Part 26: GODDAMMIT
NOVEMBER 13th, 1848
I don't think this is a good idea. Things are more... complicated than you think, Cyrus.
I said we're coming with you.
Sarah Jane nodded her head ardently as she wiped tears from her eyes.
What about Cyrus Jr? You can't just leave him...
We'll just have to come back.
Susan stammered. They both knew they probably wouldn't be coming back, but they didn't have time to give Waffles a proper burial after yet another colonial attack on their lives. More would be coming. And that was that. The Neckebards climbed into the wagon and began the last day toward their fate at Walla Walla.
Susan, were you really planning to storm the fort by yourself?
To be honest with you, Cyrus? No. I have business I need to take care of first.
They went quiet for a moment.
It's about Waffles, isn't it? He was supposed to make it here for some reason.
Susan was surprised by her husband's suddenly improved deduction skills. She looked him in the eye. A weary grin crossed her lips.
Fort Walla Walla is going to burn to the ground and we're going to make it out alive. But I need you to do exactly as I say.
They had just crested a hill flanked by a wall of trees, Walla Walla now rising in the distance. Susan stopped the wagon and stood up in the seat. The fort was a powderkeg of activity and Susan could see soldiers moving to and fro, along with a myriad of oxen and wagons. The sun had just started to set behind the blue mountains and lights were going up on makeshift lampposts.
Christ, how am I supposed to...
Susan spotted a campfire being built several yards from the entrance of the fort. A small group of indians appeared to be harassing a group of white man and their families. In the bustle of preparing for evening, it seemed as though nobody had noticed the minor scuffle.
Wait here a moment, I'll return shortly.
Cyrus watched as Susan hopped out of the wagon and headed silently on foot to the campsite.
Susan approached the scene casually, receiving only a cursory glance from the fuming men as she pretended to be removing a stone from her boot. The wife and children of the men stood to the side and were watching anxiously as the shouting match continued. A small group was beginning to gather around the campfire and in the distance she noted the outlines of what could only be indians waiting on the horizon.
Susan blended into the crowd and casually nudged herself to the wife's side who looked a little relieved to have someone else on "her side" around. She chanced a whisper to the distraught woman.
Is everything alright here? What's going on?
The conversation between the men was beginning to get quite loud now and Susan could clearly hear them on the breeze:
Another young woman came up behind them from the wagon parked several yards from the campsite. She looked to be related to Mrs. Witherspoon and was clearly expecting a child in the near future.
Susan looked back towards the fort and from this distance could clearly make out several soldiers posted at all the major entrances. This didn't seem like the usual amount of troops for a fort this size- she wondered if they were gearing up to look for them again or... were they afraid of some other threat?
She looked back to the confrontation happening before her. This was too good to be true. She surpressed a small giggle.
Listen to the above Susan theme by Der Metzgermeister!
From back at the wagon, Cyrus watched as his wife approached the group of men who were now gesturing wildly at each other. The turned in apparent surprise as Susan stepped up to them. It was impossible to hear what she was saying but the reactions were obvious enough; the men were becoming more and more agitated. Shoving broke out, followed by all-out brawling between the two parties. The women began screaming. Susan backed away slowly and disappeared from the scene.
Cyrus and Sarah Jane stared in a stupor as soldiers began to fan out from the fort shouting, some heading towards the campsite and some headed away and it was immediately obvious why: arrows were starting to fly towards the fort from all sides. Soldiers were scrambling to form ranks and had begun firing into the nearby fields as indians on horses crested the hills. This was not going to end well.
How the hell does she do that?
Susan popped up unexpectedly next to him, causing him to squeel like a girl.
Practice. Now listen closely! I need to get into town- wait here until you see the signal. Then I need you to do something without fail. Run these oxen through the fort as fast as they'll go, got that?
Trust me, Cyrus. When you see the signal I need you to ford this fort. I'll be waiting for you.
It was getting harder and harder to render Cyrus speechless, but his wife had managed another go at it. He stumbled on the words:
Wha... what's the signal?
But Susan had already taken off back down the path. She shouted back:
You'll know it when you see it!
If the fort had previously been impenetrably, it was now only very, very hard to break into with the distraction of the sudden indian raid. Fortunately, this was what Susan lived for.
It didn't take long for her to find what she was looking for. She stealthily slipped through the back window of a far building unnoticed because all the occupants of the room were transfixed gazing out the front windows at the fires going up around them.
The sound of Susan's rifle being cocked in the middle of the room caused some of them to turn but what really got their attention was when Susan unloaded a point-blank round into the chest of the closest man who crumpled in a heap to the floor.
Good evening, gentlemen.
Susan? What the hell are you doing?!
Five men in total were now facing Susan, the light of the spreading fires highlighting their profiles from the windows. They were a distinguished lot with fancy suits and top hats and they all spoke with a curious british accent.
Well well, looks like the whole gang is here, eh Harker?
There better be an excellent explanation for this. Where's the boy?
Cut the crap, do you think I'm an idiot? We weren't ambushed by colonials out there and "the boy's" death was no accident. Why did you do it?
You're mad! Do you have any idea how much we've invested in this operation?
Why Sedgwick, I'd love to hear it from the horse's ass. Do tell.
The man was visibly shaken as Susan pressed the rifle against his face.
Do y, you have any idea how hard it was to get you in bed with Zachary Taylor? The man's the bleedin' president now for Christ sake! Your illegitimate child was all the blackmail we needed to ignite America in a civil war that would bring it to its knees! All you had to do was deliver him to us!
Listen to me, Susan. We've funded your every step in this endeavor- the top bred english oxen, protection from road bandits and indians... you pissed it up at Fort Bridger! We couldn't protect you from the entire colonial army!
Susan thought about this for a moment before blasting a hole into another one of the bastards who sprawled out on the ground, motionless. She pulled the other rifle strapped across her back around, ready for more "conversation". Outside the sounds of combat were getting louder and more frantic.
Wrong answer. Care to give it another shot?
GOD HAVE MERCY! What in blazes is wrong with you?!
The tallest of the men stepped forward. Though she was loathe to admit it, this was the one man in the room Susan did not recognize, though by the first word from his mouth it was clear he was not a Brit. He gestured to the other men in the room to let him speak.
I can see your agents don't screw around, gentlemen and it sounds like we are precariously short on time. I can respect that. It seems that two of us won't be requiring payment for their services anymore. Now, I'd be more than happy to reallocate those funds in your direction, my dear...
You've got to be kidding me. FUCK! This whole operation was a buyout? That's why Cyrus Jr had to die?! That's why Sterling had to die?!
It's not that simple, Susan! There were never any guarantees! Take the man's money and walk away from all this. Buy your family a better life and...
YOU KILLED MY FAMILY!
The room suddenly became a blur of motion! Susan moved in and slammed Harker hard across the face with her rifle butt, knocking teeth into the far wall and quickly pulling it around to blast another of the englishmen in the face. Sedgwick made a run for the door but couldn't escape a gunshot to the back.
The American threw a haymaker in Susan's direction but woefully underestimated his opponent's speed and propelled himself into another one of the men who fell hard to the ground.
From the corner of the room, Susan produced several long, red cylinder from her dress, each sporting a wick at their end. These sorts of things were not standard issue colonial armaments; she had found them on the soldiers that had ambushed and killed Waffles. It seemed only fitting to bring them back to their owners.
Things were getting out of control back up on the hill as Cyrus and Sarah Jane sat in anxious anticipation of... something extraordinary to happen. It wouldn't be long before somebody noticed their lonesome wagon sitting at the top of the hill and came to investigate. A vast majority of the fort was now ablaze and dead soldiers and indians were scattered across the ground.
It suddenly became very clear what the next course of action would be- a building on the far corner of the fort suddenly blew thirty feet into the air spewing an enormous fireball behind it and scattering debris which was now occasionally falling around Cyrus' wagon.
Whip the oxen, pa! GO! GO!
Cyrus snapped out of his disbelief and started the oxen up to speed. This was crazy! He was supposed to drive the wagon right through a fort swarming with colonial soldiers and exploding buildings and eight-foot flames? He was going to ford a town! What the FUCK?
The oxen began to bray as they closed in on the crater that used to be Fort Walla Walla.
Well chap, it was good knowing you!
Right-o! See you next life!
The blast had scattered anyone in the immediate area, who had run for cover, trying to get their bearings. Cyrus barely had his eyes open as the wagon plowed through broken walls and glass, at points catching air off of the ground completely. To his amazement, he recognized the battered figure of Susan up ahead, her dress blackened and torn. She began to run alongside the bulleting wagon and was preparing to make the jump! Out of nowhere, a shadowy figured vaulted from behind a building!
At the last second, Harker had plowed into Susan, impaling her deeply with a bowie knife! Susan screamed and nearly lost her grip on the side of the wagon, blood pouring out a fresh wound in her gut. Harker stumbled and grabbed desperately for Susan's leg but only found the cloth of her dress which crumbled in his hands. The wagon bounced wildly as the back wheel skidded and hobbled over the englishman.
Sarah Jane leaned over the edge of the wagon frantically, grasping Susan's arm as she went limp from pain. Through sheer force of will, she somehow managed to drag her unconscious mother onto the wildly swerving wagon. As Sarah lay back in the wagon panting from exertion she chanced a look back at Fort Walla Walla.
It had burned to the ground.
Cyrus had been so focused on driving the wagon that he had completely lost track of time and now noticed that Walla Walla was nowhere in sight. In fact, nothing was in sight.
Had they really just managed to assault the entire fort by themselves and escaped alive? He could hardly believe it. His hands had a death-grip on the reigns and it hurt to unclench them, but he began to slow down the oxen, who were clearly over-exerted. Maybe they could chance a rest- besides, he had to check on Susan. She wasn't looking so good.
Susan... how do you feel?
Susan was conscious again and flashed Cyrus a toothy grin.
Cyrus, you did great. I'm so proud of you...
God Susan, you look terrible... you need some serious medical help.
Susan tried to sit up and groaned audibly.
I'll admit... this one's worse than most. I just need...
She began to prop herself up on on her arm but stumbled onto her side, writhing.
Sarah Jane! Get a blanket, quick!
The next few days passed in terror. Nobody seemed to be chasing them, but there was always that old, familiar fear. Susan was getting worse by the hour. She was the toughest person Cyrus had ever known, but there was something different about her wounds this time. Just a few more days, he thought and we can get help. Just a few more days...
That night, Cyrus got no sleep. Susan was falling in and out of consciousness and had begun shaking uncontrollably.
Susan... can you hear me?
We're so close to the Dalles, Susan. We can get you fixed up, you'll be right as rain.
Susan opened her eyes and looked into Cyrus' face. She made a sad little giggle and her speech was becoming terribly slurred.
I just... figer'd it out, Ceerus. That baster' poisoned his knife. Wut a british theng to do...
Her eyes were starting to get very heavy and she was having a hard time staying conscious. It felt so nice to finally rest.
No, Susan, not you, too. Not you. C'mon, stay awake...
Oh, Cyrus... I'm serry. Sorry about all of thes. I shood have told you sooner... this is just so cliche...
She managed to chuckle at her own joke. Cyrus was on the verge of breaking down in tears as we witnessed his wife falling away from life. He braced himself for the sort of bombshell she had been saving for her deathbed.
Yer son, Cyrus. It's Matt... isn't that funny... you jest have alweys had retarded children, Cyrus. Hehe he...
In most any other situation, the news would have rocked his world. Somehow, at the moment, he just didn't care.
Susan... don't leave me. Please...
I love you, yoo stupid american.
Hours passed numbly as Cyrus sat, his dead wife in his arms. He had no more tears left, just pain. He didn't know what to do now. Go to Oregon? What's the point? What would he tell Sarah Jane? What would he do now...
The sun was finally starting to come up on the horizon and Cyrus got to his feet. He was going to have to tell Sarah Jane. Despite everything that had happened to him on the trail, this was the thing he regretted the most.
He never made it to her tent.
The wagon had suddenly exploded into flame! For a moment it didn't even register to Cyrus that something had happened, he simply looked at the wagon as though being on fire was the most natural thing it had ever done. Like the experience with Snake River, the world again slowed down around Cyrus. That's when he saw them- soldiers. In british uniforms.
FUCK THIS SHIT.
Adrenaline coursing through his veins, Cyrus snapped out of control and lunged at a soldier, beating his face into a bloody pulp as the man tried to scream out. The soldier had been told the Neckebards would be an easy target. They were just supposed to tie up some loose ends. Now he was getting beaten to death by a man with a neck beard.
Swinging as though he were in a trance, Cyrus moved on from wailing with his hands and grabbed the soldier's rifle but instead of firing it rushed to the next soldier and bludgeoned the man with the butt end.
To be frank, the whole thing appeared to be some sort of terrible horror show and the british soldiers standing nearby didn't know quite how to react to the savagery with which Cyrus was thrashing around, blood flying about, so they simply stumbled backwards.
Cyrus stood up and faced them, dripping with the last man's remains. One of the soldiers turned and made a run for it, the other raised his rifle and shot, the bullet impacting Cyrus' leg, dropping him to a knee. With a cry, the soldier tackled Cyrus, sending him sprawling toward the wagon. Both men jumped to their feet and resumed the frantic pummeling of men fighting for the lives.
A chance slip caused Cyrus to stumble backwards and the british soldier saw the opportunity to spin him around, launching him against the flaming wagon. The heat had found the Neckebard's supply of bullets and pops had begun to go off in steady succession from the back of the wagon, bullets whizzing about like an angry swarm of insects.
In the confusion, the soldier had managed to get a handful of Cyrus' hair and slammed his head into the side of the burning wagon. He pulled back and landed Cyrus another faceplant. Cyrus' sight was flashing and was getting dark. His nose was probably broken but he could no longer feel anything. This was it. This was how it would end. Another slam into the hard side of burning timber. Wonder if Sarah Jane is alright... slam... goodbye Susan...
In the cacophany of gunshots that had been going off around them, an especially loud BLAM had gone off behind Cyrus' head. He wondered momentarily if that's what a broken spine sounds like. It wasn't. Cyrus slumped to the ground, bruised and bleeding profusely.
For a moment he could see Sarah Jane, struggling to push a dead soldier off him. In her hand was a smoking rifle. She was shaking.
Sarah... Jane... you saved me?
I... don't... don't you die too, pa!
Good girl, Sarah. Good girl. Some action hero I am, huh? Not like your mother...
Sarah had already hopped up and began aggressively smothering the flames in the wagon with any extra blankets she could find. There wasn't much open flame left, but the wagon was in terrible condition. She hopped back down and helped her father to his feet. She had begun to cry again.
What do we do, pa? We can't stay here, one of those guys ran away.
Cyrus was tired. Incredibly tired. On top of that, his face was so battered it had begun to swell and bleed into his eyes and he was having a hard time even seeing straight.
You're right, Sarah Jane. You gotta do one more thing... I need you to drive this wagon the rest of the way to Oregon. When we finally get there we can, we can start a new life. We'll disappear into the crowds. They won't chase us anymore.
But I can't... I mean... the Dalles...
I know, Sarah Jane, I know. But I can't see anything. You have to float us down the Dalles, understand?
Sarah Jane had gotten a lot better about her fear of water since Snake River, but this... was something completely different. It wasn't fair, for this little girl to lose her brother and her mother like this. To have to kill a man. To be forced to do something that terrified her to her core.
I believe in you, Sarah Jane. And so did Susan.
It wasn't fair, but it had to be done.