. “The Boxers came last night. My flock was dragged from their homes and herded into the church,” he paused as tears fought their way from his eyes. “I was delivering medicine for her son when they came. She begged me to hide in her cellar. And I did, to my everlasting shame,” he sniffled.

“There’s nothing you could have done, Padre,” Sam said. “They were out for blood!”

“I know,” Von Braun gasped, chocking back his tears. “But it was my duty to stand by them. A shepherd who abandons his flock to the wolves is no shepherd! I should have died a martyr with them.”

Hercule produced a rosary from his coat pocket and began mumbling as he fingered the beads. Sam bit down on his lip, damming the river ready to burst from his own eyes. A new fear swept over him, Mary was as devoted to her faith as the Padre. Would she be as foolhardy as Von Braun wished he’d been?

“I don’t suppose you know the way to Thomas’ Legacy?” Sam asked. “My sister is a minister there, the boatman who dropped us off at the beach said it was to the west?” Von Braun’s eyes widened.

“Yes! North of here, downstream!” he pointed down the valley. “The Boxers headed that direction last night after burning the church and taking what they wanted.”

Sam turned to Hercule, who looked up from reloading his revolver and nodded. “Let’s us grab a pair of them horses and light out,” he said with a nod toward the soldier’s horses, now standing nervously at the opposite end of the village.

“Allow me,” Von Braun stepped up. “I’ve always had a way with animals. If we hurry we can reach Thomas’ Legacy by nightfall.”

Sam raised an eyebrow. “This ain’t your fight, Padre.”

“Yes it is,” Von Braun cut him off. “I owe you both my life! I let my flock down, but I will do what I can for your sister and hers.”

“Alright, Padre,” Sam sighed. “But if them Boxers get the whooping on us, remember this was your idea.” Von Braun nodded curtly and walked briskly towards the anxious horses.

Minutes later the three foreigners were on the move. Von Braun led the way, tall in the saddle. He really did have a way with animals. Hours went by as the sun dragged west below the ridgeline, casting the valley into shadows. Sam steeled himself for what was to come. What he had seen at the village did nothing to ease his fears. Would he arrive at his sister’s mission to be greeted by a charred church filled with blackened bones? He viciously shook the image of his sister’s eyes in an ashen skull from his head. If the worst had happened, he’d give her a proper burial then pick up the Boxer’s trail. If he couldn’t save Mary, he’d never stop until he avenged her.

Sunset cast its blood-red glaze over the plain as they exited the valley and looked out upon the missionary village of Thomas’ Legacy. The church was a rectangular building made of mud bricks with a humble wooden cross standing in the middle of the roof over the double-door entrance. A dozen or so curved-roofed houses surrounded the church, half of which had been burned and the rest were pocked with bullet holes. Sam spotted a few defenders crouching atop the roof, taking pot shots at the sieging Boxers. The Red-clad attackers scrambled in and out of cover to loosed arrows and dodged bullets fired from the church roof and windows. The mudbrick walls of the mission seemed almost adobe-like. Sam nearly smirked at the familiarity of the scene, back in America the Boxers might just as well have been Apaches dressed for war.

“There’s so many of them!” Von Braun gasped. “What can we possibly do?”

“We can make a ruckus,” Sam answered. “Give them pilgrims a fighting chance. They must have plenty of ammunition, else they wouldn’t be firing shots. If we can cause enough of a stir, maybe make a break for the church door.”

Hercule nodded. “Alright, but I no get my hopes up for dis one. I liked da odds at Petersburg better den dis,” he sulked shaking his head.

Sam snickered. “Come on, you old rebel! They reminding you too much of the Billy Yanks?” Hercule glared at him.

“More like da Red Legs! Dem bushwhackers were worse den Sherman!” he spat the hated General’s name. Hell hath no fury like a rebel’s scorn.

“I say we dismount here and make our way down nice and quiet,” Sam began. “Hercule, you head around the west side of town, Padre and I will go from the east and work our way in. No shootin unless we have to,” he turned to the priest. “This is gonna get nasty. You might want to barrow my pistol.”

Von Braun shook his head. “There has been enough violence and shall be more before this madness is over. I will be at your side, my son, but I will harm no one.” Sam fought the urge to roll his eyes. The priest had guts, he had to give him that.

“Then keep close to me and keep quiet,” Sam snapped, Von Braun nodded.

“I got me an idea, boy!” Hercule pointed to the only unburnt two-story house in the village. “I’ll get up der and rain down on em with my Henry,” he finished as he unslung his repeating rifle.

“Good thinking. I’ll shoot first, then you blast away. Padre and I will make a run for the door. The pilgrims will lay down cover for us and you get on down to meet us as quick as you can.” The three foreigners nodded in agreement, dismounted and split for opposite ends of town.

Much to Sam’s surprise, the priest moved like a cat. He’d worried the middle aged man would stumble over every rock and give them away, but he was light on his feet and soft of breath. Sunset plunged the plain into darkness as they reached the eastern most houses of the village. Sam’s eyes adjusted quickly and widened as they encountered their first Boxer, sulking against a wall and snorting some kind of powder. The Boxer’s eyes rolled back to stare blankly up into oblivion.

Von Braun quietly explained it was some kind of drug, opium or some such. “Boxers believe these drugs help them transcend the spirit realm and commune with their ancestors,” he said. Sam frowned at the superstitious nonsense, he had helped his mother at the addict wards of the San Francisco hospital as a boy. If those fools kept huffing that powdered filth they’d be getting to know their ancestors real soon. Grateful for one less Boxer to subdue, Sam and the Padre crept quietly into town.

Multiple times they ducked into doorways and behind crates to avoid roving Boxers. Some of them wounded, others seemed dazed, no doubt snorting that powder. Again Sam was impressed with Von Braun’s agility as they silently slinked through town, he began to wonder what the man did before joining the priesthood. They took cover in the charred remains of a house, about fifty yards from the church entrance. The moonlight exposed a few clumsy Chinamen to a few well aimed shots from the church roof. One Chinaman began shouting an elaborate speech, then suddenly the voice became deeper, throatier.

Sam turned to Von Braun with a raised eyebrow. “He’s their leader,” he answered softly. “Red Dragon, he calls himself. With their opiates they believe they can call upon the heroes of the past and be possessed by their spirits. He’s called down the spirit of Sun Tzu, the great Chinese General. It is Sun Tsu’s spirit talking, or so he believes.”

Sam couldn’t help but smirk at the fanciful sentiment. He often wished he could converse with his own personal hero. Kit Carson might have some useful advice in handling such overwhelming odds. Sam’s eyes widened as a brilliant idea came to mind. He peeked out of the charred rubble to see the road leading away from the church barricaded with crates and barrels. Red Dragon roared and ranted from behind the barricade.

Something flickered in the moonlight above and Sam looked up to the adjacent two-story house. Recognizing the glint Hercule’s well-polished rifle, he winked up at his old friend whose agelessly keen eyes had picked them out. Turning back to Von Braun, he asked if the Boxers were the chivalrous types. Before the priest could answer, Red Dragon’s roar went up louder than before and his minions cleared away the barricade to reveal a shallow hole had been dug. Two boxers wearing only red loin cloths held up torches on either side of the hole. Another Boxer stepped between the torch bearers, dressed in red silk and medieval armor. Red Dragon carelessly stepped over the hole and into full view of the church. The defenders held their fire. A familiar, feminine, voice spat towards him from one of the windows, telling him where to stick that sword on his belt.

Red Dragon’s eyes blazed with hellfire as an unholy smile spread his lips. He raised his arm, holding a rope with some round items tied to it, and threw it to the steps of the church. Sam’s eyes widened at the collection of Chinese heads flung to the Lord’s front stoop. His sister’s voice wailed in horror, mingling with other mournful cries from the roof and windows. Must have been members of the congregation, poor devils must have tried to make a run for it. Sam’s fists clenched so tight he thought his palms would bleed.

Again Red Dragon shouted, then stepped back over the hole and dragged an elderly woman in rags to her feet. Mary cried out in recognition. The old granny whimpered her name before being tossed into the hole. Another scantily clad Boxer started shoveling dirt onto the weeping woman. Sam’s blood came to a boil. Mary unleashed a torrent of curses upon the boxers, words she’d never say in Mother’s presence. Red Dragon’s laughter only inspired more vulgarity. Sam rose to his feet ready to join the storm of obscenity when a bolt of lightning split the air and the scrawny grave digger toppled over. Red Dragon roared with fury. Sam smirked up to the adjacent roof, Hercule always had been chivalrous.

“Padre,” Sam turned to Von Braun, himself standing with anger in his eyes. “Stick close and translate everything I say, as I say it, then translate for that armored varmint!” Von Braun nodded with a glare of righteous fury and followed Sam out into the street.

“RED DRAGON!” Sam roared like a mountain lion. All eyes were on him in an instant. Red Dragon stared in wild amazement. Sam grinned, the Chinaman never figured he’d meet a genuine mountain man.

“Samson?” Mary gasped in astonishment. “SAMSON!” she repeated in a horrified scream.

“It’s alright, Mary,” Sam called softly. Turning back to Red Dragon, he went on “Whatever your grievance with foreigners, you will do no more harm to my sister and hers,” he said, pausing for Von Braun to translate. “For you see, we westerners have our own ancestral heroes to call upon!” Red Dragon blinked in confusion. “I CALL UPON THE SPIRIT OF THE GREAT WARRIOR OF THE WEST, CHRISTOPHER CARSON!” Sam bellowed loud enough to wake the dead. He shut his eyes and reached for the heavens with open arms, inwardly smirking that Mother would consider this blasphemy. After a moment of silence his face contorted into the glare of a seasoned warrior, several times his own age. He slowly let down his hands, lowered his gaze and opened his eyes.

“My name is Kit Carson!” Sam spat in the thick, gravelly drawl he’d heard Carson spoke with. “And I am the worst foreigner in this country!” he stepped forward, snarling like a bull, suppressing a smile as he reenacted his hero’s most famous deed. “STOP NOW, or I’ll rip your guts!” he growled. Von Braun translated with trembling voice. Sam wondered if the priest knew it was all an act, or perhaps was playing along.

Red Dragon stared in silence, Sam felt similar shocked gazes peering at him from all sides. Even the bulged eyes of the condemned granny peeked out of the grave. The lead Boxer shook the shock from his eyes and stepped over the old woman’s head to meet his rival in the street. Resting his hand on the hilt of his sword, he nodded with a crooked grin.

Sam nodded back as he eased his rifle and pistol to the ground before slowly striding closer. His opponent drew his sword in a smooth, practiced arch. Sam gracefully swung his tomahawk and Bowie knife from his belt, took a combat stance, and locked eyes with Red Dragon. The entire village held its breath as a buckskinned warrior of the west and an armored warlord of the east circled each other with unblinking eyes, waiting for the other to strike.

In the blink of an eye, Red Dragon flew forward in a mighty thrust. Sam deflected it with ease and sprang away like panther. The Chinaman gave an impressed smirked, having underestimated his opponent. “That the best you got?” Sam growled. The Boxer’s smile darkened as he rushed him with a horizontal swipe. Sam deflected it only to be knocked over by a swift kick. Breath flew from his lungs as his back hit the dirt, inches away from the grave. He heard the poor granny sink down in terror. Mary cried out as Red Dragon closed in for the kill. Sam knocked away the sword tip an instant before impact and thrust both feet up into the Chinaman’s chest, knocking him over with a painful thud.

Sam quickly staggered to his feet to face his recovering rival. Red Dragon’s eyes now blazed with rage. He charged like a bull, flailing with a shrill war cry. Swing after swing Sam dodged or parried. Each near miss, each smooth deflection fueled the swordsman’s burning hatred. Sam was certain his own strength would give out first. Then the Boxer stumbled slightly, followed by a sluggish swing that missed wide, staggering the worn out Chinaman. Now was Sam’s chance!

Another labored swing went wide and Sam sprang forward, bringing his tomahawk down hard Red Dragon’s arm. The sword fell from the shattered, dangling limb. The disarmed swordsman barely had time to scream before Sam grappled his shoulders and pulled him close, thrusting the Bowie knife deep into his belly, just below the base of his armor. The proud warrior’s eyes nearly shot from their sockets as they locked with the narrow glare of his victorious enemy. Sam twisted the blade and ripped it free with a fleshy splash.

“I told you I’d rip your guts!” he growled. Moments of shocked silence later, Red Dragon fell backwards in the dusty road. Sam turned to the horrified stares of the Boxers. Some stumbled backwards in bewilderment, others turned and ran. The shocked gazes turned to furious glares with angry shouts. A rifle shot knocked one over as he raised his sword. Sam turned to see Hercule rapidly firing his Henry as he dashed for the old woman’s grave. A withered, grey Lancelot charging to rescue the silver haired Guinevere of the east.

Von Braun cried out, Sam turned to catch his pistol in mid-air and began firing at the charging Boxers. The double doors of the church burst open and the house of the Lord loosed his fateful lightning upon the attackers. A storm of bullets showered the Boxers, who tumbled and fell in a blaze of ill-fated glory. Sam’s pistol clicked dry as Hercule loped past him into the church with the old lady in his arms. As he reloaded Sam blinked in astonishment at Von Braun blasting away with his Henry.

“I thought there’d been enough violence?” Sam called over the cacophony.

“Old habits from the Wehrmacht, at the Rhine,” Von Braun growled as he levered the rifle and downed another Boxer. Sam nearly dropped his gun in surprise, the middle-aged priest fought under Bismarck at the Rhine! He smiled, surmising he’d misjudged the Padre.

Mary cried out to her brother, begging him to fall back. He turned to see his sister in a dust-beaten dress, firing two pistols into the onslaught. Grabbing her arm, he turned and ran for the doors. The two of them stumbled inside, followed closely by Von Braun. Trembling Chinese converts slammed the doors and frantically barricaded them with wooden pews and other furniture.

The battle raged on as brother and sister panted for breath. Sam turned to glare at Mary. “You trying to get yourself killed?” he demanded.

“Were you?” she glared back venomously. Their eyes locked in defiance as gunshots and war-cries echoed. Several seconds later, Mary’s face abruptly softened. “Oh Samson!” she wailed, throwing her arms around her long lost brother, who gingerly returned the embrace. Across the room Hercule was kneeling beside the Chinese granny, now lying on a pew. Despite the deafening barrage of gunfire, Sam could almost hear the old cavalier wooing his damsel in distress. The old woman returned his amorous gaze with glossy, wonderstruck eyes. Hercule’s arms gently enveloped her, drawing her closer.

Turning away from the aged love-scene, Sam broke free of his sister and readied his pistol. He moved swiftly to the nearest window, where he stood opposite Von Braun. The two of them took turns firing at the enemy while the other reloaded. Mary fired her pistols from the window on the opposite side of the entrance, quickly joined by Hercule and his Henry. The Boxers honored their fallen leader with a desperate, hour-long siege, like a rooster clawing in furious search of its’ severed head. The gunshots faded into silence as the Boxers faded into the shadows. Sam and Mary surveyed the defenders and exchanged anxious glances as they found their ammunition nearly spent. All breathed a sigh of relief as a full hour expired in tense silence.

There was no rest for the weary that night, the Boxers might have been playing possum. Mary turned her attention to the wounded, Hercule turned his back to the old woman. Sam and Von Braun insisted on standing watch at the windows all night, though Sam saw the middle-aged priest nod off several times. After hours of pitch-blackness and deafening silence, the gentle rays of dawn stretched across the plain. The light revealed burnt, broken buildings, but not a single Boxer.

Sam kept his vigil as the others went about checking the wounded and breaking out meager portions of food. Shortly after dawn, the relative calm stiffened as a column of mounted soldiers rumbled into town, coming to a stop outside the church. Terrified, Mary rushed to her brother, who smiled pointing to the Union Jack flapping over white helmets and flashy red uniforms. Sam never thought he’d see the day an American was glad to see the redcoats!

Sauntering out to the head of the column, Sam greeted the commanding officer, who gazed down on him with his countrymen’s typical air of natural superiority. With as much humility and politeness as he could manage, Sam explained the gist of what had transpired. “Jolly good, old boy! Not to worry, we’ll make swift work of the little devils!” The officer said with an approving nod. He went on to directed them down the main road to the east, where the nearest port town had been occupied by an expeditionary force of several different countries, including the United States. Food and medical supplies were being dispense to survivors and refugees. With a slight bow the officer waved his men forward and galloped off in search of the long-since retreated foe.

“Nice of dem to show up!” Hercule huffed. Sam turned to see the Cajun grimacing in disapproval. “I’m pretty sure WE were de ones who made ‘swift work of de little devils!’”

Sam laughed, “He’s just disappointed he missed the show.” With a muttered curse, Hercule stomped back into the church. Seconds later Sam’s smile vanished as Mary emerged into the daylight, sniffling in despair at the carnage. Sam gave a somber nod as her teary eyes met his, she nodded back in silence; it was time to go home.

Mary quickly put her congregation to work, tearfully scavenging the remains of their ruined homes. Within an hour, they managed to salvage three wagons, all of which were soon loaded with the worst of the wounded. Sam retrieved the horses from the outskirts of town and hitched them to the wagons. Then, with Hercule’s translation, rounded up two Chinamen who could handle horses, designating them the drivers of the second and third wagon. They would travel slowly for the healthy and mildly injured converts to follow along on foot.

Sam and Mary climbed into the driver’s seat of the lead wagon together. Both glanced over their shoulders and chuckled to see Hercule cradling the old woman in his arms. Apart from a few bruises she had no injuries, but the Cajun rebel’s glares warded off any objections to her riding with the wounded. “Father?” Hercule asked Von Braun, who turned from one of the more seriously injured converts. “Could you perform a marriage for me? I think I might have won dis lovely Protestant mademoiselle over to de church!” With a loud laugh, Sam snapped the reins and the horse dragged the wagon forward, immediately followed by the other wagons and the converts on foot. Sam snickered at the familiar scene, a wagon train of pilgrims following the sun to hope beyond the horizon.


Bio: James Burke was born in Illinois in 1987. He served in the U.S. Navy and was honorably discharged in 2011. Graduated from University of Saint Francis in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in history. His fiction has been published in Frontier Tales Western Stories Online Magazine (http://www.frontiertales.com/index.php) in November 2017 and May 2018 issues. He lives in South Carolina.