This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any actual resemblance to persons or historical persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The Dukes of Hazzard characters, settings, locales, ect. are owned by other entities who have not endorsed this fic nor have they given express permission for the character's use. Author makes not claims to these characters and is not making any profit from their use.

All original characters are the property of the author(s).

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Copyright: 2004. Cuz Bonita

 

Prologue

Brian walked home from the Hazzard County Library with a book under his arm. He was careful to avoid being seen; nothing would blow his reputation faster than being labeled a bookworm. His excursions to the library were made with more caution than broad daylight robbery.

He took the back way home, hopping over a fence and skulking along shrubbery. Once he was safely on Coltrane land, he snuck up quietly to the back of the house. Using the drainpipe of the rain gutter, he hauled himself up a few feet until he could swing a leg up on the roof of the back porch. From there, it was a short scuttle up to the edge of the main roof. Brian pulled himself up with some difficulty; the roof was angled, and it was old enough that his first grab for a handhold resulted in displaced shingles. Finally, he crept up the slanted roof like a cat on all fours, with the library book tucked safely in his jacket. He edged over to his bedroom window, just below the roof’s main peak.

Getting out of the window had been easier than getting back in. Brian realized that he hadn’t really thought things out to this point; the window was open, but it’s narrow ledge was beneath him by a good six feet. Well, there was no help for it. Brian turned around, laid on his stomach, then slowly pushed himself off the roof, boots-first. He reached back and took a hold of the rain gutter, wondering if he’d pull the entire thing down with him. But no, it held, and he cleared his entire body over the roof’s edge, hanging onto the rain gutter with his arms at full stretch. He felt his boots touch the window ledge below. So far, so good!

Except that if he let go of the rain gutter, he’d probably lose his balance and fall backwards off the house. Damn. Maybe he could reach down one hand at a time and grab the top of the window frame, and then lower himself far enough to scoot into the window…

He tried reaching down for the window frame, and pushed the window down on accident, shutting it on his own feet. “@*&%!” With the window closed, his feet stuck, and no way to open the window again without losing his handhold, Brian pondered whether the embarrassment of falling to maim himself in the yard was worse then having someone see him like this.

He didn’t have to decide. Dogs began to bark from within the Coltrane homestead. The front screen door slammed. The sound barking of dogs transferred to the outside of the house, then around the corner, then directly beneath him. Flash and Bandit, not knowing if this was a drill, or if Brian was really breaking and entering into his own room, barked their heads off.

Rosco’s voice rose up from the lawn. “MaryAnne, you were right. It’s just Brian comin’ home from the library.”

“Khee! I hope he picked out another western,” she said glibly. “Tho’ I suppose we’d better get the ladder. No, wait. Let’s call the fire department, they can get ‘em down!”

Brian turned half-around, at the risk of his balance. “Would y’all just go back inside and open the damn window?”

“Only if you tell us what book ya got,” Rosco said.

“And let us read it,” MaryAnne insisted.

Having no choice, Brian relented. That evening, the Coltrane household immersed themselves in the saga of…

***** ***** ***** *****

Hell’s Tapwater


The town blacksmith took off his Confederate cap and wiped the sweat off his brow. The fire had been stoked for branding, and a large iron rested in the coals. Cooter turned the iron by the handle, checking the brand for temperature. It wasn’t red-hot yet, but the business end of the brand would be glowing in a matter of minutes.

Good thing, too. The horse awaiting branding was highly suspicious of the blacksmith’s actions. The large half-breed was cross-tied in a branding stall, snorting nervously. Every so often, the horse would stamp down a mighty hoof, and the coals in the branding fire would shift with the impact.

“Easy, Damascus,” Brian said soothingly. “It’s awright.”

“It’ll be over before he knows what happened,” Cooter said, pulling his cap back on.

The horse’s owner, by right of the nine-tenths rule of possession and not by purchase, turned to look at the blacksmith. “You really think this is gonna work?”

“Work? It’ll work a bunch!” Cooter lifted the glowing brand from the coals. The iron had several letters formed on the end of it, spelling DAMASC. The blacksmith had formed them to size up with the US brand that Brian’s horse already wore. There was no way to remove the cavalry brand; so in order to hide it, Cooter had devised adding the other letters needed to spell the horses’ name. It was ingenious, if he said so himself, which he did. “Brian, this idea of mine’s so good, I outta be chargin’ you double.”

“Put it on my tab.”

“I am. Hold your horse, now!” Cooter stuck the iron back in the coals a minute. When he drew it out again, the branding letters were a bright orange. He took two quick steps to the branding stall, keeping the iron away from the horse until the last moment…then, with a swift, sure thrust, he planted the glowing brand right on target and held it there for three seconds. He pulled the brand off just as quickly, the word DAMASCUS left behind in the burnt horsehair, neat as a stamp.

Damascus pinned his ears back and his eyes went wild. The horse stood in shock as the pain made it’s way from his fleshy flank to his brain. Then, with the realization that he’d been purposely wounded, the horse bellowed and yanked his head violently, tugging the cross-ties with such force that Brian thought the animal would break his neck. He tried holding the ropes short, but Damascus pulled away and kicked at him savagely, forcing Brian to dance aside. The only thing holding the horse in place were the stall ropes attached to the halter, and they weren’t enough. “Easy! Easy, Damascus! You’re awright! Whoa, boy!”

“WHNUGH!” Damascus snorted, lashing out with his back hooves to kick the wall. The blacksmith’s tools were falling off pegs with the force, clanking to the ground. The rings holding the cross-ties were loosening from the horse’s struggle, and Cooter knew that disaster was imminent. He grabbed Brian by the sleeve and hauled him out the door. “RUN!”

Cooter and Brian fled from the blacksmith’s shop, tearing into the street on foot. Behind them, Damascus neighed bloody murder, and the sound of crashing wood announced that one black horse was now at large. The big horse burst through the front of the smithy like a train through a wooden barricade, screaming vengeance all the while. “EEEEE-E-E-E-E-E!”

“AAAAAAHH!!” Brian yelled with a glance over his shoulder. Damascus was barreling down on them, maddened beyond reasoning, his powerful hooves mowing over the dirt with terrifying speed.

Cooter didn’t need to look; the drumming hooves told him that they were about to be trampled. The blacksmith cut a retreat towards the saloon, diving head-first into one of the watering troughs in front of it. Brian followed suit and dove into the other, ducking under with a splash. Damascus saw his quarry dive from sight, but he was running too fast to stop and figure it out. He took a tremendous leap over the water troughs and crashed through the front window of the saloon, shattering it. Screams and yells and horse whinnies filled the saloon, and there was the sound of a piano being knocked over and trampled. The raging animal was finally driven out by Daisy, who shooed him off with a broom . Damascus went flying out the swinging doors, just as Brian and Cooter had poked their heads out of the water to see what was happening. They dove back under as Damascus flew over their heads again, landing in the dirt street to kick and buck his way across town.

Inside the saloon, one patron was undaunted by ruckus. Chet eyed his whiskey glass with new appreciation, and held it out to Daisy to refill. “Waaaaal, I reckon I’ll have anudder.”

Back outside, Brian and Cooter hauled themselves from the water troughs, soaking wet. Damascus had barreled around the square once already and was taking aim at a new target: the recently built gazebo.

“Oh no.” Brian couldn’t watch. When the last of the gallows had been removed from the town square - much to his relief - there had been a debate as to what to replace it with. The townsfolk had gotten used to a centerpiece in the square, and it no longer looked right without one. A quaint, wooden gazebo had been built after some discussion, primarily because it gave Boss another place stand around in and feel important. He had become fond of delivering speeches from it, and would surely take offense at it’s destruction.

Brian feared that if the gazebo was ruined, Boss might take a mind to replace it with the original scaffold that had graced the town square. “Damascus!” He yelled out. “Whoa, boy! Stop!”

“N-N-N-EEEEEIGH!” Damascus bellowed. The black horse lowered his head and charged. The gazebo took a hard, glancing blow from the mad animal, held a moment, then slowly tilted as one side collapsed towards the ground, bringing the rest of the small structure after it with a wood-rattling crash. Damascus never slowed.

Cooter took off his waterlogged Confederate cap and held it over his heart. “There went a fine gazebo, well before it’s time.”

“GAH!” Brian said. There was only one possible way to stop this horse. But the sugar he kept in the pocket of his cattleman’s coat was ruined by his dive in the water trough! “I need sugar!” he yelled desperately.

“You need a lawyer,” Cooter answered. “Better yet, you’d best slide outta town before Boss sees this mess…”

Townsfolk were screaming and running away from the wild horse like chickens from a fox. A farmer’s cart was upset by the one-beast stampede, and then half of Rhuebottom’s front porch went the way of the gazebo. Everything Damascus hit seemed to make him crave more destruction.

“He’s a Coltrane horse, alright,” Cooter observed. “He’ll need new shoes after this…”

Brian suddenly ran in the direction of the general store. Rhuebottom’s had already taken some damage, so borrowing a little sugar shouldn’t be a problem. Ignoring the storekeeper’s sputtering, Brian helped himself and ran back out with two fistfuls of sugar cubes. “DAMASCUS!” he called to the careening horse. “SUGAAAAR!”

“WHUFF!” Damascus halted his mad gallop, rearing and pawing the air as if he didn’t want to be bribed out of his rancor. Then he planted his front hooves down and thundered towards Brian at top speed.

Brian held out the sugar cubes at arm’s length. Damascus bore down on him, ears back and teeth bared. “Nice horsie! Easy, Damascus! Sugar….”

It looked as if Damascus would rather flatten Brian than take the sugar, but at the last moment, the big horse halted, coming to a stop so quick that his hooves slid in the dirt. He ate the sugar from Brian’s palm quickly, slobbering it up in the blink of an eye. He shook his mane and snorted, wanting the other handful that he knew Brian was holding back.

“Awright. Now calm down…there’s more sugar…but no firin’ off like a cannon anymore, ya hear?”

Damascus seemed to debate it. His sides were heaving from his fit, and his ears flicked back and forth in indecision. His tail swatted the air, and a back hoof stamped at the ground. Try as he might, the horse couldn’t really remember what he was mad about - only that it involved his dubious master. But there was sugar…

Brian saw the horse’s ears perk forward and stay there. “Okay, fair enuff. Here….”

Damascus nickered when Brian offered the other handful of sugar. The horse ate it leisurely, pausing between munches to look back at the townsfolk that were gawking at him. Many of them seemed upset, but it didn’t concern the animal in the least. When the sugar was gone, Damascus dropped to the ground to roll in the dirt, easing the last of the irritation from his fresh brand.

***** ***** ***** *****

Elsewhere in Hazzard County, Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane rode at full speed towards the smoke. His white mustang, Lightening, galloped alongside the swift appaloosa mare that carried MaryAnne. Together, they raced for the billowing cloud of black smoke that rose thickly in the distance. A farmstead was in that vicinity…

…but no more. Rosco and MaryAnne slowed their horses when it was clear they’d been too late. Both the farmhouse and the cattle barn that belonged to the Haverston family were completely engulfed and beyond saving. As horrific as the sight was, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Mr. and Mrs. Haverston were found shock-stricken, but alive, holding their young daughter between them. “My pony,” the girl wailed brokenly, “I want my pony…”

MaryAnne dismounted, heartsick for the little girl. She walked her appaloosa mare, Phoenix, over to the crying eight year-old. “I’ll help you look for your pony,” she said gently. “But first, I need you to hold Phoenix for me. Will you take care of Phoenix while I talk to your folks?”

“Uh-huh,” the girl sniffled, taking the reins. The appaloosa leaned down to give the child a friendly snort, touching her nose to the small hand that reached out shyly. MaryAnne took the Haverstons aside as Rosco dismounted to meet them.

“Indians!” Mr. Haverston said before anyone asked a question. “We saw ‘em riding away as we was comin’ back from town. They was drivin’ our cattle in front of ‘em, had the rest of the horses, too. Woulda had us to boot, had we came home any sooner.”

“Injuns?” Rosco said. “Ain’t been no Injuns in these parts fer a coon’s age!”

“They’ve come back sure enough,” Mrs. Haverston warned. “They raided our farm! They took our livestock! They destroyed our home! Sheriff, you have to do something about it!”

Mr. Haverston nodded empathetically. “Call in the cavalry! No telling who’s farm they’ll raid next!”

“Wait a minute, folks,” MaryAnne spoke calmly. “The first thing we need to do is get accommodations for you all, and give you a chance to recover.”

“We’ll put you up at the saloon in town,” Rosco said. “Then we’ll git on their trail.”

The Haverstons, having no other options, agreed. The couple walked dejectedly to their one remaining horse and farm wagon, the only material goods left to them. They were about to call for their daughter, but MaryAnne had a better idea. “Would you like to ride to town on Phoenix?”

“Uh-huh,” the little girl nodded, petting the appaloosa’s neck.

“Okay.” MaryAnne swung up into the saddle, shifting back in it to make room for a passenger. She held a hand down for the young Haverston, who climbed up to take a seat in front of her. Phoenix led the way back to Hazzard with a smooth, easy gait.

***** ***** *****

“My God,” Mr. Haverston exclaimed. “Hazzard’s been ransacked by those Indians!”

Between the destroyed gazebo, the damage to the saloon and the broken porch of Rhuebottom’s General Store, it was clear that a destructive force had wrecked havoc on the small town.

“Looks more like a tornado hit,” Rosco suggested.

MaryAnne didn’t offer her speculations. “The Boar’s Nest has survived worse than this. C’mon, we’ll get you folks settled in.” As she and Rosco obtained room and board for the Haverstons, they couldn’t help but notice the hoof prints that weaved around the saloon floor.

The Haverstons looked at the horse-induced damage curiously, but MaryAnne and Rosco pretended it was nothing unusual. But the moment Daisy took the Haverstons upstairs to their temporary home, the Hazzard law made their inquiries to the saloon’s patrons.

“Waaaal, I din’t see nuddin’,” Chet said. “I din’t hear nuddin’ eithur.”

Chet, unlike his former Pinkerton counterparts, had stayed on in Hazzard. He was now an assistant to the Hazzard undertaker, which kept him in plenty of drinking money. It even gave him a certain status, as the undertaker’s office was one of the more prosperous ventures in Hazzard County.

“Oh, come on,” MaryAnne told him. “This much damage, and you didn’t see anything?” She looked at Chet, then at the blank faces around the saloon. No one spoke a word. No one knew how to explain it.

Rosco put his boot inside of one of the hoof prints. A large, heavy horse had made these prints. And it would take a crazed horse to stampede around in a saloon. “Never mind, MaryAnne…I think I know who we’re lookin’ for.”

“So do I,” she admitted. “I was just hopin’ for evidence to the contrary.”

***** ***** *****

“My saloon! My new piano! My gazebo!”

“My head,” MaryAnne mumbled. Boss’s raving was giving her a headache.

“I want that cousin of yours behind bars! No! I want him outta Hazzard County! For good!”

MaryAnne rubbed her temple. “Anything else?”

“Yes! That damage is comin’ outta your pay!”

“My pay?” MaryAnne objected mildly. “Why not Rosco’s pay?”

“Bah! It’s comin’ outta BOTH your pay! So there!” Boss stormed out of the Hazzard Sheriff’s Department. MaryAnne sighed. Boss had taken it about as well as she expected. She moved back from the booking desk and looked underneath it.
“Awright, you can come outta there.”

“Thank ya.” Brian climbed out from under the desk where he’d been hiding. “Ol’ Boss Hogg is really fired up. Suppose I should mosey outta town like he wants…”

“Not a chance, buster. You’re gonna stay here in Hazzard and behave yerself if it kills you.”

“Nicely put, Deputy.”

“I know. Khee!” MaryAnne grinned. “Don’t worry about Boss, he’ll cool off. Meantime, you’re gonna stick by me and Rosco for awhile. Damascus’s temper tantrum cost you some popularity with folks. I wouldn’t want you to bump into an angry mob about now.”

“Gah.”

“’Zactly.” MaryAnne enjoyed Brian’s unease. It kept him in line. “As soon as Rosco’s back from his noon gunfight, we’ll head out to…”

BLAM! BLAMBLAMBLAMBLAM!

Brian and MaryAnne held their breath a moment. The church bells started to ring out the hour.

“Somebody’s watch is fast,” Brian mused.

“Somebody don’t need to know what time it is anymore,” MaryAnne said. She adjusted the gunbelt over her hip. “’Scuze me a moment.” She grabbed the Winchester off the wall and went outside. Five shots had been fired, and she wanted to make sure that none of them had found Rosco as a target.

They hadn’t. MaryAnne found Rosco alive and well, examining the three bodies that lay in the street. “Holy moly,” MaryAnne said. “Rosco, you hit the jackpot.”

Rosco kicked the closest body with a boot. “It tried to hit me. I had this joker here to deal with, but then these other mavericks jumped out and took potshots.”

“Cheaters,” MaryAnne grumbled. “Nobody’s honest anymore.”

“That’s why we’ve got jobs, sweetheart. Speakin’ a’ which, we halfta git out to the Haverston’s place and investigate that. You find Brian?”

“Yes, hiding under the booking desk.”

“Khee! Shoulda had ‘em scrub the floor while he was down there.” Chuckling, Rosco started dragging off one of the bodies, with MaryAnne’s help. They didn’t have to drag it for long; Chet came running from the undertaker’s parlor, rolling a wheelbarrow in front of him. The sound of gunshots had called him to work.

“Waaaaal, anudder day, anudder dollar! Yew jus’ leave ‘em for me, Sheriff.” Chet took the first body and heaved it into the wheelbarrow. He made a casual dig through the dead man’s pockets, stuffing the findings into his own. “Reg’lar pay, with tips. Never had me a bedder job…”

“They’re all yours, Chet.” Rosco was only too glad to let someone else do the clean-up. Shooting men down wasn’t something the Sheriff enjoyed; but the conventions of the day left him little choice. Especially when he was up against three-to-one odds.

Rosco took a last look at the bodies. “Wyatt Earp can eat his heart out.”

“Rosco,” MaryAnne chided.

“What? I take pride in my work, that’s all…” Rosco gave MaryAnne a dead serious, I’m-the-Sheriff-so-there look. She broke up giggling.


***** ***** *****

“It’s hot out here,” Brian complained. “Where the hell are we riding to? Bermuda?”

“Hush,” Rosco said. “Maybe you’d prefer stayin’ in jail.”

“Maybe I would,” Brian muttered.

MaryAnne smiled. “Bri, black clothing absorbs the sun. Didn’t you know that?”

“Argh.” While balancing in Damascus’s saddle, Brian let go of the reins and shrugged out of his black cattleman’s coat. He stuffed it into a saddlebag, then rolled up the sleeves of his black shirt. He took off his rustler’s hat, fanned himself with it a moment, then put it back on his head, sighing.

“Ya don’t do so well in broad daylight, do ya,” Rosco observed.

“Not used to it,” Brian confessed. He accepted the canteen that Rosco passed to him, taking a long swallow from it. He handed it back, nodding thanks. The Coltranes fell into a companionable silence, letting the sounds of the horses and the noises of nature take over for awhile. The day was hot, but the sky was blue, and the countryside was alive with birdsong.

The faded smoke that rose from the ruined Haverston farm was a grim reminder of their purpose. Charred, collapsed timbers were all that remained of the barn; the farmhouse had burnt clear down to the stone foundation. The heat of the blaze had blackened much of the surrounding grass, and the scent of destruction lingered in the air.

Damascus squealed and tossed his head. Rosco’s mount, Lightening, pinned back his white ears and snorted. Phoenix became skittish, wanting to dance away from the smoking ruins, and only MaryAnne’s calm voice kept the appaloosa under rein. “Easy, Phoenix. Steady.”

Rosco dismounted from the mustang, not forcing the animal any closer. Brian and MaryAnne followed suit, letting their own horses graze a good distance away from the damage. The three horses clustered together in a herd and took turns at watch, each lifting a head every few minutes as the other two nibbled grass.

Rosco, MaryAnne and Brian stayed close together as well. None of them spoke as their boots crunched over burnt grass and rubble. Rosco removed the spur from one of his boots and dug into hot ashes here and there with it, his expression a scowl. MaryAnne, too, was poking into the ruins carefully, shaking her head. Brian didn’t understand what they were doing, but he took some obligatory kicks at the mess himself.

“There’s nothing,” Rosco said after going through a wide circle. “No farm tools. No lamp bases. No pieces of horse harness. I can’t even find the plow blade.”

“Not much by the house,” MaryAnne reported. “Looks like the furniture went up in smoke, but I don’t any see silverware pieces, or dishes, or…”

“This ain’t a usual Indian raid, is it?” Brian asked suddenly. “I’ve heard tell of Indians taking livestock and raiding farms, but I aint’ never heard of ‘em taking hay rakes or china sets…”

Rosco and MaryAnne didn’t answer right away. They had found tracks behind the barn, deep ruts formed by wagon wheels. Hoof prints were scattered in the soft earth of the fields. Brian followed his cousins, and knelt down by the tracks.

“Wagons were pulled by shod horses,” he said, studying the impressions in the dirt. “But…there’s more hoof prints over here, and these look like Indian ponies. No shoes, light prints…”

“Not bad,” Rosco gave him, examining the prints and having the same conclusion himself.

“Horse thieves know horses,” MaryAnne commented. “Brian…tell me something. Those wagon tracks…”

Brian studied the tracks and the hoof prints once again. He spread the fingers open on his right palm and measured the prints in the soil. He knew exactly what MaryAnne was asking, and in a moment, he answered her. “Draft horses…pulling army supply wagons,” he said quietly. “U.S. Cavalry.”

“Judas priest on a pony,” Rosco said. “Either them Indians raided an Army camp before this, or…”

“Or we’re looking at a bigger mess than meets the eye,” MaryAnne finished. Her blue eyes followed the wagon tracks. “The Haverstons said they saw Indians herding the cattle and horses away. They didn’t say anything about seeing wagons.”

“These tracks split up,” Rosco said, walking forward. “Look over there. The field is mowed down wide, that’s where the animals were driven. The wagon tracks go off opposite.”

“We’re gonna get to the bottom of this.” MaryAnne strode over to Phoenix. “I’ll follow that Indian trail for a short ways. You boys follow the wagon tracks. We’ll go a couple miles and see if they meet back up with each other…”

I’m the Sheriff,” Rosco pointed out. “MaryAnne, you follow the Indian trail. Brian and I will follow the wagon tracks.”

MaryAnne climbed into the saddle. “Yes sir, Sheriff,” she smiled. “Good idea.”

“Khee! I thought so too.” Rosco shooed her off, grinning. MaryAnne clicked at Phoenix and the appaloosa galloped away. “Don’t go too far,” he hollered after her. “After a mile or so, cut back over to us!”

MaryAnne waved back, indicating that she heard him. Rosco watched her go. With her deerskin breeches and vest, tan Stetson, and the Winchester rifle strapped to the saddlebags, MaryAnne was the picture of frontier spirit. She was fearless enough to scare the hell out of him, yet smart enough to stay out of trouble. He took a mental picture of her as she rode away, feeling proud.

Then he turned and looked at his other cousin, black-clad and bad. Brian didn’t exactly install a feeling of pride in Rosco. It was more like the feeling of a splinter under a fingernail - irritating, slightly painful, and constant. Or so he told himself. Both of them knew better, but neither would admit it.

Brian gave the Sheriff a smart-ass grin. “Gee, we get to go ride around in the blisterin’ sun some more, huh? Hot damn…”

“Hush!” Rosco barked. “Git on yer horse or I’ll tie ya over it.”

“Yessir, Sheriff, right away!” Brian pretended to obey out of fear, scrambling for Damascus and mounting the horse hastily. He spun Damascus in a circle. “I’m ready to go bake my brains! Lead the way, Sheriff!”

Rosco got into the saddle and nudged Lightening towards the wagon tracks. “Brian, you don’t have any brains to bake. I shoulda left ya back in the cell in town. Heck, I shoulda…”

Rosco rattled off a list of one hundred and one ways to dispose of a bad guy. Brian, riding alongside of him, laughed good-naturedly.

***** ***** *****

Phoenix galloped over the trampled field as MaryAnne kept her eyes to the horizon. They had covered the mile in a matter of minutes, and the trail showed no indication of cutting back to meet the wagon path. Instead, it wound towards the woods, leading where no wagon could ever hope to pass.

MaryAnne looked to her right. Rosco and Brian were a good ways away, but she could still see them. It wouldn’t hurt to go a little further. Her curiosity was stirred; how did the Indians drive cattle through the woods and keep the herd together? It would have slowed them down tremendously.

Unless they used the woods as a diversion, to break up their trail, and then met back up outside of it at a pre-arranged point. She nodded to herself, approving the strategy. No one would want to follow a raiding tribe into the wilderness, and this stretch of woods was too vast to take guesses with. The Haverston’s livestock and horses, along with the little girl’s pony, were probably gone for good.

MaryAnne guided Phoenix as close to the woods as she dared. Hoof prints of cattle and horses split up and went in multiple directions, like streams of water after a hard rain. The shadows of the thick woods blocked the sunlight and hid the trails within.

Phoenix suddenly reared up and gave a shrill whinny. Two Indian braves sprung from the high weeds and pulled MaryAnne off the horse before she knew what was happening. One of them clamped a hand tightly over her mouth, muffling her scream. The other grabbed at Phoenix’s reins and tried to mount the appaloosa, but the mare bucked and kicked wildly. MaryAnne kicked too, driving back a spur into the leg of her captor, who snarled in pain. The hand over her mouth was joined by another strong arm around her throat, and despite her struggles, MaryAnne was dragged off to the woods.

Phoenix whirled her head and yanked the reins away from the other brave, and leapt away as he tried to grab her mane and spring onto her back. The brave landed on his stomach in the dirt, and saw the mare kicking up her hooves as she thundered away.

“Hoy!” The brave holding MaryAnne yelled. She was still giving a fight, resisting his efforts to get her seated on his horse. She bit, she kicked, she scratched like a wildcat, and she threw a surprise right cross and knocked him down. Furious, the brave drew his knife. No captive was worth this. Cutting her throat and taking her scalp would be prize enough.

“NA!” The second brave shouted, catching MaryAnne as she tried running away. He clamped her arms to her sides, wrenching her back around to face the first brave, who came at her with a large knife clutched in his fist.

MaryAnne saw her end in the brave’s cold eyes. “No!” She yelled, struggling desperately, but fear weakened her voice. If she was lucky, death would come quick; if not…

The knife edge came up against her throat and was held there. The brave reached out with his fingertips and tore the star from MaryAnne’s vest. He looked at the silver badge as if studying a gem. Was it white medicine? His coal black eyes burned into MaryAnne’s blue, the knife undecided at her throat.

***** ***** *****

Movement caught Rosco’s eye, off to his left. It was probably MaryAnne coming back. Good, Rosco thought to himself. He looked just to make sure. Yes, it was Phoenix galloping towards them, the appaloosa mare running with all haste. From this distance, Rosco couldn’t quite make out what MaryAnne was doing. Must be staying low in the saddle, I can’t even see her…

“About time she came back,” Brian voiced Rosco’s thoughts. “I was ready to get worried.” He turned Damascus around to face Phoenix’s approach. Damascus sensed the mare’s distress the same time Lightening did, and both horses let out bellows of alarm that startled their riders. Brian tried to calm his animal. “Easy, Damascus! It’s just MaryAnne!”

“It’s…” Rosco’s words died off. He could see that Phoenix was coming back with an empty saddle. “Oh my Lord…MaryAnne!

Phoenix was upon them a moment later, the poor appaloosa dancing and snorting with wild eyes. “Easy, girl…easy.” Rosco reached out for the reins and brought the mare closer, patting her neck. She whinnied nervously, pawing the ground with one hoof, doing her best to communicate what happened.

Damascus and Lightening understood. Their pointed ears twitched nervously. Brian and Rosco pieced it together the best they were able. “Her saddlebags are still here,” Brian said. “So’s her rifle. Whatever waylaid her, it wasn’t a holdup...”

“I can see that!” Rosco snapped. His worry for MaryAnne made his temper sharp. “I shoulda never let her go alone…come on!” He threw Phoenix’s reins back over the mare’s head, knowing she’d follow the mustang on her own. Lightening galloped away, bearing Rosco towards the direction Phoenix had just came from. The mare followed her herdmate instinctively, turning to neigh at Damascus.

The black horse answered her, whinnying and charging ahead, not caring what Brian was thinking. “GAH! How about I say ‘giddyap’ before you do that next time?” Damascus ignored his silly owner and barreled ahead, and the three horses ran abreast of each other for the woods.

“Whoa,” Rosco commanded as they came up on the trees. “Whoa, Lightening.” Before the mustang came to a full stop, Rosco hopped from the saddle, his eyes roaming the outskirts of the woods. Instant hopeless filled him. There was no sign of MaryAnne.

“There!” Brian said, pointing to an area of trampled weeds. He jumped down from Damascus and ran over to it, Rosco at his heels. Sure enough, it looked like there had been a scuffle here. Snapped twigs, matted grass lay near the trail that MaryAnne had been following. Rosco put the evidence together in seconds, the early conclusion tearing his heart open. They’d taken her…

He walked around the field, imaging the worst. He found MaryAnne’s tan Stetson lying discarded in the weeds, and he picked it up reverently.

Standing behind Rosco, Brian didn’t utter a word. He knew the number of unpleasant fates that could have befallen their cousin. As if on silent agreement, neither he nor Rosco spoke of them aloud. When the Sheriff moved ahead, following the tracks into to the woods, Brian followed. Together, both men searched for signs of hope but felt little of it.

Rosco knelt down at a familiar boot print. The mossy floor of the woods told the story. MaryAnne had fought, ran a few steps, turned around…then her prints were gone. “Brian…take a look…”

Brian knelt next to him, reading the information aloud. “Moccasins...two sets of prints. This one’s larger, here…” Brian crept along the footpath. The indentation of hooves took over where the moccasins and stopped. “Two ponies…unshod.”

“They took her,” Rosco grated between his teeth. He’d known it in his heart, and the prints confirmed it. His gunmetal-blue eyes were hard and angry as he looked into the darkness of the woods.


***** ***** *****

“Heee-kyaa!” MaryAnne didn’t know what the word meant, but the brave who held her made it sound victorious. Let him enjoy it; she would give him a heee-kyaa he’d never forget if she got the chance, and it would take him a week to stand up when she did.

“Yahnto!” The other brave shouted, riding next to them through the woods.

“Goddammit,” MaryAnne said, just to make herself feel better. If the braves knew what the word meant, they gave no indication.

She had allowed herself to be taken captive, after coming too close to having only her scalp taken back to camp. She’d press her luck later, when the odds were better. If they ever got better. Coltrane luck was casting another bad roll of the dice.

“HEEE-KYAA!” Her captor yelled again, making her jump. She looked over her shoulder at him with irritation. “That was right in my ear, thank you.”

“Hoy,” he growled at her. The noisy white woman wasn’t much different from the squaws in camp. They chattered like squirrels for the sound of their own voice.

MaryAnne turned back around and tried making sense of the surroundings, but they rode through the woods at too fast of a pace for her to note any landmarks. Eventually the trees thinned out and a wide stretch of grassland yawned in front of them. A cluster of wigwams dotted the center of it, and a mixed herd of cattle and horses milled around the dwellings.

Yips and yells rose from the Indian encampment at the sight of the returning warriors. More braves, war-painted and fierce-looking, rushed from the camp to welcome MaryAnne’s captors, raising spear and bow to the sky. They saw the white hostage and went into a frenzied shrieking.

“ACK!” MaryAnne swallowed hard. Out of the frying pan, and into the fire…

***** ***** *****

“We’ll have a better chance at night, though not much of one.” Brian offered the opinion freely. “But tracking those Indians through the woods is more than impossible…it’s suicide.”

Rosco knew it. They had made an effort to follow the tracks they’d found near the outskirts of the woods; but as the tracks moved deeper into the trees, they crossed a labyrinth of trails that were interwoven like snakes. Even if they didn’t become hopelessly lost, an ambush could come from behind any tree. They left the forest with heavy hearts, and returned to the relative safety of the field. They now sat beneath the glaring sun and passed the canteen back and forth, debating their next move.

“I ain’t givin’ up,” Rosco said. “If MaryAnne ain’t leavin’ those woods, than neither am I.”

“I didn’t say nothin’ about givin’ up. Hell, if anything, we should get help. There’s a cavalry stationed a day’s ride from here, outside of Atlanta.”

“I suppose you’d ride right up to them on your stolen horse…”

Brian frowned at the Sheriff’s sarcasm. “I’d rather you fetched ‘em, naturally. But I’d do it.” His dark eyes met Rosco’s unflinchingly.

“I believe ya would.”

Brian nodded soberly. If the Rosco said the word, he’d go, and the hell with the consequences.

Rosco read the thought all too easily, and gave a half-smile. “Yer a fool, Brian. A damn fool. But yer a Coltrane.”

“Thank ya.”

“And no, I don’t want you ridin’ to fetch no cavalry. I don’t trust them Yankees…” Rosco looked away, holding the rest back. He remembered the last time Yankees had come to Hazzard County, burning and looting their way from Atlanta, intent on destruction more than any honest battle. They would have succeeded in reducing the town of Hazzard to ashes, except for MaryAnne’s intervention. Even then, it had been a near thing. The line between acts of war, and revenge taken on an innocent civilians, had blurred with Sherman’s march. One of his subordinate officers had made Hazzard a target, and the home guard had been hard-pressed to repel the assault. Only the surrender of Lee had put an end to the nightmare, though skirmishes between rebel holdouts and Union troops went on for some time.

Rosco shook his head at the memory. No, he had no desire to see Yankees again. “If they come down here, they’ll only make things worse.”

“Then you must have a better idea,” Brian hoped aloud.

“I don’t. But the more people we get involved in this, the more somethin’ could go wrong. If we comb those woods with a posse, or brought in the cavalry, more people could end up hurt and killed with nothin’ to show for it.”

Brian felt his chest tighten up. They had to consider the worst. “You mean you think MaryAnne could already be…”

Rosco shut his eyes and nodded. “There’s no tellin’…” he said softly. “We don’t know what tribe we’re dealin’with, or what’s got ‘em riled up. We don’t know a damn thing.”

“We’ll find her,” Brian vowed.

“We?” Rosco stressed the word, giving his cousin one last chance to back out. Brian could ride away, go back to Hazzard, or to Atlanta, or return to life on the run, and Rosco wouldn’t think any less of him at this point. Rosco was willing to find MaryAnne at all costs, but he wouldn’t consign Brian’s life to the venture. It had to be his choice.

“We,” Brian answered.

***** ***** *****

War Eagle fixed his gaze on the white captive. She stood with her back straight and her chin high, courageously facing the Indian chief who would decide her fate. War Eagle reached out and touched her brown hair, running his fingers through it. The woman flinched slightly, then forced herself to remain impassive. Yet in her blue eyes, War Eagle saw defiance. Her hard stare jabbed at him like a spear.

Most squaws would be pleased with his attention, and War Eagle found the white woman’s attitude confusing. Surely she understood the honor he would bring her. He moved his fingers to lightly graze her face, tracing her cheekbone. When his fingers brushed over her lips, she bit him.

The laughter of his clan angered War Eagle, and he slapped the woman hard. She fell from his blow.

The white woman pushed herself up from the ground and stood to face him again. She did not cry. She is waiting for death, War Eagle realized. She had no wish to be his squaw. If he kept her against her will, she would fight his taming, like a wild horse.

Despite his name, War Eagle enjoyed peace in his wigwam. His other wives might become difficult, by learning from this white woman’s behavior. Better to kill her and lose a captive, than to force a marriage and lose all face.

War Eagle turned to the braves that brought the woman to him. He spoke to them of their prowess as warriors, and praised their capture of the white woman. He explained that, like some horses, this woman was wild and could not be tamed. A horse of that kind had to be set free, or slain, before all the tribe’s horses became wild again.

The braves nodded at the wisdom of their chief. They knew exactly what he was getting at.

We cannot free this white woman, War Eagle said to them, because she had followed their trail, and having done so once, may do so again. And like a wild horse that follows the camp herd, the trouble would be the same.

The braves nodded again, and murmurs of approval grew from the tribe.

We must slay this woman, War Eagle said. We must kill her as one slays a wild horse that cannot be tamed, and will not go away. We will honor her spirit with dance and drums. We will send her spirit free where she can run wild forever.

The braves let out yells that were echoed by the entire tribe.

MaryAnne didn’t understand the words coming from War Eagle’s mouth. But when the two braves suddenly grabbed her and dragged her towards a thick wooden stake, she got the idea. Having shown courage and fortitude enough to this point, MaryAnne decided it was time to put pride away and scream for her life. “EEEEEYAH!! AAAAAACK!! LET ME GO! LET ME GO!!

Drums started as MaryAnne was bound to the stake. “HELP!! HELLLLP!!” Dancers formed a circle around her. Thinking desperately, MaryAnne tired measuring the distance this spot was from the outskirts of the woods. It could be miles. Rosco and Brian probably couldn’t hear her…

She tried anyway, as wood was piled in a heap around her. “ROSCO! ROSCOOOOO!!! BRIAAAAN!!! HELP!!!

Even if they could hear her, they would be too late, she realized. War Eagle carried a torch up to MaryAnne and stood in front of her, chanting. The drums increased their tempo. The dancers sang and raised their hands from the ground to the sky, twisting their bodies and imitating the rise of flames.

“Oh God…” MaryAnne leaned her head back against the stake and shut her eyes. Her lips moved in a whispered, hurried prayer.

War Eagle felt the spirit of the woman preparing for journey. He lowered the torch and prepared to thrust it into the dry wood at her feet. Sunlight, flashing off a spinning piece of metal, distracted him. He couldn’t help but stop and look at it.

The brave that had captured MaryAnne held the badge between his thumb and forefinger of his right hand, and was making it spin by hitting it with the forefinger of his left. He alternated this with flicking it, listening to the tiny, musical ping it made. Sunlight caught the spinning badge and it shone brilliantly with the motion.

“HOY!” War Eagle shouted at the brave, adding a string of language that amounted to where did you get that?

The brave pointed at MaryAnne, who still had her eyes shut and was listening for nothing but the voice of the Almighty.

“Na!” War Eagle turned as pale as the white woman. He knew a silver badge was strong medicine, and only white chiefs wore them. The woman was either a chief in her own right, or the squaw of a chief, or high-ranking clan member. War Eagle snatched the silver star from the brave’s hands. As he cupped the badge religiously in his palm, the torch flame danced in the reflection.

***** ***** *****

The muffled thunder of drumming echoed through the woods, reaching the ears of the two men who camped at the outskirts. Rosco felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck. A sudden, deep foreboding filled his gut, and his gunmetal-blue eyes held a glint of private terror as he gazed towards the forest. Without speaking, Rosco mounted Lightening and directed the mustang into the woods, horse and rider becoming enveloped in the undergrowth.

Brian cursed under his breath and leapt into Damascus’s saddle. There was nothing to do but follow the Sheriff’s lead. The drumming was warning enough for any white man, and ordinarily, Brian would have made quick speed in the opposite direction. But if MaryAnne was anywhere to be found in these damn woods, it would be right where the drumming was coming from. Brian knew it, and he felt a twinge of the raw panic at the thought. He nudged Damascus with his boot heels and urged the big horse to hurry.

Lightening, following his rider’s guidance, was weaving headlong through the trees and darting along the narrow Indian trails. Rosco followed the sound of the drums, ignoring all else. He’d never get there in time…whatever was happening, he couldn’t stop it. Grimly, Rosco slapped the mustang’s reins and put the horse through the woods at a reckless pace.

Any chance of clearing the woods in stealth was out of the question. Not far from Lightening, Damascus ripped through the woods like a mad ox. Brian stayed low in the saddle, avoiding the snagging branches that whipped at his face. Like Rosco, he feared that whatever was happening, they would be too late to prevent it.

When they were halfway through the forest, the drumming abruptly ceased. It had been the only guide that Rosco and Brian had through the dense woods, and without it, they were lost. In shallow optimism, they rode on for a short way before slowing down. Finally, Rosco halted the mustang and waited until Brian met up with him.

“No tellin’ which way it was comin’ from, anymore,” Rosco gritted through his teeth.

Brian nodded somberly. “Ain’t no such thing as a straight line through these woods. I got a decent sense of direction, but it’s too thick in here to get a fix.”

“We’ve come too far to turn back,” the Sheriff said determinedly. “We’ve got to go on.”

“Those Indians will find us first,” Brian guessed.

“That’s possible…” Rosco turned in the saddle and looked over at his black-clad cousin. In the overlapping shadows of the forest, Brian’s dark clothing and black horse gave him a natural camouflage. “But I’m willin’ to bet they won’t find you as fast as they’d find me.”

Brian caught the drift. “I ‘spose that’s why bad guys never ride white horses,” he agreed.

“I reckon you’re right.”

“I reckon I’m ridin’ ahead, then.” Without further comment, Brian nudged Damascus forward at a walk. He kept a light touch on the reins, coaxing stealth from the animal. The Percheron-Arabian complied, stepping delicately over the dry branches that littered the mossy earth. Rosco waited until he could barely see the outline of horse and rider ahead of him, before moving Lightening to follow.

Brian had no idea where they should go. Damascus was more confident than he was; the large horse moved along without much concern, ears pointed forward. Trusting to instinct was all any of them could do, and in that respect, the animals had the advantage of not doubting themselves.

One animal in particular wasn’t about to leave things to the confused humans. Phoenix moved through the woods behind her herdmates, having followed the mad dash into the forest. The appaloosa caught up to Rosco and Lightening, nickering at them. Then she moved ahead to surprise Brian and Damascus, and summarily passed them to take point well ahead of the procession.

Smart mare, Brian thought to himself. Riderless and still wearing tack and saddle, Phoenix would draw the attention of any Indian scouts…

The thought was barely formed in Brian’s mind when sharp, yipping cries shattered the air. Phoenix bolted, leading two Indian braves on horseback into a chase. The appaloosa and her pursuit plunged onward, leaving Brian and Rosco undetected.

“Whoa, Damascus! Whoa!” Brian whispered, holding the reins back with effort. The black horse wanted to follow and help the besieged mare. Damascus tossed his head angrily, quieting only when Rosco rode up alongside with Lightening.

“Whoa,” Rosco muttered. The Sheriff looked off in the direction Phoenix had taken, and then turned solemnly to Brian. “That horse of MaryAnne’s just saved our hides.”

“Ain’t no doubt there,” Brian agreed. “I woulda never seen them Indians until it was too late.”

“Let’s keep movin’. Phoenix gave us half a chance to make it.”

Brian nodded and cued Damascus forward. Travel was made in silence, except for one question of curiosity that Brian could no longer contain. “Sheriff?”

“What?”

“How do them Indians make those high-pitched yips like that?”

“I dunno…comes from ridin’ without a saddle, I ‘spose.”


***** ***** *****

“Put me down!” MaryAnne demanded. It was token resistance; she was too weak to fight the brave who freed from the stake and carried her away from the heap of dry wood. Besides, this wasn’t a change of fortune that she wanted to argue. Anything beat what she had been about to face. Anything at all. She wasn’t sure what had changed War Eagle’s mind or why she was still alive, but it couldn’t have come a moment to soon. As it was, she felt disoriented. The sight of the blazing torch coming closer and closer, along with the noise of the pounding drums and blood-curdling chants, would never be forgotten.

All she wanted to do now was indulge herself in a dead faint. That, however, wasn’t an option. She was MaryAnne Coltrane, dammit.

She was carried to a war pony, and unceremoniously flung over it like a big bag of flour. Annoyed, MaryAnne pulled herself into a sitting position. She had to get her wits about her, fast, or Lord only knew what would happen next.

The brave who had captured her and started the whole mess climbed up behind her. “Oh, great,” MaryAnne muttered. “Another ride with Squanto. Listen, y’all, I’m glad you broke up the barbeque, but if it’s all the same I’ll see myself home, thank you.”

“Hoy,” War Eagle said severely, and such was his tone that MaryAnne decided to bite her tongue rather than risk it being cut out. War Eagle spoke a few curt words in his own language to the brave, giving instructions for MaryAnne’s new fate. The brave nodded to his chief, displeased with the orders but obedient. Before MaryAnne could figure out the gist of it all, the war pony was kicked into a gallop. She hung onto the shaggy mane and wondered how Coltrane luck was going to treat her now.

***** ***** *****

Rosco and Brian reached the broad, grassy clearing in the center of the forest. The cattle and horses that milled about gave evidence of what happened to the Haverston’s livestock. The two men could not, however, determine the one thing they desperately needed to know - that being if MaryAnne was still alive.

“We have to get closer,” Rosco said. He didn’t care how many wigwams, warriors, or mosquitoes were between them and MaryAnne. He was determined to find her.

“Oh, we can get closer,” Brian drawled. “The part I can’t guarantee is if we can stay alive.”

“Might take some doin’,” Rosco admitted. “It’s too bad neither of us are that good a’ sneaks.”

Brian looked at him sharply. “What??”

“You’d have to be mighty sneaky to get close to those wigwams and find MaryAnne.”

“I suppose ya would. Real sneaky.”

“Sneaky as heck,” Rosco agreed. “I’m not as sneaky as some, but I’m gonna do my sneakiest. Well…thanks for comin’ along, Brian. I’ll see you around…”

“Aw, give it up. I’m gonna do the sneakin’. It’s my job.” Brian dismounted his horse. He rolled down the sleeves of his black shirt, and pulled his black cattleman’s coat from Damascus’s saddlebag. He put it on, flipped up the collar, and tugged down the brim of his black rustler’s hat.

“You look sneaky,” Rosco observed.

“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Brian managed a grin. “Awright, I’m gonna try n’ find her. You’ll probably be safe here by the woods - but take off that damn badge. When the sun hits that, it’s like a mirror.”

Rosco scowled, but removed the badge and put it inside his shirt pocket. “Git goin’,” he said gruffly. “And be careful.”

Brian gave a short nod, then faced the Indian camp and took a deep breath. He let it out slowly, forcing himself to relax. Nobody snuck around very well when they were uptight. Brian crouched low, moved along the edge of the trees, then took a few fast steps into the high grass of the field. He paused, hunkered down, then moved slowly in short, erratic patterns. Every few feet, Brian would stop, hunker down, and freeze.

It drove Rosco nuts. At this rate, he’d be an old man before Brian got near the camp. Gradually, though, he realized Brian’s strategy. The seasoned outlaw was mixing in with the cattle and horses, imitating the pause-and-graze behavior. He was hiding in the wide-open and in broad daylight, and the Sheriff had some admiration for the tactic. He began to wonder just how many horses Brian had liberated during his ignoble career.

The closer Brian got to the camp, the more nervous Rosco became. Brian was far away from him now, and when his black-clad cousin hunkered down in the grass, he was indistinguishable from the cattle and horses that dotted the field. But how close could he get to the wigwams without being spotted?

Brian was wondering the same thing himself. He was eventually reduced to crawling on all fours, keeping his head low. Mooooo, he thought to himself, pretending to be interested in the pasture quality.

He hoped he was mentally invisible to the Indians. The basic theory he’d exercised as a thief, is that generally, if no one expected to see you, they usually didn’t see you. The other part of this was that you had to act as if you didn’t expect anyone to see you either. Therefore, Brian was busy convincing himself that he was a rustled calf. Moooo!

A timid whinny caught his attention. A brown pony was hobbled at a nearby wigwam. The little horse was a bit thick in the withers for an Indian mount, and it had too round of a belly for a war pony. It had to be one of the Haverston’s animals; perhaps it was the pony belonging to the little girl MaryAnne had befriended.

The poor creature looked white-eyed and fearful, and it craned it’s head around to look imploringly at Brian. It won his sympathy.

“I don’t like bein’ tied up either,” Brian whispered to it softly, crawling closer. He drew his knife out and carefully sawed through the hobble rope that bound the animal’s forelegs. Free to move, the pony took a few tentative steps, then bounded away towards the woods, knowing the way home out of instinct.

“Na!” Came a shout from the camp. A young brave spotted the fleeing pony, and he wasn’t about to let his prize run away. He ran after it, calling for his fellow warriors to help.

The brave tripped over something large and went flying. He landed in the grass, rolling with the momentum. He sprang lightly to his feet, looking back to see what had caused the mishap. He saw nothing at first, but then noticed a large, black shape matting down the grass near the wigwam.

“HOY!” The brave yelled in alarm. He pointed to the dark shape in the grass, which suddenly moved and scrambled away between the wigwams. More yells, shouts and yips burst from the camp. Women screamed, horses neighed and cattle bellowed. It was chaos and no one knew exactly what was happening.

Except for Rosco. “JIT!”

The Sheriff watched in dismay as Indians converged on the last place he’d seen Brian. If MaryAnne was anywhere in the camp, she now had enough of a diversion to escape - if she was still alive.

***** ***** *****

MaryAnne was alive, but it was temporary reprieve. As the brave guided the war pony through the woods, she felt a growing sense of unease. The sun was getting lower in the sky, and the perpetual gloom of the deep forest kept her spirit subdued. She gave her captor mild grief, and had tried to jump from the pony at least three times, but the brave’s answer to that had been to tug harshly on a fistful of her hair. Weary of the abuse, she resigned herself to the ride.

The woods ended abruptly, and MaryAnne regained a sense of direction upon seeing the unobstructed sun. They were riding north. Why north? There wasn’t anything between here and Atlanta worth noting. Hazzard was a good ways behind them.

“What’s the plan?” MaryAnne asked, just to try her luck.

“Uth meloi,” the brave said helpfully. He had come to admire the white woman’s courage, even though he desired nothing more than her scalp for a war trophy.

“Okay, so long as I know,” MaryAnne sighed. The answer made no sense to her. She was tired and homesick, and the long ride from the Indian camp had given her time to worry about her cousins. What were Rosco and Brian up to? What were they doing right now? Were they back in Hazzard, organizing a rescue posse to search for her?

Would she ever see Rosco again? The doubt put a jab of pain in her heart. She hadn’t been able to really think about it before, because things had happened so fast. If only…

“Esgh!” The brave interrupted her thoughts. In the horizon, MaryAnne saw the destiny that War Eagle had selected for her. A wooden, military fort stood high-walled and imposing in the late sunlight, with the flags of the Union army streaming lazily in the breeze. A cavalry had made a permanent outpost here, much to MaryAnne’s surprise…

…and despair. War Eagle had no way of knowing it, but he had instructed his brave to deliver MaryAnne into the hands of her former enemies. The war between the states was over, but MaryAnne had not forgotten the visit that Sherman’s armies had paid to the South. Her role against one of those armies wouldn’t be forgotten, either.

The Indian brave made a hand signal to a cavalry scout, and was allowed to bring MaryAnne to the main gate. Here, he made rapid hand gestures and gave a few grunting words to the captain on duty, turning MaryAnne over to the white man. This, War Eagle had decided, was the right thing to do, and he had instructed his brave accordingly.

MaryAnne slid off the pony at the brave’s signal. She stood silently before the captain, not offering so much as her name. The Indian brave handed the silver badge over to the Union officer, pointed to MaryAnne, then pointed at the fort. Yours. Then with a wild, yipping cry, he turned war pony away and galloped off, glad to be rid of the white woman, her medicine, and the strange ways of her world.

The Union captain was grey-haired and dour. Rough lines creased his burlap face, and his expression was decidedly unfriendly. He had seen the worst of humanity during the war, and being a soldier of the North, he was convinced that the worst of humanity thrived below the Mason-Dixon line.

And then, there were the special cases. Captain Dunham had a soft spot for the fairer sex, but he could not forgive betrayals of any kind. Especially if such betrayals led to the compromising of Union interests.

MaryAnne watched the way Dunham studied her badge. She said nothing to the man, knowing that nothing would make a difference. Obviously, he remembered her all too well…

The captain closed his gloved fist around the badge, as if to crush it in his palm. “MaryAnne Coltrane,” he spoke contemptuously, “I’m honored to have you as a prisoner.”

MaryAnne gave a light snort. “I can’t be a prisoner. No one arrested me.”

Dunham’s face hardened. “Very well. Let us follow protocol. MaryAnne Coltrane, I hereby arrest you on charges of espionage and treason!”

“I hereby detest you!” She answered in outrage. “I was defending my home! Defending it from men who acted more like pirates than soldiers! You were burning and looting the farms of innocent people!”

“We were depriving the enemy of resources!” Captain Dunham said angrily. “And you, my dear, have implicated yourself quite thoroughly.” The Captain barked a command to the soldiers around them. “Take her away!”

Blue uniformed soldiers came forward to collect MaryAnne. She briefly gave thought of putting up a fight, but there too many soldiers and nowhere to run. As the sharp bayonets surrounded her, she sighed and raised her hands. “It’s awright, boys,” she told them. “I’ll go quietly. I’ve had a bad day anyhow.”


***** ***** *****

At the Indian encampment, Brian was not going quietly. Neither was anything else. He had been successful in upturning a dozen wigwams, and had collapsed the lodge belonging to War Eagle, but he hadn’t found MaryAnne. Nor would he have the chance to search further. He was completely outnumbered, and only the close quarters in the inner camp had prevented him from being taken down with an arrow. But escape was unlikely.

Brian tried to backtrack towards the forest, with the hopes of stampeding some livestock to aid his retreat. He broke into a headlong run, darting out from the maze of wigwams to head desperately for the woods. Behind him, he heard the chilling, furious yips of the Indian tribe. It gave him a second wind, and he ran like hell.

Behind him, an Indian brave whirled a sling, and a heavy stone whistled from it with clever accuracy. The rock hit the back of Brian’s head and he went down, sprawling face-first into the grass. Whooping and yipping, the victorious brave ran forward and counted coup, touching the fallen man with the sling. Seconds later, Brian was being dragged back to the camp, towards the wooden stake that was ready for a fresh victim.

Rosco was running from the woods before he realized what he was doing. He had no plan, no conscious answer to the problem. The Indians didn’t see him right away; they were preoccupied with securing Brian to the stake. Being out cold, Brian gave them no resistance. He would be unaware of his doom until it was too late.

War Eagle supervised the preparations. He didn’t know who the white-faced thief was, nor did he care. His tribe had been through earlier disappointment when the white woman was released, and now War Eagle had the opportunity to satisfy tribal justice. This time, there would be no need to halt the proceedings. Any white man foolish enough to steal from them would meet with certain death.

The drums started their tempo. This time, the dancers wore heavier war paint and carried knives. They wanted the fire to be angry, as they were angry. War Eagle raised a flaming torch to the darkening sky. Let the white thief suffer and die slowly! Let his torment last forever!

The noise was beginning to revive Brian, and he stirred awake groggily. He felt like he couldn’t move. His head was pounding. It took him a moment to realize the pounding wasn’t just his head. Drums? He blinked and looked around, slowly coming to terms with his situation.

“AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!”

War Eagle took it as a cue. He lowered the torch. He was tackled and knocked to the ground before the flame touched anything. “UGH!”

“Ugh, yerself!” Rosco wrestled the torch away, putting the flame out in the dirt. “Just freeze it right there! We got laws against burnin’ people alive!” He stood over War Eagle, the pearl-handled Colt aimed between the Indian chief’s eyes.

“SHERIFF!” Brian yelled. “BEHIND YOU!”

Rosco spun around and ducked the tomahawk swing that would have cut him in half. He clubbed the attacking brave with the butt end of the pistol, stunning him. The distraction gave War Eagle his chance for revenge; he leapt to his feet, grabbed Rosco’s arm from behind, and twisted it until the Sheriff dropped the gun. War Eagle picked it up, smiling savagely.

“DOHHO! Be careful with that! Wait a minute…gitcher hands offa me! You can’t do this! I’m the Sheriff of Hazzard County!” Futilely, Rosco protested as several Indian braves forced him to share the stake with Brian. The two men were bound back to back, and the tribe celebrated the impending double feature. Yips and chants rose to the sky as the drums resumed.

Brian gave a long, defeated sigh. “Thanks for tryin’, Sheriff…though you shoulda left me and saved your own hide.”

“I shoulda. Next time, I might.”

That made Brian chuckle. They had a minute of life remaining, as War Eagle had to go relight the torch. “Listen, Sheriff…”

“Call me Rosco. I’m your cousin, ya know.”

“I know. Rosco…do you think wherever MaryAnne is…that she’s okay? I mean, I can handle dyin’ n’ all, but I don’t want it to be for nothin’.”

“Ain’t gonna be for nothin’,” Rosco answered. “You’re in this fix for the same reason I am. Onconna you cared about somebody more than you cared about yourself.”

Brian was silent for a few seconds. “I guess it’s worth it then.”

“It is,” Rosco said thickly. From his vantage point, he could see War Eagle returning with a fresh-lit torch. “Brian…you remember how you were complainin’ about it bein’ hot today?”

“Yeah…”

“It’s about to get hotter.”

Brian turned his head, and upon seeing the torch brandished by War Eagle, gave a hard swallow. “We gonna take this like men, or we gonna indulge ourselves?”

“I ain’t proud,” Rosco said. “How about you?”

“I’m gonna scream my fool head off,” Brian promised.

“I’ll join ya.”

War Eagle lowered the torch. He looked around to see if some unseen force would disrupt the burning again. Nothing presented itself. There was only the frenzied, pointless struggling of the white victims, along with their fearful noises.

“AAAAAAH!!!DOHHO!!!GAH!!JIT!!!EEEYAAA!!!OOOOO!!!YEEEK!!!”

War Eagle shoved the torch into the dry wood, which caught and crackled with a growing blaze. Rosco and Brian took one look at it, heaved in a gulp, then lifted their voices in a single cry. “MARYAAAAAAAAANE!!!!!”

It went unanswered. The drums pounded, the dancers chanted, and the fire grew. The flames were not at their boots yet, but the heat was intense enough already. Rosco and Brian fought the ropes, struggling violently while they had the ability to struggle. There was no point in going gracefully.

They didn’t get loose, but the action did cause Rosco’s badge to work free from his shirt pocket. With a tiny ping, the silver star fell loose, bouncing off Rosco’s boot and landing in the flames. War Eagle saw it, and knew the Great Spirit must truly be testing him. “HOY!!”

War Eagle and two of his braves rushed to the fire, frantically kicking away the flaming wood. It effectively saved the two white men they had intended to roast. Rosco and Brian looked on as War Eagle carefully reached his hand into the smoking, blackened wood to retrieve the badge.

“That’s mine,” Rosco said when War Eagle held it up. “I told you, I’m the Sheriff! Yer committin’ a Federal offense here!”

The note of authority in Rosco’s voice, combined with the dreaded emblem of white medicine, convinced War Eagle. He ordered his braves to free Rosco. The Sheriff staggered down from the stake and snatched the badge from War Eagle’s hands. “Give me that! It’s about time you came to your senses…that’s my gun, too. Give it here!”

War Eagle’s superstition made him deliver up the goods. Rosco jammed the Colt back into it’s holster, pinned the badge back on his vest, and fixed the angle of his Stetson. “Awwwright. Now we’re getting somewhere. Savvy white talk?”

War Eagle grunted and gave a slight nod. He spoke some English, but saw no point in lowering his standards more than necessary. “Chief,” he said, pointing to himself. He then pointed to Rosco. “Chief.”

“Sheriff,” Rosco corrected, “But close enough.”

Renewed drumming interrupted the dialogue. Rosco looked over his shoulder, and realized there was an oversight that needed to be addressed. Brian remained bound to the stake, and it was clear there was no exception being made for him. The wood was being re-stacked.

Rosco looked urgently from Brian to War Eagle. “Let ‘em go!”

War Eagle didn’t blink. “Chief,” he said, pointing again to Rosco. Then he pointed to the black-clad captive at the stake. “Thief!”

“Well…that’s true, but he’s kin of mine. Complicates things now n’ then.”

War Eagle didn’t care. “Thief!” He drew a finger across his throat in a slashing motion. He wanted to burn somebody at the stake, no matter what.

“Kin!” Rosco insisted. Thinking that perhaps War Eagle didn’t know the word, Rosco walked back to the stake, shoving past the confused braves who were ready to enjoy a good bonfire. He climbed up the woodpile, to the surprised murmurings of the tribe, and took position next to Brian.

“You’re crazy!” Brian whispered to him. “Get the hell outta here while you can!”

As War Eagle watched, Rosco produced a knife from within Brian’s coat pocket. The Sheriff clicked it open, and sliced a thin cut across his own palm. He then freed one of Brian’s hands, and cut his cousin’s palm in the same manner.

“Ow!” Brian objected.

“Hush! I know what I’m doin’!”

Rosco pressed his cut palm to Brian’s, and faced War Eagle. “Kin!”

The meaning was not lost on the tribe. But they did not completely understand how the two men, so opposite in medicines, could be of the same clan.

War Eagle understood, and he had an expression for it. He lifted his voice to Rosco, speaking English slowly and clearly. “It is said, that one cannot chose one’s ancestors.”

“Somethin’ like that,” Rosco nodded. He stayed by Brian, demonstrating the strength of shared blood to War Eagle. Either both Coltranes would live, or both would die.

The choice was made. At a gesture from War Eagle, two braves came to free Brian. White medicine, War Eagle decided, ran strong with those of the silver star.

Rosco and Brian left the stake behind for good. Brian was a bit unsteady, and Rosco, despite his calm exterior, felt his heart drilling against his ribs. Both men wanted to quit while they were ahead, but there was unfinished business. They approached War Eagle, standing before him with more calmness than they felt.

War Eagle could almost predict their question. Studying them carefully, the chief saw that the white men bore a resemblance to the tribe’s last visitor. “Speak,” he said to Rosco.

“We came to your camp searching for another one of our kin,” Rosco explained. “A woman with a star like mine.” He pointed to the badge on his vest.

“The Wild One,” War Eagle grunted. “Sent her to blue soldiers.”

“You sent her where?” Rosco said nervously.

“Fort. Blue soldiers.”

“The fort to the north?” Brian asked. “By Atlanta?”

“This fort closer,” War Eagle said. “Not far.”

Rosco and Brian were equally distressed at that news, each for their own reasons.

***** ***** *****

“In there,” the soldier snapped. “Move it.” He shoved MaryAnne in the back, forcing her inside the brig. The iron door clanged shut behind her.

“I want my one telegraph!” MaryAnne yelled. “I got rights, ya know!”

The Yankees ignored her. The soldiers who had escorted her to the brig were returning to their duties, leaving MaryAnne completely and utterly alone. “Ack.”

The cell was small. It had the redeeming feature of being relatively new, and therefore wasn’t as foul as most prisons. Still, it was in want of cleaning, and MaryAnne looked at the dirty hardwood bunk in distaste. There was a latrine hole in one corner of the cell, adding to the lack of elegance. A small, barred window was set high in the back wall. If she stood on the bunk, she could barely see out of it.

In less than two minutes, MaryAnne had explored everything in her new environment, and she was stark raving bored. She was also hot, tired, hungry and thirsty. And worried sick…

What had become of Rosco and Brian? Would they have any way of knowing what happened to her? Would she ever know what happened to them? The what-ifs played in MaryAnne’s mind, making her restless. She belatedly realized she was pacing around the floor. Well, what else was there to do? If only Brian could see me now…

Captain Dunham was not making empty threats. In the strictest sense of the law, MaryAnne had thwarted Union interests. She had worked at the Boar’s Nest during the conflict between the states, and she had used the information she gathered there, shamelessly, for the protection of her neighbors. It wasn’t espionage, in her book. It was self-defense against a hostile aggressor.

Now that hostile aggressor had returned. “Goddammit.” Hadn’t there been enough violence? Wasn’t the nation at peace? Why was Dunham so anxious to punish her? It wouldn’t gain him anything, except petty revenge. Even then, was it worth the red tape he’d have to go through to accomplish it? She was a legally appointed deputy! Just how much could he prove, anyway?

How much did he need to prove? These were the days of expedient…and convenient…justice. MaryAnne had high standards concerning her police work, but she knew those standards were not universal. It was very possible that she was in big trouble. Fine, they could do their worst. The one thing she did not want, however, was to have her name sullied by the Union or by anyone else.

Maybe it would have been better to have perished at the hands of the Indians. At least she would have remained whole in name, title, and memory. But if Dunham had his way, he would disgrace her, shame her, and then kill her.

There was something else, though. MaryAnne felt it at the core of her police instincts. Dunham wasn’t here with an entire regiment just for her. It was unlikely they would have ever crossed paths again, had it not been for the Indian raid on the Haverston farm…

MaryAnne stopped pacing. Wait a minute. There were two sets of tracks leading from the Haverston’s. One belonged to the Indian raiding party. The other belonged to cavalry horses and army supply wagons…

“Good Lord,” MaryAnne breathed. It was coincidence, conjecture. But it was too much to dismiss. The Indian brave had been allowed to bring MaryAnne up to the fort. He had known how to communicate with the soldiers. The “Indian raids” and the cavalry’s presence could be connected in very sinister ways. There was no solid evidence as of yet, but if Captain Dunham still had a taste for sacking and pillaging, then Hazzard County was in serious danger.

Maybe she was wrong. Maybe she was jumping to conclusions. She’d never find out the truth while rotting behind bars. She had to get word to Rosco!

“Enjoying your stay?” A shallow voice said from the cell door, startling her. Captain Dunham had been watching her, for who knew how long. MaryAnne marched straight for the iron bars and glared through them.

“What’s the real reason you’re stationed this close to Hazzard?” She demanded. “Is it because you didn’t get enough plunder during the war? Is it because you’re in cahoots with an Indian tribe that covers things up after you’ve robbed a farmstead? Is it?!”

Captain Dunham lost all color in his face, but only for a moment. It was gradually replaced with a deep flush of crimson. “Your allegations have no merit,” he hissed.

“They have plenty of merit,” MaryAnne snarled back. “That’s the real reason you’re holding me here, isn’t it, Dunham! Because you knew I’d figure it out. I spoiled your plans before and I can do it again!”

“You’re a foolish woman,” Dunham spat, “If you think I’m giving you that chance. I have enough military authority to dispatch you here and now.”

“I’m a sworn deputy,” MaryAnne reminded. “You can’t take the risk.”

“I can,” Dunham stated. “And I will.” He unclenched a gloved fist to show the badge in his possession.

MaryAnne wasn’t following the threat, until she realized that no one in the fort had seen her wearing the badge. No one else knew who she was, and if she tried to tell them, they would think it a mere fairy tale invented by a desperate, condemned prisoner. Her blue eyes flashed defiance, but deep inside, she was beaten and she knew it.

Dunham had outfoxed her. MaryAnne thought she had goaded him into admitting his guilt. Unfortunately, he had discovered just how much she had figured out…and now, it was evident that he could not, in fact, permit her to live.

The Union officer read the look in MaryAnne’s face, and enjoyed it immensely. His smile was cold and sharp like frost on a windowpane, cracking his face. “I see you understand your position,” he said tauntingly. “It’s my pleasure to order your execution, my dear. Tomorrow’s dawn will be your last.”

MaryAnne’s heart stalled. He meant it…

Captain Dunham curled his gloved fist around the badge once more, and his smile became a cruel sneer. “I’ll see to the end of your beloved Hazzard as well.” He backed away from the cell door, then spun on his heel and departed, never looking at MaryAnne again.

Silently, she watched him leave. It was her concern for Hazzard County, more than for herself, that weighed on her heart.

***** ***** *****

War Eagle noticed Rosco’s distress. “You are not of the blue soldiers?” he asked, tugging at the blue sleeves of Rosco’s shirt.

“Uh…it’s hard to explain, ya see.” Rosco hedged his answer.

“You are not a chief?” War Eagle said suspiciously.

“I am a chief!” Rosco nodded hastily. “But during the war between the states, I was a Grey Chief.”

War Eagle squinted his black eyes. He was beginning to see the problem. “Your kinswoman…she is of the grey?”

“Yes.”

“Hoy,” War Eagle grumbled. White ways confused him. Perhaps the white chief now wore a blue shirt because the grey soldiers had been defeated in war. How was he, War Eagle, to know that the Wild Woman was a Grey Chieftess? It was frustrating to associate with these people.

War Eagle turned a harsh gaze to Brian. “What solider you, blue or grey?”

“No solider,” Brian said honestly. “Thief.” He grinned weakly, tipping up the brim of his rustler’s hat.

At least that much was consistent, and War Eagle gave up trying to figure out this strange clan. “You go to fort of blue soldiers,” he instructed Rosco. “Claim kinswoman.”

“Riiiiiiight,” Brian muttered under his breath. Rosco elbowed him and cleared his throat.

“We will,” the Sheriff told War Eagle. “Our kinswoman is not safe there.”

We won’t be safe there,” Brian pointed out.

“You not safe here,” War Eagle growled. Brian took the hint and shut up.

“Awright,” Rosco said, knowing they had no choice. “We leave you in peace, Spread Eagle…”

“War Eagle!” the chief shouted.

“’Zactly,” Rosco nodded hurriedly. They were wearing out their welcome, which hadn’t been too warm to begin with…or rather, it had been entirely too hot. Brian, sensing the same thing, was hastily shoring up some of the wigwams he had bowled over during his flight around the encampment.

War Eagle noted the effort at amends, but remained indifferent. The tribe wouldn’t live this day down for many moons. Worse, the sight of the unburned stake and the stack of perfectly dry firewood, unused, depressed him. “Go,” he said finally.

“We’re gone,” Rosco said. He didn’t know how to properly show respect to the Indian chief’s rank, so he saluted, hoping it wouldn’t get him killed. It didn’t. Relieved, Rosco hurried from the chief’s sight and grabbed Brian on the way out. “Come on, before he changes his mind!”

“I’m with ya.” Brian left the repair work he’d been puttering with. They walked swiftly to the woods, back to their own horses, expecting arrows to rain down on them any moment. They fought all temptation to run.

Making it to the woods, they ducked into the protective shade and heaved out a sighs of relief. Damascus and Lightening nickered at them, as did Phoenix, who evidently had thrown off her pursuit. The Haverston’s pony was there too, peeking timidly from behind the appaloosa’s flank.

“We accomplished that much,” Rosco said without pride. “One rescued pony.”

“It’s the little things that count, Sheriff,” Brian smiled. Now that they were away from the tribe’s wrath, he was showing signs of his usual cussedness. “You really intend to take on a Union cavalry to find MaryAnne?”

“Have to. She’s in danger, Brian. More than you could imagine.”

Brian sobered up. “Then we’d better get moving.”

“I’ll go alone.”

“Like hell.”

“Brian, don’t argue with me. I’m gonna have enough trouble getting MaryAnne from there, without worryin’ about your posterior.”

“I’m touched. But since I owe ya one or two favors, I’m comin’ with. An’ besides…I got disguises for us both.”

“Disguises?”

“You betcha. Heh heh…” Brian opened his cattleman’s coat, and dug around in the deep inner pockets. He produced a bundle of deerskins, some beads, and a few feathers.

“Where’d you get those?” Rosco asked, even though he knew.

“Took ‘em while I was cleanin’ up those wigwams. I cleaned ‘em up pretty good, too.”

“Jumpin’ Jee-hosephat.” Rosco was impressed despite himself. “Tho’ I don’t think I can pass for an Indian.”

“Sure you can. You pass for a sheriff, don’t ya? It’s all in the threads.” Brian took one bundle of Indian clothing and ducked behind the trees. He emerged a couple of minutes later, bare-chested, clad only in tanned breeches and a beaded necklace.

“You look ridiculous,” Rosco said.

“I ain’t done.” Brian dug up handfuls of moist earth from the forest, and rubbed it over his arms. He studied the effect. “If we do this right, we’ll pull it off.” With that, he dropped to the ground and rolled, coating himself front and back in dirt.

Rosco watched his antics. “Now you really look ridiculous.”

“Just wait.” Brian got up from the dirt, smiling. He took his knife from the discarded cattleman’s coat, flicked it open, and walked towards Damascus. The black horse eyed him warily. Brian spoke gently to it, and gathered up a large fist of horsetail. He cut it off, then braided it into a makeshift wig. He tied some feathers to it.

Rosco saw the costume become complete as Brian donned the horsehair wig. The black braids were convincing. Brian topped it all off with some war paint that he made by smearing berry juice over his face. He slid his knife into a sheath at his waist, then turned around with a “taa-daa” to Rosco. “Whattaya think?”

“I hardly recognize ya.” Rosco said in compliment. “Heck, I’m tempted to shoot you.”

“Good! ‘Cause I’m tempted to see what your scalp would look like on a stick.”

“Try it.”

“No thanks.” Brian’s grin was a flash of white teeth. “Here, put your outfit on, Sheriff. Then you can practice your yippin’.”

Yer gunna be yippin’,” Rosco grumbled lightly.

***** ***** *****

Escape was the single goal on MaryAnne’s mind. She had to warn Hazzard about the vengeful brigade of Yankees that were on the doorstep. The Haverston’s had been the first victims; more would follow.

It wouldn’t be beyond Dunham to establish a permanent garrison right in town, just for spite. If that happened, all she had done in the past, to protect Hazzard, would be for naught.

She waited for a chance to lure a Yankee guard into a ruse. Trouble was, no one came near her. An hour passed. The scant light that slipped through the barred windows told her that dusk had fallen. Outside, she could hear the noises of the cavalry drills, which included a small group of shots that were fired on command. Captain Dunham obviously wanted to keep her mind occupied with grim thoughts of the dawn. The cheap theatrics merely irritated her; she had no intention of sticking around to serve as a clay pigeon.

She held out hope that a guard would bring food for her soon - and with it, the opportunity for freedom. Another hour passed. MaryAnne continued to pace, plot and plan. Someone had to come and check on her eventually. And when they did, she’d be ready.

It wasn’t until another hour crept by that MaryAnne’s hope began to slowly fade. The most clever shuck n’ jive in the world was of no use, if there was no one to play it on. She was going to be left alone until morning, and Captain Dunham would make sure that there were plenty of soldiers on hand for her last escort. Dammit.

They weren’t even going to feed her, the stingy bastards.

MaryAnne’s pacing slowed, and her brown boots scuffed the floor aimlessly. Eventually, she wandered to the bunk, sat down, and bowed her head.


***** ***** *****

The Yankee fort stood like a castle in the darkness. Torches lit the ramparts, and Union soldiers kept watch from a tower on each corner. Rosco and Brian approached the fort openly, riding bareback on their horses to enhance their disguise. They lead Phoenix and the Haverston’s pony on a tether, as if bringing the horses to trade.

An officer spotted them and made a hand signal. Rosco returned it. He and Brian were allowed to come closer to the main gate. Dozens of blue uniformed soldiers lined the entrance, rifles at rest on their shoulders.

“Damn Yankees,” Brian muttered.

“Hush!” Rosco whispered harshly. “Yer supposta act like an Injun, remember?”

The sentry on duty brought them up short. “Halt!” The young soldier strode up arrogantly, looking at them with distain. “You’re not allowed in the fort after sundown.”

Rosco straightened up on his mustang, giving the soldier his meanest evil eye. “War Eagle say horses for White Chief.” He pointed to Phoenix and the shivering pony.

“We’ll take them to him.” The sentry made a move towards Phoenix.

Brian pulled his knife. “NA!” He pointed it at the Yankee and glared as hatefully as he could. The sentry froze and looked at the older of the two braves, who seemed to be holding back a smile.

Rosco assumed a belligerent pose. “War Eagle say give horses to White Chief. Savvy?”

The sentry stared hard at Rosco. There was something wrong with these two braves, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Meanwhile, the small spectacle was amusing his fellow soldiers, who were rooting for him to have his throat cut.

“Be quick about it,” The sentry snapped, moving aside. He motioned for the soldiers to let the Indians enter. Rosco and Brian rode through the gate, stone-faced. Brian, however, displayed another gesture to the sentry, who found the Indian’s mastery of single-finger sign language quite offensive.

Being inside the fort presented a new range of problems. Rosco looked around as much as he dared, without being obvious that he was looking around. “Must be two hundred r’ more Yankees in here,” he whispered through his teeth.

“Yay,” Brian gritted back. “A-hundred-to-one-odds. My favorite.”

“We need to split up,” Rosco said. “I’m gonna look for MaryAnne. You need to wait for whoever the “white chief” turns out to be.” Acting nonchalant and pretending he was familiar with the grounds, Rosco slid off his mustang and wandered away. To his great relief, it seemed that the occasional loose Indian was no cause for alarm in the fort. War Eagle’s braves must be regular visitors.

Brian found this out for himself. He slid off Damascus, and tried to look remotely threatening while he stood around and did nothing. It wasn’t his usual style, and he forced himself with a will to not fall into pacing. Indians, as far as he knew, didn’t pace.

“Came for firewater, eh?” A burly solider asked, coming up to wave a bottle in front of Brian’s nose. “Trading those horses for firewater?”

“Na,” Brain said firmly. “Horses for White Chief.”

“The White Chief has enough horses. What do you want, Geronimo? Want gamble? Liquor? Wampum?” Greed shone in the soldier’s round face.

Brian grinned like a barbarian. “Want woman.”

The soldier laughed heartily. “I bet you do! All you savages think of is firewater and females!” He turned to the closest group of soldiers and called them over. “We got a live one here, boys! Let’s see if we can get ‘em to pony up that pony for a round of dice!”

Brian, knowing the breed of men he was dealing with, decided to play along and see what came of it. He got into the act, trying to pawn off his beads for money. He pretended to be ignorant of games of chance. Before he knew it, there was a good crowd of soldiers around him, enticed by what they expected to be easy winnings.

Rosco, meanwhile, worked his way along the barracks, walking as if he had a purpose, yet trying not to look hurried. He glanced to the center of the fort’s grounds, and saw Brian having a grand old time swindling Yankees. It was an unexpected diversion, but it was proving valuable.

Rosco was able to explore the barracks unchallenged. He ducked into the various sub-compounds of the encampment, finding stables, storerooms, furniture, farm equipment...

Jit! There were things warehoused here that had little to do with a cavalry. Rosco saw the evidence right before his eyes. He had found a storeroom filled with common household items, including little niceties like silverware and china. He was willing to bet his back teeth that this was the Haverston’s property.

The Sheriff put two and two together, got four, and then rounded up to five. Wait until he found MaryAnne and told her about this! Rosco searched for portable evidence, and settled on a dainty, painted thimble from a sewing box. It wasn’t something an army quartermaster would have, and Mrs. Haverston would certainly be able to identify it. Rosco tucked it beneath his braided horse-tail wig, and with a khee, resumed his search for MaryAnne.

***** ***** *****

MaryAnne heard a growing ruckus through the cell window. She stood up on the bunk, but couldn’t see enough to tell what was going on. It sounded like the Yankees were entertaining themselves. There was swearing, loud laughter, and the clatter of dice rolling over a wooden table. She wrinkled her nose, catching the scent of liquor. Dunham’s troops hadn’t changed much.

It had to be getting close to midnight. Sunrise would greet the fort in a few hours. Despite the direness of her situation, MaryAnne was fairly calm. She intended to grab what sleep she could, and fight like hell in the morning. If there was no escape, she’d settle for getting one good punch in on Dunham.

She climbed down from the bunk. She said a few more prayers, but kept herself from offering bargains to God. Come what may, she’d face it.

If only she could talk to Rosco. As courageous as MaryAnne was, she felt the overwhelming need to say goodbye, to convey her feelings, to know that her family was all right. She wondered if Dunham had enough human decency to allow a message…

No. Who was she kidding? This was all a part of his scheme. Isolation, fear, hunger, and death.

Lonely and homesick, MaryAnne lost herself in some honest depression for a few moments. “Rosco,” she whispered to the empty darkness, “Wherever you are…”

The sound of a slowly creaking door echoed through the brig. MaryAnne tensed. Someone was approaching the cells with a great deal of caution. The narrow corridor in the brig was dark, and she couldn’t see who was coming towards her. Whoever it was, they sure didn’t want anyone to notice…

MaryAnne would be damned if whoever it was found her cowering in a corner. She took a step closer to the iron bars, not caring if it was Dunham or one of his cronies. Just let one of the fools come within arm’s reach!

She wasn’t prepared for what she saw. A form emerged from the darkness, a bare-chested man with feathers in his black hair. MaryAnne drew a startled breath and shrank back.

The Indian put a finger to his lips and smiled, coming closer. Faded moonlight streamed through the high window of the cell, and as it reached the Indian’s face, MaryAnne saw the brave’s steel-blue eyes. She recognized the soul within them, and the urge to giggle welled up from the sudden joy in her heart. Just in case there was any doubt, though, the brave held up a palm in greeting, and with a flat, contrived expression, uttered in all seriousness: “Khee!”

Rosco!” MaryAnne surged forward, reaching through the bars. Rosco pressed himself to the cold iron and embraced her the best that he could. “I’m here, sweetheart.” For a few moments, they said nothing more.

It was MaryAnne who loosened the embrace first, though she did it with such pained reluctance, and looked at him so seriously, that Rosco knew something was terribly wrong. “I’m gonna gitcha outta here,” he whispered automatically. “Don’t worry…”

She shook her head slowly, shutting her eyes, not knowing how to tell him what needed to be said. She looked up at Rosco again, and at the growing worry in his face, felt herself struggling whether to tell the truth….or let him believe she’d still be tomorrow night.

In the end, MaryAnne didn’t have the heart to lie. “Rosco,” she said softly, “We don’t have much time.”

“I know,” he said, not comprehending her meaning. “I found the evidence. These Yankees are in cahoots with them Injuns! I got me somethin’ to take to the Haverston’s for proof, and once they identify it, I’ll telegraph the U.S. Marshal.”

“Rosco…”

“We’ll bring the Marshal here tomorrow n’ spring ya,” he said confidently.

MaryAnne tried again. “Rosco, you won’t need to spring me. What you have to do is ride back to Hazzard and warn everybody! Captain Dunham is here to do what we wouldn’t let him get away with before.”

At the name, Rosco’s eyes went hard. “Thought he learned his lesson durin’ the war.”

“He didn’t. He’s here to finish the job he started…except now there’s no war for an excuse. He’s going to make ashes out of every farm in Hazzard County. The Indians are just a cover for the damage. I’m sure he’ll make them take the blame when he’s through with them. ”

“Ooo! Yer right! He’d do that, too. Use the tribe to give himself a military reason fer bein’ here…then when he’s done with ‘em…” Rosco drew a finger across his throat.

MaryAnne nodded and took a deep breath. “Rosco…I’m going to tell you something else. But before I do, you gotta swear to me that you’ll ride back to Hazzard and warn everybody. Dunham’s cavalry moves faster than the Marshal’s office.”

“I’ll warn everybody,” Rosco promised.

“Good.” MaryAnne exhaled, and wrapped her hands around the iron bars. “Rosco…Dunham knows what I know, and he’s gonna make sure I don’t go spreadin’ it around.”

Rosco’s breath caught in his body. The steel-blue eyes widened. “No….

The pain in her older cousin’s face was too much. MaryAnne looked down at the floor. “In the morning,” she whispered. “At dawn.”

“He can’t,” Rosco choked out. “He wouldn’t dare! You’re a lawful deputy!”

MaryAnne raised her eyes up to look at him. She didn’t say a word; she simply shared her own sorrow with the soft expression she gave him. She had wanted to say goodbye, to know Rosco was alright…but now that the opportunity was here, she desperately wished she could have spared him this pain. Her eyes began to film over, and she blinked once, drawing in an unsteady breath. Don’t cry now, dammit…

“I’m not leavin’ you here,” Rosco said fiercely. He put his hands over MaryAnne’s, adding his grip to the one she had on the bars.

“You have to,” MaryAnne said urgently. “After Dunham eliminates me, his next move will be to speed up his plans! He’ll march on Hazzard tomorrow, and if you don’t leave here now, word won’t get to town fast enough to get any defense ready!”

Rosco knew she was right. But trading his young cousin’s life, for the safety of Hazzard County, was too harsh of a bargain. “No,” he whispered. “Sweetheart, I can’t…

Go,” she said to him. “Please...,” and her voice broke. Tears glazed MaryAnne’s blue eyes and she let them show. The longer Rosco stayed here, the longer he put himself in danger of being discovered. She knew him; if he had it his way, he’d try to rescue her first…and probably get caught and killed in the process, the warning for Hazzard County going undelivered.

Please,” she repeated, desperate to communicate her will to him.

He stared at her with a grief-stricken soul and did not move.

MaryAnne shut her eyes, and rested her forehead against the bars. Her voice, weak from emotion, spoke her last plea. “Rosco, I love you like my own father…let the Lord take care of me…and go.”

She heard a strangled sound from him, like a swallowed cry. His hands gripped hers tightly for a moment, and she felt a tender kiss against her forehead. MaryAnne didn’t open her eyes and didn’t move; one last look would be the undoing of them both.

“I love you, sweetheart,” she heard him say, his voice raspy from tears. “I’ll come back for you…”

“I know,” she whispered back.

They both knew it would be too late.

***** ***** *****

Brian rolled the dice across the wooden table and watched the numbers come up against him. Just as well; if he had too much of a hot streak, the soldiers wouldn’t appreciate it. So far, it had been interesting enough to keep everybody in the game, and Brian had played the naïve-but-lucky-Indian role to the hilt. He sincerely hoped his luck was enough to get out of the fort again in one piece.

A long shadow, cast by torchlight, suddenly flickered over the dice table. Captain Dunham’s imposing form loomed over the gathering, his Union officer’s cap showing the brass emblems of his rank. The soldiers involved in the game stirred into attention, leaving the money and dice on the table.

“You know the rules,” Dunham addressed the soldiers. “No savages are to be behind the walls of this fort after sundown!” He pointed an angry finger at Brian, who kept his face down. “Get him out of here!”

Two soldiers moved and grabbed Brian’s arms. “Game’s over, Geronimo. Time you went back to the wigwam.”

“Na!” Brian made a grab for the money he’d won fairly, keeping up his act. Personally, he didn’t care about it as much as he cared about getting out with his hide intact. And where the hell was Rosco?

Dunham followed the soldiers escorting Brian, seeing that the Indian brave was returned to his horse. If it wasn’t for the fact that Dunham still needed War Eagle’s tribe as a cover for his looting, he would have exterminated this savage for daring to be in the fort after sundown.

One of the soldiers pointed out the appaloosa and the pony to Captain Dunham. “The Indians said those two horses were a gift from War Eagle, sir.”

Dunham frowned. War Eagle wasn’t known for acts of spontaneous generosity. “That so?” he turned to the dirt-covered brave who was about to mount his black horse.

Brian wasn’t sure how much English any of War Eagle’s braves knew; he guessed that any Indians coming to the fort probably had some idea of the language. To be safe, Brian relied on a hand gesture and a grunt, pointing at the appaloosa and the pony, and then to Dunham.

“Give War Eagle my appreciation,” Dunham sneered. The brave grunted, and then grabbed a fistful of mane on the black horse and mounted, swinging one let up and hauling himself up, bareback.

“Magnificent horse, that,” one soldier commented.

“Indeed,” Dunham said. His eyes narrowed in suspicion. Most war ponies were just over fourteen hands high, but this beast was similar to a cavalry draft horse.

Brian got nervous. The dark of night had helped his cover, but if the Yankees got too curious….

The sight of another approaching Indian distracted Captain Dunham. “You men let in the whole tribe?” he accused his soldiers.

“No sir, these two came in together.”

Brian flashed Rosco a silent look of warning. We need to make tracks…

Rosco seemed oblivious to it. His expression was a grim mask. He made hand gestures to the soldiers to show that his purpose was being with the horses and with Brian, keeping the cover. But his gaze, as his eyes turned on Captain Dunham, were filled with an ultimate hatred so deep that the Union captain stepped back.

Chalking it up to hatred of white men in general, Dunham did nothing. He still needed War Eagle’s tribe. The minute he didn’t, however, this savage would be among the first to go. The older brave mounted his mustang, and at his signal to his tribesman, both Indians turned their horses to the gate. It was unbarred and swung open for their exit. The Indians rode out, waiting until they were clear before putting their heels to the horses’ flanks.

Left behind, her reins in the hand of a Union soldier, Phoenix swiveled her pert ears back and forth, not understanding why she wasn’t leaving too. The Haverston’s pony nudged her for comfort, and she turned her neck to look at the poor creature, who wasn’t used to such adventure. Nickering, Phoenix nuzzled the pony reassuringly, while her own equine mind remained troubled.

***** ***** *****

Rosco and Brian halted their horses at edge of the woods. They recovered their saddles, clothes, and saddlebags from a hiding spot in the brush. The Sheriff hadn’t said anything the whole time, and Brian could stand it no longer. He tightened the saddle-girth around Damascus and broke the silence. “Awright…what is it?”

Rosco was quickly shedding the Indian garb. “You’re gonna ride on to Hazzard,” he said in a firm voice. “You’ve got to warn Hazzard about these Yankees. MaryAnne thinks they’re gonna march on the town tomorrow, and make up for missed opportunities durnin’ the war. Probably burn half the town and make it look like an Indian attack.”

“Good Lord….”

“Yer also gonna take this for proof.” Rosco dug around inside his braided horsehair wig, and pulled the fancy sewing thimble from it. “See if Mrs. Haverston recognizes this.”

Brian took the thimble and studied the dainty paint that decorated it. “Not military issue, is it.”

“No.” Rosco fell silent. After a moment, he gave up trying to explain the rest and simply issued a command. “Ride, boy! Git goin’!”

Something else was wrong. Brian could feel it. “Is…MaryAnne okay?” he asked carefully.

“She’s fine,” Rosco said curtly.

Exasperated and getting scared as hell, Brian raised his voice. “Just…fine?”

“That’s what I said.”

It was an incomplete answer. “What the hell ain’t you tellin’ me?”

Rosco re-mounted the mustang, and looked down at Brian with distant blue eyes. “I’ve told you everythin’ you need to know. GIT!”

Brian dropped the thimble into Damascus’s saddlebag and scowled. “Tell me what’s goin’ on, or no deal.” He mounted Damascus and stared at his elder cousin.

In answer, Rosco’s hand flashed to his holster, and the pearl-handled Colt took dead aim at Brian’s head. “I’m serious. RIDE!”

Brian stared at Rosco in complete disbelief. “What the…”

Then he saw the look in Rosco face. The Sheriff was close to losing his composure more than his temper. He was hiding something that was too painful to speak of, something he didn’t want to admit aloud.

Brian reached out his left hand and gently moved the gun away. “I’ll ride,” he said. “And whatever the hell you’re up to…good luck, cousin Sheriff.”

Rosco lowered the gun, and his face changed, making no further effort to hide the pain. He didn’t say a word, but he suddenly gripped Brian’s shoulder in a gesture of gratitude and farewell. Brian nodded at him, understanding the emotion if not the details. He returned a grasp to Rosco’s shoulder.

A moment later, Damascus was thundering towards Hazzard, running to race the dawn.

***** ***** *****

“There!” The Union soldier pointed. “Coming down the road! The black horse!”

The sound of drumming hoof beats announced the rider. Through the moonlight, the three Yankees saw Damascus gallop towards them, bearing a rider who wore black clothing. “That’s no Indian on that horse! Dunham was right!”

The Yankees hid silently in the edge of the woods, waiting until the dark horse and rider had thundered by them. Only then did the discussion continue. “What about that Indian we saw earlier, on the white mustang? He hasn’t been seen since.”

“Forget ‘em,” the ranking soldier spoke. “He looked dour enough to be the real thing. His horse too. Probably on his way back to War Eagle to report. I’m not about to follow him into that Injun camp.”

“And our orders?”

The ranking soldier growled, and readied a pistol in his hands. “We catch the man on that black horse, and wring the truth out of ‘em. When we’re done, we’ll throw the carcass near that Injun camp. If that rider is any spy of War Eagle’s, the chief will get the message that we’re on to him. Any local folks missing that fella will figure he trespassed in Injun territory and paid the price.”

The other soliders nodded. It sounded good to them. They kicked the flanks of their mounts, spurring their horses into pursuit.

***** ***** *****

Rosco led his mustang on foot, backtracking towards the fort. Moonlight guided his steps through the woods, the soft glow adding a tranquility to the night that he couldn’t appreciate. Rescuing MaryAnne was the foremost thought on his mind - though he knew his half-assed plan would probably blow up in his face, in true Coltrane fashion.

He trusted Brian to deliver the warning to Hazzard. He also knew that afterwards, Brian would likely return to the fort, out of a foolish sense of family loyalty. By that time, Rosco’s success or failure would be decided, and with it, MaryAnne’s fate.

Dwelling in these thoughts, Rosco edged towards the clearing. The wooden fort’s towers were an imposing sight, and the flickering torches illuminated the movement of sentries on the ramparts. Dunham was no slouch at military protocol, and breaching the fort’s security was a difficult proposition.

It was MaryAnne’s brave appaloosa, Phoenix, who had given Rosco an idea. Phoenix had baited the Indian scouts by running ahead of them, riderless…Rosco could only hope that the sight of Lightening running loose would tempt a few soldiers into giving the mustang chase. It was all he had for hope.

Rosco flipped the reins over Lightening’s neck and gave the horse a slap on the flank. “Git,” he told the animal, and the mustang trotted out, confused. Rosco hoped the horse wouldn’t turn around and look back at him suspiciously and blow the whole thing. “Git!”

Offended, the mustang combed back his ears and sauntered off, heading for the clearing surrounding the fort. It looked like good grazing, and Lightening soon took to it, nibbling the grass and taking a few short steps between mouthfulls.

That much had went well; now the horse only needed to be noticed. Several minutes passed. Rosco watched the towers with growing impatience. Were the damn Yankees blind? Did he have to yell free horse to get their attention?

He was almost ready to call Lightning back and try another tactic, when the gates of the fort swung open. Four Union soldiers walked out, holding kerosene lanterns. Rosco could hear their low voices but couldn’t make out the words.

Lightening paused, looked over at the Yankees, and then ignored them. The mustang was hungry, and it would take a lot to force him away from a good pasture. The soldiers walked towards the horse, clicking and calling to it. The mustang would make a fine prize, and an army always needed horses.

Lightening stamped a foot and swished his white tail, irritated by the approaching men. Rosco held his breath in apprehension. He had to time this just right.

A burly Yank was just about to try and reach for Lightings reins when Rosco called to his horse with a series of short clicks. The mustang, well-trained, responded to it and whirled towards the woods, trotting back towards his rider. The soldiers broke into a run, which spooked Lightening into a quicker pace. The horse ducked into the woods and the Yankees followed, knowing the brush would slow the animal down.

Rosco crouched low in the undergrowth and waited. The soldiers split up to surround the horse, moving through the woods a good distance apart from each other. One of the men passed close to Rosco’s position, and Rosco jumped the soldier and landed a blow from his pistol to the back of the man’s head. The Yankee fell, and Rosco hurriedly removed the soldier’s uniform and put it on. He donned the Union cap, took the solider’s gun, and used a set of handkerchiefs to bind the unconscious man and gag him. Any sympathy he may have felt for the solider was overridden by the desperation of MaryAnne’s plight.

A shout came from a few feet away, and Rosco stood up quickly. Lightening whinnied in distress as one of the Yankees grabbed the reins. That was alright; Rosco needed the other men to be more focused on the horse than on him. He followed the soldiers as they brought Lightening out of the woods. Rosco hung back to the rear, pulling the Union cap down low over his brow.

The excitement of the captured horse kept anyone from examining him too closely, and he made it through the gate and back into the fort. The heavy wooden gate closed shut behind him. As the night watch of the Union troops occupied themselves with the horse, Rosco slipped into the shadows of the fort.

***** ***** ******

“Hyaaaah!” Brian encouraged Damascus. The great black horse was running like a locomotive, galloping at a good speed. There was no question of the horse’s endurance for a hellride, as Damacus had been through many a getaway. Despite that, Brian knew his mount had withstood a lot of hard riding on little more than a few mouthfulls of grass, and he felt sorry for having to push his horse so hard. Damascus would need a pound of sugar, a bushel of oats and about three buckets of water when this was over.

It felt like they had been running forever. The darkness of the night was broken by the silver shade of the moon, and this soft light allowed them to travel fast without fear of obstacles on the road. Damascus made small leaps over braches, dodged rocks, and even skirted a hissing timber rattler without breaking stride. Brian patted the horse’s sweating neck and murmured praise to his mount. They would get the message to Hazzard as promised, and in record time.

He eventually noticed that the drumbeat of Damascus’s hooves seemed to have an echo. Something pricked at the back of Brian’s neck and ran down his spine; a feeling of sudden, imminent danger. Not questioning his gut instinct, Brian flattened himself down in the saddle and leaned low over his horse’s neck.

BLAM! The shot cracked the night air a second after the bullet whistled past. Brian looked over his shoulder and saw three Union soldiers bearing down on him, riding swift-footed cavalry mounts “Aw, HELL….”

Another shot exploded. Damascus had already picked up speed, foaming at the bit. A grim feeling of deja’ vu sank into Brian. He could tell by the breathing of his horse that top speed was being given and that there was no reserve left. Poor Damascus was running his heart out, whereas the cavalry horses behind him had probably been eating and resting all day.

Sugar!” Brian promised. Damascus flicked an ear and tried harder, his lungs working like a bellows. But now the Percheron-Arabian was stumbling; he couldn’t run flat-out and look where he was going both, and exhaustion was soon going to force the animal’s fall.

BLAM! BLAM! Two more shots sang by, and Brian felt one bullet tug at his sleeve, nicking his coat without touching his flesh. The next shot would get him. With a sense of resigned detachment, he realized that failing in his mission would be worse than losing his life. The thought came to him fleetingly, a paradox of latent heroism, and annoying as hell.

There was only one way the message would get to Hazzard now, and the chance of it was as small as the thimble in the saddlebag.

It was better than no chance at all. Brian slid his boots out of the stirrups, let go of the reins, and hoped his horse had the smarts to understand him. “Keep running, Damascas! Run ! RUN!”

Brian suddenly pushed himself off the horse’s shoulders and dove out of the saddle, hitting the ground hard and rolling. Damascus whinnied and slowed, but Brian got up and yelled “RUN, DAMASCUS! HYAAAH!” for all he was worth. Spooked, the horse bolted off, continuing the course without his rider.

The Yankees were upon Brian in short order. He went for his gun, but the soldiers already had theirs in hand. At the ominous clicks of Cavalry pistol hammers, Brian froze, and waited.

They surrounded him, drawing close on horseback, dismounting with their guns in hand.

***** ***** *****

Rosco crept through the quartermaster’s storage area, searching for a new uniform. Being disguised as a common soldier had been good enough to get through the gate, but his odds would be better if he masqueraded as an officer. Besides, he was a real Sheriff, and that called for some decorum, even if he was going incognito in Union blues.

He soon found what he was hoping for; a lieutenant’s uniform, complete with cavalry saber. He was only too happy to shed the dirty soldier’s uniform and put on the clean officer’s threads. There was room in the uniform coat to accommodate the pistol he’d confiscated, while his pearl-handled Colt was holstered over his hips. The scabbard was then buckled into place. After examining the sword and finding it serviceable, Rosco slid it back into the scabbard, hearing the long hiss of metal slide to the hilt.

So far, so good. In fact, so far, it went better than expected. He walked with confidence through the courtyard of the fort, finding that the soldiers avoided him by nature. Rosco found no surprise in that; Dunham’s officers were complete assholes, like their captain. They would have to be, in order to execute a woman on Dunham’s whim.

They’d do it over his dead body. Rosco would also see to it that Dunham got put out of the sacking and pillaging business for good.

He crossed the compound and sought out the officer’s barracks. His forays from earlier that day were paying off now; he had a good idea of the layout, and the late night hours kept the soldiers on duty at a minimum. He only needed a bit more evidence for the Marshal’s office in Atlanta; something more than the looting and burning of a single farm. Something to prove the extent of Dunham’s evil intentions.

Rosco crept into the officer’s barracks, and walked through it quietly. Snoring men continued their slumber, unaware of his presence. He guessed that a map room couldn’t be too far from here, and he cut through another section of bunks. It went on like a rat maze, until he was rewarded with a large door with a sign that read, RESTRICTED.

Jackpot. Rosco turned the door handle. It was locked, of course. Fortunately, he knew something about how locks worked, thanks to investigating a few break-ins as Sheriff. He drew the sword, put the tip in the crack of the door, and tried to slide it between the bolt and frame as he turned the door handle. Just how fast did they build this fort, anyway? Maybe fast enough that the craftsmanship wasn’t up to perfection?

Click. As a matter of fact, yes. The lock gave, and Rosco opened the door, wincing as the hinges created slightly. He shut the door behind him, and squinted into the darkness. There was no window, so he lit a match. Maps hung on the wall, depicting everything from Atlanta to Hazzard County. A string of “x” marks dotted around Atlanta, leading outward to the surrounding countryside…one “x” notably placed on Hazzard County land belonging to the Haverston’s. This was damage already done…but where were the clues for future plans?

The match burnt down to bite Rosco’s fingers. He lit another and held it as close to the map as he dared without burning it. There…he could see it now, the small, lightly-written arrows that were between each preceeding “x”, and now led to the direction of future attacks…

The Duke farm. The Davenport farm. The Avery farm…and several others. Finally, there were multiple arrows pointing at the town of Hazzard itself, as if it would be destroyed as a whole.

It was enough. Rosco blew out the match, and carefully removed the map off the wall. Here was proof of MaryAnne’s suspicions. He folded up the map and tucked it inside the uniform. Now that the worst fears had been proven, he felt a renewed concern for the success of Brian’s mission.

But he had a mission of his own yet. The first light of morning was not far away.

***** ***** *****

“I don’t know…ugh!” Brian grunted from the blow. Each of his arms were held fast by a soldier and his back was up against a tree. This left the ranking soldier free to do the chore of drawing information.

The next fist hit him across the jaw. Not enough to knock him out, but enough to snap his head around.

“You can talk while you still have wind and teeth, or not!” The soldier in charge continued the interrogation. “Why make it hard on yourself, Reb? Nobody’s hide is worth protecting more than your own right now.”

Breathing painfully, Brian regarded the solider with a dark-eyed, defiant glare. “Go to hell.”

“You’ll see it for yourself in a few minutes.” The soldier drew back a heavy fist, and pounded a blow to Brian’s gut again, making him heave for air. The solider waited dispassionately as his victim coughed and struggled for breath. “I used to help my pa slaughter cows,” the ranking soldier said casually. “My job was to hit ‘em with a sledgehammer and stun ‘em. Only I didn’t use the sledgehammer much, because my fist worked just fine.”

With that, the interrogating solider pivoted suddenly, and unloaded a heavy fist into Brian’s side. He watched in satisfaction as the young man yowled in pain and his knees buckled. The victim was kept on his feet by the other two soldiers who held tight to his arms, hauling him upright, keeping his body pinned to the tree.

“I’m gonna ask one more time,” the ranking soldier growled. “What were you and that injun really doing at the fort?! Where were you headed in such a hurry?!”

Brian wasn’t sure he had the strength to answer. His side burned and there was a sharp pain with every breath. “Awright…” he panted, “Enough…

He took another heave of air, buying time while he considered his words, his head hanging in defeat. “We found out…” he breathed, “Somethin’….about…ya’ll…”

“What?” the interrogator leaned in to listen, as did his fellow soliders. “Talk!”

Brian slowly lifted his head, and his dark eyes fixed on the leader’s face intently. He heaved in one deep, shuddering breath, letting the words out in a rush. “We…found out…that you @#*$% Yankees…are the &%$@#* worst lot of cowardly @#$%!&* that ever disgraced the Mason-Dixon line, and %#$%* all of ya if you think I’ll tell ya so *&#%$* much as where your momma’s birthmark is!!!

The taunting smile that Brian added sparked the solider’s rage into fire. He balled his fist and slugged Brian’s jaw with everything he had. Brian’s body went slack with the strike, unconsciousness sparing him from further torment.

***** ***** *****

The stockade’s guard saluted crisply as Rosco approached. Rosco returned the salute and spared no glance for the solider on duty. He wondered briefly why no guard had been posted earlier, when he’d snuck in dressed as an Indian - then he recalled that Brian’s dice game had attracted a decent crowd. He had to admit, sometimes the erstwhile outlaw had a knack for strategy. Rosco silently wished his notorious cousin good luck, and hoped that if things went poorly for himself and MaryAnne, that Brian would make it okay.

Rosco entered the prison. The stockade’s row of wood and iron was uninhabited, save for the last cell. Dunham wasn’t famous for taking prisoners, and the prisoners he bothered to take didn’t last long. Rosco’s stomach knotted as he walked quietly to the very end of the stockade. Moonlight slanted in through the iron bars in the high window, giving the barest light to the figure curled up on the wooden bunk.

MaryAnne slept with her back to the wall, laying on her side. Her head rested on her left arm; her right arm was tucked tightly over her ribs. She was cold, Rosco realized, and there was no blanket. Regardless, her side rose and fell with the relaxed rhythm of her sleep. How she had ever managed to fall asleep, knowing that a firing squad was greeting her in the morn, Rosco could not imagine.

He could not know that MaryAnne was dreaming of her childhood at that moment; of riding along with him and sitting tall in the saddle, clutching the saddle horn to keep from spilling out at a gallop. She dreamed of camping out on the hills with Rosco, and with her father, Eli, and how they would hunt deer and sing songs around the fire. She dreamt of the guitar her father used to play and how badly Rosco would sing to it, until the coyotes howled and she would giggle and laugh and clap.

She dreamed of the time she caught a live snake all by herself and how proud she was to it show her mama, toting the diamondback snake into the house in a milk pail. Her mother screamed, which caused MaryAnne to drop the milk pail, and the snake went under the cookstove. That was one of the rare times Eli took a switch to her. Not for bringing the snake in the house; but for dropping the pail she had it in. He admonished her gently, but from that moment on, MaryAnne kept a steady hand on everything she ever carried or was responsible for, including her gun. With her father’s mentoring, she’d become a crack shot, and she rode fearlessly beside roughnecks and rangers, honing her skill and courage.

Her dreams moved forward in time. She was now riding Phoenix, the wind streaking through her hair…she felt wild and free. There were no law duties or chores to trouble her. She then saw another rider on the horizon, waiting for her. The man had a weathered face but kind eyes, and he wore a dusty straw Stetson that matched his rawhide gloves. He sat astride a old horse with a white stripe down it’s nose, and MaryAnne felt joy at the sight of the horse and rider. Dad! Eli was waiting for her…he was going to ride home with her.

MaryAnne gave a small murmur in her sleep and sighed.

Rosco watched her sleep for a few minutes more, wiping the tears from his eyes. He could not attempt to free her yet; the gates of the fort were locked solid. Any escape they would dare had to come off during the daylight, when the fort’s usual activity kept the gates open.

The waning moonlight through the cell’s window told Rosco that dawn was edging closer. If he stayed here much longer, he would risk being discovered. It would be all or nothing soon. He whispered a prayer and forced himself to leave MaryAnne to her sleep.

***** ***** *****

The sound of a horrific whinny woke Jesse Duke. The elderly Duke bolted upright in bed, alarmed. He wasn’t sure, but it sounded like there was a stampede in his front yard. Horses were calling to one another frantically. He heard his nephews stirring and grabbing their guns. Rustlers weren’t common in Hazzard County, but he couldn’t think of anything else that would have the horses riled at this hour. Hastily, he pulled on his overalls and boots and grabbed a rifle, heading out the door behind Bo and Luke.

Luke was half-dressed, holding a pistol in one hand and a kerosene lantern in the other. Next to him, Bo stood bare-chested as well, his hunting rifle at ready. They stood still as Uncle Jesse joined them, along with Daisy. Together, the entire Duke clan soon figured out what the noise was.

Damascus, riderless and frenzied, was galloping the length of the corral where the Duke’s horses were kept. The twin stallions belonging to Bo and Luke raced back and forth, whinnying in answer to the black horse’s screams.

What in tarnation?” Jesse Duke said, thinking that rabies must have infected the black horse. That, or it had too much to drink when it had crashed into the saloon the other day.

Suddenly, the chestnut stallions took a running start and made a high, uniform leap over the corral fence. “Dang it!” Bo exclaimed, figuring the horses were about to fight, or run off. Instead, the three horses twitched their ears, tossed their heads, and snorted, running for short bursts, stamping, then circling each other. None of them made any effort to leave the farm, and the equine communication was a mystery to the watching humans.

Damascus suddenly took note of the people watching from the porch. He gave a shrill cry from deep in his lungs and made a galloping beeline for the Duke family. People!! People I know!! Nice people!!

“YAAAH!” Bo and Luke clamored up to the porch as Jeese and Daisy ducked inside the house. But as Damascus got near the porch, he locked all four legs and skidded to a halt, standing there with heaving sides and sweat running off his black hide. He nickered and held his head low, the massive body quivering and exhausted. Help me…

The chestnut stallions trotted up and flanked the black horse, as if to protect it.

“I’ll be danged.” Luke stepped down from the porch. “Easy, Damascus. Easy boy. It’s alright…”

Damascus shivered. The night air was turning the sweat cold on his body. He coughed and whinnied nervously, but allowed Luke to put a hand to his reins. Bo patted the Percheron-Arabian’s neck, feeling the steam coming from the horse. “He’s overworked bad, Luke…”

Jesse and Daisy came back out of the house to share the investigation. “That horse needs a blanket, quick. See to it,” he ordered. Bo jogged to the barn to fetch one. Daisy, remembering something, darted into the house for moment, returning with a handful of sugar.

“Maybe this will make you feel better,” she said, extending her palm out. Damascus’s wide nostrils flared to sniff the treat, and his tired ears perked forward. He took Daisy’s entire hand into his mouth, but only removed the sugar, much to her relief.

Bo returned with the blanket. Jesse began to untack the black horse. “I’ll rub him down and get the blanket on him. I don’t think you boys need to guess who’s in trouble.”

Luke understood the tone in his Uncle’s voice. “We’ll go look for ‘em, Uncle Jesse.”

“No tellin’ what Brian ran into,” Bo said.

“Could’ve been the same thing Rosco and MaryAnne ran into. Nobody’s seen hide nor hair of any Coltrane since yesterday,” Jesse pointed out. “You boys be careful.”

It took a few short minutes for Bo and Luke to gear up for the ride. Daisy had both horses already saddled and tacked when the cousins Duke emerged from the house, buckling on their six-shooters. They mounted up and rode from the farmyard, the silver moonlight showing them the trail of Damascus’s heavy hoofprints.


***** ***** *****

Consciousness knocked politely on the door to Brian’s mind, asking to be let in. He ignored it, mentally drawing shut the curtains of his reasoning and locking the door to his cognition. He was vaguely aware of the sound of Northern accents trying to slip in through the cracks of his head and disrupt the sweet oblivion. He barely felt the splash of a canteen’s worth of water on his face. He was numb enough to disregard it.

“He’s done,” a Yankee voice spoke with a touch of self-pride. “That’s one Reb that’s not gonna rise again.”

“He’s still breathing a little bit…” the second soldier observed.

The third soldier gave Brian’s prone form an experimental kick. The black-clad body didn’t move. “He’ll be dead soon enough.”

“Let’s quit wasting our time. We need to be back to the fort before sunrise.” The ranking solider drew out a large bowie knife from his boot.

“Why not shoot him?” the third solider questioned.

“Cutting him is smarter. We’ll dump the carcass by that Indian camp. It’ll look more like an Indian killed him and War Eagle’s clan will get the blame.”

The second soldier glanced down the road and frowned. “Better make it quick. I hear horses coming.”

Bo spotted the three cavalry horses standing at the side of the road. The riders were not immediately visible. He motioned to Luke and the two Dukes eased their horses into a walk, pistols drawn. Their ears strained for any noise that might explain what was going on. There were no free clues.

“I don’t like it,” Bo muttered. “Luke, we could be ridin’ into an ambush.”

“The thought crossed my mind…”

Unexpectedly, a Union soldier stepped into view from the wooded edge of the road. He sized up Bo and Luke in a glance. “Just ride on, boys,” he warned. “Keep moving.”

“What are you blue-bellies doin’ so far out of Atlanta?” Luke asked.

The soldier spat a reply. “Caught us a highwayman.” His eyes narrowed shrewdly. “You two are on the road mighty late yourselves. What business you got at this hour?”

Bo flicked his eyes to Luke. There was something ugly going on here, and they both knew it. Keeping his cool, Luke turned the situation back around. “We’re farmers. We’re always up early. Now, about this highwayman you caught…who exactly did he rob?”

Silence, heavy and tense, hung in the air too long. The solider didn’t have a fast answer ready.

Luke threw out another question. “We can tell ya if there’s a reward out for ‘em. Is he still alive?”

Curiosity and greed loosened the Yankee tongue. “Does it make a difference?”

“Might, dependin’ on who it is you got.”

The solider debated it for a moment. He decided to take the risk, in case it would pay off in cash. “Take a look at him.” He motioned to his fellow soldiers to bring their victim out to the road, where the moonlight would show the face better.

As the soldiers dragged the black-clad body into the open, and threw it ungraciously into the dirt road, Bo and Luke forced their faces to remain poker-flat. “Let’s just see...” Luke said blandly, swinging down from the saddle. Bo dismounted to join him. The Dukes walked up to the heap of inert outlaw, hunkered down, and turned the man over to his back. They examined Brian as if they didn’t know him.

With clinical interest, Luke pulled open an eyelid. Nobody was home. Bo touched the outlaw’s neck for a pulse, and upon finding one, gave a short nod to Luke.

“Well, who is he?” the lead soldier demanded. “What’s he worth?”

Luke stood up slowly, keeping the anger out of his voice. He gave an appraising glance at the crumpled body. “That’s Brian Coltrane…he’s worth…Bo, do you remember what that reward was set at?”

Bo stood up and brushed of his hands. He stepped back a couple paces as if to study Brian’s unconscious profile. “If I recall right…he’s worth…oh, about this!!” Bo spun around and threw a fist into ranking soldier’s right eye. Luke rushed to tackle the other two soldiers, punching one out quickly and grappling with the other.

The ranking solider blocked Bo’s second hit and returned a merciless punch to Bo’s gut. The strength in the Yankee’s blow was no joke, and Bo folded in half, trying to catch his wind. The big soldier gave him no such luxury and was on him instantly, hammering rapid fists into Bo’s tall torso, cutting him down.

Luke exchanged punches with his own combatant, finding the Union soldier capable of defending himself. In order to get an opening for a knockout blow, Luke had to take more punches than give them for a moment, letting his opponent build up confidence and lower his defense. When the soldier’s face was solidly in range, Luke delivered a sharp uppercut that knocked the soldier’s jaw back, and it took a follow-up hit from Luke’s left to knock the man out.

One look in Bo’s direction told him that his cousin was in trouble. Bo was tiring, and the brawny solidier had just scored a punch to Bo’s face that had him reeling. Luke gave a yell and jumped on the solider’s back, pinning his arms to give Bo a breath of reprieve. The ranking solider would have none of it, and to Luke’s surprise, the Yankee deliberately fell backwards, pinning Luke under him. The Yank then whipped around like a cat and began to pummel Luke brutally.

It was Bo’s flying pounce that knocked the fierce Yankee off balance and off of Luke. Instantly, Luke sprang up and made the most of the opportunity, sending his fist into the solider’s nose, another to the stomach, and then heaved a two-fisted clubbing to the chin. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job.

Battered and weary, Bo and Luke let themselves draw a few deep breaths. They exchanged a handshake with each other, but there were no smiles exchanged. Not yet.

They returned to where Brian lay in the road. Luke stooped down by him. “Brian? We took care of them Yanks for ya…you owe us….”

“You owe me double for that mean one,” Bo added. “You don’t pay me enough to do your dirty work.” He added a light, friendly nudge to Brian’s shoulder.

Consciousness was rapping at the door to Brian’s mind again, this time with a better deal. He dimly heard the voices of Bo and Luke Duke talking to him. They were alternating between badgering him and coming close to expressing outright concern. Brian tried to move and answer, but everything hurt, and his head pounded, and his side ached, and all he could manage was a pained groan.

“Oh, come on,” Luke said, cheer in his voice. “Bad guys are tougher than that. Get up, before we throw ya over the horse and you can ride back to down like a gutted buck.”

Bo chimed in. “Luke, can’t we just drag him behind the horse? He won’t feel it with the shape he’s in.”

That did it. “Urgh,” Brian mumbled. “I died…went to hell…and there’s Dukes…”

“You got that right.” Luke’s smile crinkled his eyes. “C’mon. We’ll get you to the farm. Damascus is there.”

“Damascus…” Brian’s mind broke the fog, and his dark eyes flickered open. He accepted the Duke’s help, rising to his feet unsteadily, supported between their shoulders. “Tell me..if those saddlebags were still on ‘em. It’s important.”

“I think so,” Luke answered. “Why? What’s wrong?”

“There’s a whole bunch more Yankees where these came from. There’s an entire fort not far from here.” Brian gestured weakly to the unconscious soldiers. “They had somethin’ to do with the Haverston place bein’ burned down...”

The Dukes caught their breath, but waited. They knew there was more, by the expression on Brian’s face.

Brian drew in a pained breath and spoke the rest. “And they got MaryAnne. Rosco says she’s in danger…he stayed behind to try n’ help her. All I know, is the fort’s got damn near two hundred soldiers in it, and it’s bein’ run by a fella named Captain Dunham.”

The name was enough. Without waiting for more, the Dukes ushered Brian into the saddle of one horse, and they doubled up on the other.

***** ****** *****

“Dunham?!” Uncle Jesse bellowed. “Last I heard, he was facin’ a court-marital from the Federals!”

The elder Duke studied the sight of the battered outlaw who now stood on his porch, telling of the story of the past day. All Brian had to back up his story was the small, decorated thimble he had dug from Damascus’s saddlebag…but Jesse didn’t need further proof. A feeling of foreboding was weighing upon him, and he grimly accepted the thimble from Brian, knowing that the tiny object might get paid for with a Coltrane life. Or two.

“Daisy,” Uncle Jesse said roughly, “Bring the wagon out. You n’ me are gonna head to town.”

“While y’all are doin’ that, Luke n’ me are gonna ride to that fort,” Bo surmised.

“No you ain’t!” Uncle Jesse said. “Not until you got reinforcements. The two of you wouldn’t stand a chance against those troops.”

“The three of us,” Brian stated firmly.

“The three of you wouldn’t stand a chance. Now listen…..” Uncle Jesse explained his suggestion. Bo and Luke accepted it with dual nods, unquestioning.

Brian, upon hearing the plan, turned another shade of pale. There were no other options, however. As the birdsong of pre-dawn chirped in the air, he mounted Damascus, hoping the horse’s brief rest and feed would keep the animal going. Ignoring Duke counsel to stay behind, Brian rode with Bo and Luke towards the north, while Uncle Jesse and Daisy took the flatbed wagon towards Hazzard.

Time was against them, and they all sensed it.

***** ***** *****

The first, faint glow of the east was a dim yellow. The air was cool and damp, pleasing only to the birds who gave their merry song to the uncaring ears of surly Yankees. The hour was early, the sun not yet warming the sky.

In the half-light of the morning, the fort bustled with activity. Officers snapped orders to bleary-eyed soldiers who packed their gear and prepared for march. Horses whinnied to each other as they were saddled and lead from the stables. The preparation for battle was efficient and routine, and in the following of their orders, very few soldiers would have time to witness the morning entertainment.

MaryAnne stirred to the sound of a horse’s sharp whinny. Phoenix? No…that was impossible. Sleep had blanketed MaryAnne’s mind in a soft comfort; but the morning’s noise had rudely stripped it away. Her eyes blinked open, and one look up through the barred window told her that sunrise was nigh. She had little time left, and the cold reality of her impending fate forced a shiver from her.

Her stomach growled, inconsiderate of the larger problems at hand. She stood up, stretched stiffly, and desperately hoped that Rosco and Brian had made it back to Hazzard.

She gave one last prayer for them both, and threw in a good word for everyone else she was leaving behind. For herself, she had made her peace. If only she could be sure that her kin would be safe, and that Hazzard would be safe…she would consider it all a fair trade for her life.

The sound of the stockade door creaking open made her heart jump. Her breath caught in her throat. So soon?

Five Yankees came down the hall to fetch her. A key was jammed into the iron lock and turned; but the sergeant paused, holding the cell door shut, looking through it at MaryAnne with hooded, hungry eyes.

His meaning was clear. There was time enough for a bit of indulgence. In horror, MaryAnne shrank back.

The sergeant gave a sickly grin. “You going to come out, or do we have to come in there and get you?”

There it was, the price of resistance. She could put up a fight, become overpowered, and be made to suffer…or she could meekly follow her killers to the place of execution.

It was a lousy choice, but some things were worse than death. “I’ll come out. Keep your goddamn hands off me.” Suppressing her instinct to fight for every last minute, MaryAnne coolly walked out of the cell as the iron door was swung open, her head high, her blue eyes bright and clear.

***** ***** *****

Still dressed as a Union Lieutenant, Rosco milled around the ominous wooden post that bore the bullet holes of prior use. It stood near the back wall of the fort, close enough to the stockade to be handy, but safely away from any other main areas of the fort.

He had watched with misgiving as the five soldiers went to retrieve MaryAnne. He waited tensely, ears alert for the least indication of distress from her; but she walked out of the stockade without any sign of outward duress. The five soldiers surrounded her and brought her directly to the wooden post.

It was here that MaryAnne balked; yesterday, Indians had tried to burn her at the stake. Now here was another damn piece of timber with her name on it. She hesitated, the will to live urging her to fight like hell and make a break for it.

The five soldiers were ready for this. They quickly pushed her back against the firing post, two soldiers holding her shoulders while the other three wrapped rope around her legs, waist, and upper torso. MaryAnne gave a protest and struggled at the contact, but she was swiftly bound in place.

Rosco’s throat constricted at the sight. Tears threatened his eyes at the thought that he might fail her. As the soldiers gathered their rifles and loaded them, Rosco said another silent prayer. As he did, he glanced at the eastern horizon. Dawn was just cresting the hills; the sun was not fully up, but there was adequate light…Lord, this was a deadly gamble…

..for it had been Rosco himself, in the guise of a Yankee officer, who had selected the members of the firing squad. He had sent them to collect MaryAnne earlier than Dunham was expecting. The Union captain would probably be pouring a cup of coffee right now, unaware that he was going to miss the show. It would only be by mere minutes…

The clacking of rifle bolts being slid home announced the readiness of the firing squad. Disciplined, they stood at attention with rifles at present-arms, waiting for the final commands.

MaryAnne stared into the five faces and saw no compassion. She tried to glance at the officer who seemed to be in charge of the proceedings, but he turned away as if to avoid her gaze. Coward! There had been something familiar about him, and her faint hope for eleventh-hour clemency had no other prospects.

Captain Dunham was nowhere to be seen, a fact MaryAnne registered with mixed emotion. He wouldn’t be there to gloat at her demise, apparently. Oddly, she was disappointed. She’d been hoping to at least call him a few select names in front of his troops, if nothing else. “#%&*,” she muttered to no one in particular, the unladylike oath causing blinks of surprise among the firing squad.

That was better than nothing, so she added, “What the %#*% are you @#%&*$% staring at?!”

A cough came from the Yankee Lieutenant who was officiating. He must have heard enough of this language, because he drew his sword ceremoniously, facing the soldiers, his back turned to MaryAnne. Desperately, she tried to stall. “Wait!”

Oh hell….Rosco cleared his throat, and in the most nasal, Yankee-like tone he could manage, said, “Yes?”

“What about a last request?” MaryAnne asked. “I didn’t get any food or water the entire time I’ve been here! You call this Yankee hospitality?”

Rosco bit his tongue to keep the khee from spilling out. He wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. He could only give a slow shake of his head in answer to the question. He couldn’t blow his cover. He raised the sword high, and he spoke a command in a feigned Northern accent. “Readieeeeeee…..”

The rifles were snapped from present-arms to an upright noon-and-six position, held in perfect unison. MaryAnne swallowed. “Don’t I get a cigarette? A blindfold? Anything?”

“Aiiiiiiim…..” Five rifles swung to bear at the bound woman, the soldiers leveling the guns at MaryAnne’s heart. At this, she ceased her banter, gave a deep sigh, and with a last glance at the distant sunrise, murmured a silent farewell to those she held dear. She shut her eyes and braced herself, hoping for a quick end.

At the same time, Rosco saw Captain Dunham racing from his private barracks, his face a mix of disbelief and fury. Rosco hurriedly barked out the next command. “About face!

The soldiers spun around without thinking, having been trained to obey instantly, their rifles pointing away from MaryAnne and towards the inner compound of the fort.

“FIRE!” Rosco yelled, slashing the air with a downstroke of the sword. The rifles boomed, and Captain Dunham did a belly-flop in the dirt to save himself. Chaos broke out immediately. Gunfire erupted from startled Yankees everywhere as confused soldiers fired blindly and ran for cover.

To MaryAnne’s amazement, the Yankee Lieutenant leapt to her side and hacked off the ropes with his sword. As the binding fell away, she turned to behold the Lieutenant, who had taken leave of his Yankee mind…and saw his face for the first time. “ROSCO!”

“Get down!” He said to her as gunfire broke out behind them. The Yankees were shooting at each other wildly. The firing squad’s misguided shots had earned scattered return fire from everywhere within the fort. Rosco and MaryAnne hit the dirt. Still having sword in hand, Rosco realized he might pull this shuck and jive a bit further, if Coltrane luck held out. “Move towards the stables!” he told MaryAnne.

“Awright, but the next time you save my life, give me some warning before I have a coronary!”

“I will, sweetheart. Right after I’m done with mine. GIT!” Rosco drew his Colt from the holster and waived MaryAnne on. She scrambled up from the ground, and he fired a few shots to cover her, hoping to nail Dunham in the bargain. He missed, but succeed in sending the Yankee troops into further confusion. As they scattered, he pushed himself up from the ground and ran, pistol in one hand, sword in the other.

The stables teemed with the same pandemonium as the rest of the fort. Horses stamped and whinnied in alarm at the gunfire. Accustomed as they were to battle, the penned animals were trapped and in a panic. MaryAnne ran behind the stacked bales of straw and worked her way closer to the tethered horses, one whinny sounding familiar in the noise. She whistled a call and received an unexpected answer, as Phoenix lifted her tawny head and gave a relieved neigh.

“Phoenix!” MaryAnne rushed to the crude stall that held her horse, and quickly untied the halter rope. Behind her, Rosco suddenly shouted a warning. A Yankee, who had been hiding in the straw to escape the gunfire, had sprung up behind her and was swinging a pitchfork handle at her head. MaryAnne saw it from the corner of her eye and ducked low, the pitchfork handle whiffing through the air like a baseball bat. A second later, the solid thump of a pistol handle against a skull announced that Rosco had ended the threat. The Yankee sagged to the earthen floor, unconscious.

“He’s about yer size,” Rosco said, nudging the Yankee with his boot. “Take his uniform!”

MaryAnne wrinkled her nose in disapproval. The uniform, like the man in it, didn’t appear very clean. “No thanks!”

“This ain’t no time to be particular!” Rosco yelled, ducking as a stray bullet whizzed overhead. “Soon as Dunham gets order restored out there, every Yankee in the fort’s gonna be lookin’ for you!”

“I’m doing this under protest,” MaryAnne stated. She knelt down to the inert soldier and began to undo the buttons of his uniform.

“So long as ya do it,” Rosco answered. “Hurry!” He turned his eyes on the inner compound of the fort, keeping watch on the frenzied activity of the soldiers.

Putting aside her distaste, MaryAnne commandeered the uniform and clothed herself in it. Lastly, she pulled her long hair back and piled it under the Union cap. “Good enough?”

Rosco turned to look at her. “Good e’nuff ,” he nodded. “Get a saddle on Phoenix. I’ll find my horse and we’ll get outta here.”

MaryAnne’s curiosity was stirring. “How did you get both my horse and yours into the fort? For that matter, how did you -“

“Pure genius,” Rosco said immodestly. “Khee! If we get out of here alive I’ll tell ya all about it.” He left MaryAnne’s side momentarily and roamed the stables, looking for his mustang. He quickened the search as the noise within the fort began to taper off. The opportunity for escape could slip right past them if they waited much longer.

MaryAnne had Phoenix saddled and bridled by the time Rosco returned with Lightening. The mustang gave a nicker at the appaloosa, who gave a happy squeal in return. Even the Haverston’s pony gave a timid snort of optimism.

That optimism was soon fading in the human companions. A bugle call resounded loudly through the fort, commanding a restore to order. MaryAnne and Rosco watched from the stables as columns of soldiers organized themselves under Dunham’s raging voice. Union officers on horseback were bullying soldiers back into formation, while a party of well-armed Yankees were combing the barracks, searching for the missing prisoner.

Within scant minutes, Captain Dunham had restored control of his forces. As the Union Captain barked sharp commands at the cavalry force lining up at the gates, Rosco felt new apprehension gnawing on his ribs. When the gates opened, he and MaryAnne would have their one chance to ride to freedom…but that cavalry force would also be riding out to Hazzard. And there was nothing they could do to stop it.

MaryAnne knew this as well. She mounted Phoenix and gave Rosco a long look. It wasn’t accusing; it was pleading. “Rosco…did a warning get back to Hazzard?”

Rosco climbed into Lightening’s saddle before answering. “It should have. Brian rode to Hazzard last night.”

Alone, MaryAnne thought to herself. “I hope he made it…”

Their conversation paused as the wooden gates to the fort swung open. The cavalry streamed out in an organized procession. Most of the fighting force appeared to be going on the mission, as well as a number of supply wagons…noticeably empty. Apparently they were going along with the raiding soldiers to bring back as much plunder as could be carried.

“It’s now or never,” Rosco muttered. “Let’s go!” He clicked to Lightening and rode from the stables at a trot, keeping to the wall of the fort without making any real effort to hide. He was trusting to their Union disguises to blend them in. Having observed Brian’s field tactics concerning the finer points of sneakiness, it seemed like hiding in plain sight was the way to go.

Slightly behind him and to the side, MaryAnne rode Phoenix, doing her best to appear like a Union soldier accompanying an officer. Behind Phoenix trotted the Haverston’s pony, which was tethered to the appaloosa. The pony didn’t look convincing as a pack horse, but after what they had been through with the little animal, there was no leaving it behind.

Rosco held his breath as they neared the gates of the fort. Harnesses jingled and dust kicked up from the draft horses, and it was in this caravan that Rosco hoped to blend in himself and MaryAnne. They could ride out between the wagons, follow the back of the procession, and leave it once they were on the road.

It might have worked.

The air was suddenly pierced by the sound of shrieking Indians, bursting from the woods on the backs of their fleet war ponies. They were battle-painted and screaming for blood as they charged the ranks of the Union cavalry, scaring the bejeezus out of the troops and sending them to scatter in all directions. Arrows flew and gunshots rang out, and the supply wagons all hit the brakes at once. The teamsters were swearing and trying to turn the wagons around to retreat back inside the fort. This effectively caused a logjam that prevented the besieged Union cavalry from getting back in.

It also prevented MaryAnne and Rosco from getting out. Being surrounded by the wagons had seemed a plus a moment ago. Now, they were in danger of being sandwiched by wagons, and the massive doors to the fort were slowly swinging shut. Behind them, more soldiers were rushing forward to the gates, rifles at their shoulders, taking shots through the gap in the doors in an effort to pick off any enemies that tried to push in. Puffs of gunsmoke hung heavily in the damp morning air as bullets whizzed around like insects.

Using his borrowed Union rank to his advantage, Rosco drew his sword and shouted a command to the wagons to halt. He could care less what the wagons did, but he and MaryAnne were in danger of being run over and shot, in no particular order. The command to halt the wagons also meant the fort gate couldn’t completely close. The wagons were in the way…

…and this utterly delighted War Eagle as he rode forward with a number of his warriors. Seeing this, a Union teamster panicked, turned his draft horses sharply, and tipped his wagon over to the side. The draft horses bolted free and set out to trample anything in their path. The rest of the teamsters leapt from their wagons and fled the gates, which were about to be overrun with savages.

With a chilling cry of vengeance, War Eagle leapt his mount over the toppled wagon and engaged in battle within the fort, his painted face and evil-looking war lance doing much to demoralize the troops. Indian braves whooped and yipped with ferocious glee as they followed War Eagle into the fort. The speed of their ponies made them difficult targets for the Union soldiers, who were shooting desperately at the invading force.

Being partially hid within the tangle of wagons had helped Rosco and MaryAnne avoid any arrows, but with battle now joined both outside the gates and within, the odds were declining. “Come on!” Rosco shouted to MaryAnne. He moved his mustang out from the questionable security of the wagons and urged his horse for the gates. The massive wooden doors were jammed partially open, thanks to the toppled wagon. War Eagle and his warriors had jumped over it; so could they.

Except, dressed as a Yankee, Rosco was a target for War Eagle’s angered tribe. He saw a mounted brave take aim directly in front of him, opposite of the toppled wagon. Rosco saw his death unfolding in the warrior’s eyes. The bowstring was being pulled back with deliberate aim; and so clear was Rosco’s perception at that moment, that he could see the symmetry of the warrior’s movements in exquisite detail, as if the action was happening slowly. Yet there was no time to think…and no cover to take.

Rosco pulled sharply on Lightning’s reins and turned the mustang’s neck hard to the right. The white horse turned just as the Indian brave released the arrow. The sharp flint arrowhead bit deep into Rosco’s left arm, imbedded in the bicep. Rosco gave a yell of pain but stayed in the saddle, holding the reins with his right hand, his wounded left arm tucked tightly against his body.

It had happened too fast for MaryAnne do to anything but cry out in alarm. Rosco had spun the mustang around to head for the questionable safety of the fort’s interior; but this too was a battle zone. Arrows and bullets sang through the air as Indians and Yankees continued their fight. The Indians within the fort were outnumbered, but their fast gallops and well-aimed arrows and spears were keeping the soldiers pinned down. Many of the Yankees retreated to the barracks and stables, firing from behind any shelter that could be found.

Blindly, Rosco trusted to his Sheriff’s instinct and galloped his horse for the one area he would have normally avoided at all costs - that being the Capitan’s quarters. It was the closest opportunity for cover. Beside him, MaryAnne was riding Phoenix close to his right, protecting the side of him that wasn’t already wounded. The Haverston pony was still tethered to Phoenix and was bawling in terror, but managed to keep up with the dash of the bigger horses.

Arrows flew closely overhead, and MaryAnne winced as one shot took her Yankee cap right off, causing her long hair spill free. She shook it from her face and stayed low in the saddle. Rosco, meanwhile, had spurred Lightning ahead to reach the corner of the fort that contained the Captian’s quarters. Built like one-half of a house and attached to the thick walls of the fort, it was the safest place to hide from the melee’. The adjacent private stable, consisting of not much more than an overhang roof and a few thick timber poles, was better shelter than none.

Gunfire spat from the area as Rosco and MaryAnne neared it; but it wasn’t aimed at them. The whistle of arrows paused momentarily as the Yankees fired to defend what they thought was one of their own officers and an accompanying soldier. But as Rosco pulled Lightening up to the private stables and dismounted, the soldiers who had crowded around him to help suddenly found themselves under his verbal attack. With curses and shouting, Rosco sent the soldiers out into the fight, giving them an order to cross the length of the fort and hide somewhere else. Confused, but used to their officers being uncompassionate jerks, the soldiers obeyed. The nearby Indians yipped in excitement and chased them eagerly.

“Rank’s got it’s privileges….khee….” Rosco chuckled. He looked up at MaryAnne with a courageous grin. She dismounted Phoenix and looked back at him with her heart in her eyes.

“Rosco,” she began, finding a lump in her throat. The arrow was sticking rigidly out of his left arm, and bright blood had soaked the entire sleeve of the officer’s uniform he wore. Absently, Rosco clutched the wound to slow the bleeding, the arrow stalk between his fingertips.

“I’m awright, sweetheart,” he reassured her. “We have to change plans. Leave the pony here. We’ll wait until Dunham’s troops and those Injuns have thinned each other out. Then you’ll ride and I’ll cover you until you’re clear….”

“No!” MaryAnne gasped out. “No, you’re not staying behind!”

“That’s an order,” Rosco said softly. “From a Sheriff to a Deputy.”

“The hell with your orders,” MaryAnne said thickly. “You refused to listen to me last night, so I’m not listening to you this time!”

Rosco’s eyes hardened. With effort, MaryAnne swallowed down her emotion and made another appeal. “Rosco, let me help you. I can get that arrow out and we’ll bandage your arm. You’ll be okay to ride.”

He shook his head. “I’ll slow you down, assumin’ I don’t fall out of the saddle first -“

“THERE SHE IS!” A triumphant voice rang from the Captian’s quarters. From a few feet away, a genuine Yankee Lieutenant pointed to MaryAnne. Beside the Lieutenant was none other than Captain Dunham, looking fierce and unpleasant.

“There she is, yes.” With a malevolent smile, Dunham stepped into the small stable area, pistol drawn. “I believe we have discovered the cause of this morning’s disruption,” he said icily. “An aging Confederate in a stolen uniform.”

My uniform,” the Yankee officer complained, giving Rosco the evil eye.

“Indeed,” Dunham commented. “Careless of you, Lieutenant Bilkins. Another charge on your court-martial.”

“But sir -“

“Not another word, Bilkins, or you won’t get the courtesy of a trial.”

Dunham clicked back the hammer of his army pistol. His attention was now entirely focused on Rosco. “You were one of the “Indians” who visited here last night. How very droll. Did you think such a crude disguise would fool me?”

“It did,” Rosco said flatly.

Dunham laughed, cruelly. “It didn’t. You see, I sent a few of my men to cover the road to Hazzard after your departure.” He paused to let the words sink in.

Rosco felt a cold dread settle into his stomach. He said nothing, but the reaction of his steel-blue eyes told Dunham everything.

“I thought so,” Dunham sneered. “Your fellow “Indian” never made it to Hazzard. I thought you would like to know how he died, before you die. Shall I tell you?”

Silent glares of hatred came from both Coltranes. MaryAnne took a step closer to Rosco, putting one arm around him protectively.

“You’ll be pleased to know he died slowly,” Dunham taunted. “The soldier who reported back to me was quite detailed in his report. Apparently your messenger was captured five miles from here. Three of my men put him through a rather extensive interrogation. Regrettably, the young man proved to be stubborn, and he suffered a great deal before he died.” Dunham gave a smug, sinister pause. “Whatever message you attempted to send to Hazzard…died with him.”

“You son of a bitch,” MaryAnne hissed. She held Rosco back as he began to lunge forward.

At this reaction, Dunham was delighted. “Oh, that was someone you knew?” He said mockingly. “How very tragic. Now then, I must bid you both farewell. The small Indian uprising will soon be quelled, and then I’ll be marching to Hazzard as planned.” The Captain’s eyes narrowed as he prepared to fire.

“YEEEHAAAA!” A startling rebel yell turned Dunham’s attention away. Leaping into the fort were two chestnut horses with civilian riders, who had just made a spectacular jump over the toppled wagon. They galloped around the perimeter of the fort, whooping and firing their six-shooters into the air. This confounded the already-jittery Yankees, who weren’t sure what side these farm boys were on.

A few seconds later, another horse leapt clear of the obstructive wagon and flew into the fort. The large black horse landed heavily and with somewhat less grace, but it was nonetheless a striking image as it hurled forward into a gallop, the rider in black drawing a pistol and spinning it in hand.

Impossible….” Dunham muttered, recognizing both the horse, and the description of the rider from his soldier’s report. Apparently, he hadn’t considered the possibility of his men lying to him in the event of their failure.

“Welcome to Hazzard County,” MaryAnne growled, snapping an upwards kick to knock the pistol clear out of Dunham’s hand. At the same time, Rosco drew his Colt and fired at Lieutenant Bilkins, giving the officer a serious wound that meant a choice between crawling off to possibly live, or staying put to die. Bilkins made his choice and stumbled off, holding his bleeding chest.

What neither Coltrane had counted on was the absolute speed that Capitan Dunham had in his reflexes. The pistol had no more than flown from his hand, than he reached for his cavalry saber, drawing it in an instant. MaryAnne had went for her own gun, but an a rapid flash of metal, Dunham brought the flat of the sword down hard against her knuckles, the sharp blow cracking harshly against the bones and causing her to drop her weapon. The sword point was at her throat immediately.

“Drop the gun!” Dunham ordered Rosco.

“Rosco, don’t listen to him!” MaryAnne objected.

Rosco tossed his gun down. From within the fort, the din of the fighting was growing to an epic pitch. But all he could hear now was the pounding of his own heart in his ears. He had to save MaryAnne. Somehow. It was the only thought in his mind, even as the bleeding of his left arm weakened him.

“Kill me first,” Rosco pleaded to Dunham.

Rosco!” MaryAnne protested. “Shut up!” With the sword point pressing the hollow of her throat, however, she couldn’t do more than flick her blue eyes in his direction.

“I’m the one who spoiled the execution,” Rosco told Dunham. “I made you look like an idiot in front of your men. I shot your officer a minute ago. Oh, and that fella out there on the black horse you’re so surprised to see? I’m the one who sent him to Hazzard. Evidently his message got though and you’re about to be washed up. I’m the one who ruined your plans this time, Dunham.”

With a snarl, Dunham turned his head to look at Rosco. MaryAnne jumped back to get out of sword’s reach, and as Dunham noted this and was going to lunge forward with a stab, Rosco drew the Yankee sword he was wearing and clanged it hard against Dunham’s. The Yankee captain could no longer go after MaryAnne; he had to defend himself instead.

Rosco feared that it wouldn’t be much of a challenge. “Run, MaryAnne! Git!” He had barely gotten the words out when Dunham’s riposte beat his own sword aside and put him back on the defensive. Rosco gave a step back and blocked the thrust that came in low for his gut, then issued a wild swing in return that made Dunham veer aside to save his neck. As Dunham dodged the cut and closed in for another attack, Rosco knew this fight wouldn’t last. “MARYANNE! GO!”

The clang of steel held MaryAnne to the spot for a second longer. She couldn’t get to the guns; therefore, she didn’t see a good way to help Rosco, but she sure as hell didn’t want to leave him. The only hope was to find Brian or the Dukes, and get their aid. “Hold him off, Rosco! Hang on!”

The ringing of sword against sword was her only answer. Frantically, MaryAnne ran on foot towards the center of the fort. She was heedless of her own danger. She was not willing to lose Rosco; she would have much rather died this morning. Why did he have to be such a heroic fool, anyway?

She knew the answer, even as she caught sight of Brian fighting a Yankee near the stockade. Apparently it ran in the family, this idiotic tendency to throw one’s life away. It seemed as if Brian had dismounted Damascus to check the stockade for any sign of herself or Rosco, and now had trouble on his hands. The Dukes, meanwhile, where nowhere in the immediate vicinity, but from the noise coming from the stables, they were making a similar search. Meanwhile, Indians were still raising hell both inside and outside of the fort, and the whole mess had no signs of letting up.

MaryAnne ran towards the stockade, seeing Brian get clobbered a good one by the Yankee. He stayed on his feet, but his return punch was sloppy and didn’t have much behind it. Worse, he failed to block the next blow and he took it on the chin. “Brian! Keep your fists up, goddammit!” MaryAnne yelled. “You call that fighting?!”

Surprised at the voice, Brian turned to look around, and the Yankee used the opportunity to knock him down. MaryAnne had seen enough. She charged the Union soldier and tackled him, clawing and tearing at him like an enraged bobcat. She had enough pent-up anxiety going to cause some real damage, and by God, this jerk was as good as place as any to start.

The hapless soldier was totally taken off guard by MaryAnne’s vicious assault, especially since she was in Union blues. With a strangled cry, he threw her off of him, scrambling to his feet and running from the scene. From the ground, MaryAnne hurled verbal barbs after him. “Yeah, that’s right, keep running! All the way to New Jersey or wherever the hell you’re from!”

“Will you keep it down? Good Lord, my head is killin’ me.” Brian stood up and muttered the comment without really thinking about it, rubbing his temple. Bells were ringing in his cranium and it took a second to register that the voice he heard, was indeed, that of….

“MaryAnne!” Brian shouted happily, plowing into her as she had stood up. “Cousin! I thought you’d…”

“Oof! Not yet!” MaryAnne flashed a smile and recovered from the quick bear hug. “But Rosco’s in big trouble! Come on!” Without offering explanation, MaryAnne turned and ran back in the direction she’d come from, leaving Brian to follow. The two of them ran side by side, avoiding arrows, bullets, and the wounded men on the ground. Hoofbeats were thundering behind them, but neither turned to look. Only the ringing clash of steel held their focus as they neared the scene of the two-man battle.

The sword fight had drawn other spectators. Yankee soldiers, Indians, and War Eagle himself stood mesmerized by the sight of Rosco and Dunham’s duel. There was no shouting, no yelling of encouragement to either combatant. Instead, the spectators watched in somber silence.

Perhaps it was War Eagle’s stern presence that gave the atmosphere it’s sober weight. He observed the duel between the White Chiefs with an impassiave expression. As MaryAnne and Brian ran up to the crowd, he lowered one arm in a silent command for them to halt, and not interfere.

As much as MaryAnne and Brian wanted to issue a cheap shot to Dunham’s back that would have assured Rosco’s victory, it was clear that War Eagle considered this fight to be a challenge of honor between the two men. The leaden gaze in War Eagle’s eyes held Brian and MaryAnne at bay. When he was certain they understood him, his stoic face turned a neutral gaze back to the fight.

“Lord,” MaryAnne whispered in an abbreviated prayer. Beside her, she heard Brian give a groan of dismay at Rosco’s predicament. They watched helplessly as Dunham sliced and stabbed at Rosco, who was in a purely defensive posture. Rosco’s left arm hung dead at his side, the arrow protruding from it, the blood-soaked sleeve matted down wetly. Pain and weariness were obvious in the Sheriff’s blue eyes as he parried the thrusts of the Dunham’s cavalry saber. Unlike Dunham, Rosco did not have the advantage of being able to change the hand he held the sword in. Fatigue was clearly setting in, and the duel’s outcome appeared to be a foregone conclusion.

No…” Brian murmured as Dunham tried an overhead blow that Rosco narrowly avoided. Dunham sensed the audience behind him, and the Yankee Capitan glanced at Brian and MaryAnne out of the corner of his eye. Then, an evil smile contorted his face, and he launched into tactical fencing that was something right out of a military academy, his sword rapidly battering against Rosco’s weak defense, faster than any previous attack.

With sick certainty, MaryAnne knew that Dunham had been toying with Rosco up to this point. The reason was clear. Dunham wanted MaryAnne to see Rosco die. He would punish her yet…

Rosco knew this, too. He retreated slowly, backing up towards the wall of the fort, raising his sword to meet Dunham’s attack again and again. The clang of metal was unrelenting and pitiless. Rosco was about to have his back against the wall. In an attempt to avoid getting trapped, he attempted a feint and a counterthrust, trying for a stab to Dunham’s gut. The Union Capitan responded with a counter-clockwise swoop of his own sword, hooking his blade beneath Rosco’s and flinging it up hard. Rosco’s sword flew out of his grasp, landing in the dirt a few feet away.

“Oh no!” MaryAnne gasped. It was over.

Rosco’s tired eyes looked briefly into hers, then flicked to Brian’s. Then, the Sheriff leaned back against the wall of the fort and waited for the coup de’ grace, his chest heaving from exertion. “Get it over with,” he mumbled to Dunham, and shut his eyes.

MaryAnne felt Brian’s arms holding her. She had taken a step towards Rosco without thinking about it. “I…can’t watch…” she choked out, turning her head away. Brian held her silently, swallowing his own grief.

Dunham had no such remorse. With a gleeful malice, he whipped his sword into attack position, lunging forward to skewer his victim’s midsection, throwing his weight into the strike.

Rosco danced aside at the last second, and Dunham’s sword bit deep into the wooden wall of the fort with a decisive thunk. A look of incomprehensible fury was on the Captain’s face, and he tugged at his sword to free it and finish the job. However, the sword was stuck fast, and it was Rosco’s turn to smile.

“You been duped,” Rosco announced. He brought up his fist and smacked Dunham’s jaw with everything he had. The Captain staggered back, off-balance, and Rosco added a hard kick to the knee to send him falling to the ground. In two quick steps, Rosco had retrieved his own sword, and in a flash of steel, held the blade beneath Dunham’s chin.

It was with great satisfaction that Rosco added, “Yer under arrest! You move, and I’ll pin you to the ground!”

At this, the Yankee soldiers stirred uncomfortably. The idea of offering some assistance to their commanding officer dimly occurred to them, as an afterthought. Then again, Dunham wasn’t too popular. Rosco guessed all this and issued curt orders. “Put this maverick in irons and take him to the stockade! Unless any of ya’ll wanna join him!”

Dunham found himself led away by his own troops. Rosco stood to enjoy the sight a moment longer. He then saw MaryAnne and Brian rushing up to him, and as they gathered close, Rosco indulged in the unconsciousness he had held off until now.

***** ***** *****

The sound of MaryAnne’s voice was miles away. Rosco couldn’t make out the words yet. He strained to listen, but his mind sought the thick cotton of oblivion and tried to hide under it. The soft, persistent voice tugged again.

Rosco? Rosco, can you hear me? Please answer me …

The voice was a beacon in the blackness, and Rosco’s mind reached for it. Another voice spoke.

Dammit Sheriff…you can’t die in a Yankee uniform! What the hell will the neighbors say?

That one puzzled Rosco a moment, until the recent memories began to rush forward.

Rosco, MaryAnne’s voice said, don’t scare me like this. I can’t stand the thought of losing you.

There was silence, and then a quiet, grieving sniffle. This tiny sound stirred Rosco from the numb depths in which his mind and body had retreated. Speech returned to him in the form of a dry, tired voice, and the words were sighed out as his eyes cracked open. “Don’t cry, sweetheart….”

“Rosco!” The warm crush of a hug pressed down upon him, and Rosco opened his eyes to see MaryAnne leaning over him. Tears shone in her blue eyes, but her expression was one of joyous relief.

“Let ‘em breathe, eh?” Brian muttered gently.

Rosco gave a weak smile to them both. Slowly, he oriented himself. He was on his back on a medical cot. The room was small, but well-lit with several kerosene lamps. The scent of medicinal alcohol was strong, and the source seemed to be the bandages that were tightly wrapped around his left arm.

“The Union medic patched you up,” MaryAnne explained at his questioning eyes. “You lost a lot of blood, tho’. We weren’t sure if…”

“Hush,” Rosco ordered, reaching out his good arm to embrace MaryAnne. Gratefully, she absorbed it.

After the moment’s respite, MaryAnne pulled herself up. “I’m going to let the Dukes know you’re okay. I’ll be right back.” She smiled at Rosco and left the room.

As the wooden door closed behind her, Rosco glanced at Brian, and opened his right arm again. Brian leaned down and accepted a hug for himself, tentatively at first…but at the contact and the silent communication behind it, the young man’s shoulders gave a tremor.

“Hush,” Rosco said gruffly.

“Shaddap,” Brian answered, hearing Rosco’s warm chuckle echoing his own.

***** ***** *****

The next sunrise caused no stress for anyone, save for the former Captain Dunham. Clad in iron shackles, the disgraced Union officer was seated aboard a military wagon, surrounded by armed men from the U.S. Marshal’s office. The Federals waited near the center of the fort, while their commander held a conversation with the local law.

“He’ll get a fair trial,” The U.S. Marshal promised MaryAnne. “And a decisive one.”

MaryAnne nodded. The U.S. Marshal had the looks of one of those Yankee-Washington types that spent more time indoors than anywhere else. The man’s expression and demeanor was serious enough, however, and she believed him when he spoke of the likely conviction.

“The telegram from Jesse Duke, along with the map the Sheriff appropriated, should be evidence enough. If not, we have the testimony of the entire regiment to fall back on. It seems none of these men are anxious to spend their lives in a military prison.”

MaryAnne waited for the next subject, which she knew was coming. “Did Dunham tell you anything about why he was here?”

The Marshal sensed the concern. “Dunham gave a fabricated statement about his purpose here being to weed out a band of marauding savages. He also indicated that Hazzard was home to a number of Confederate spies who had maligned Union interests.”

“You don’t say,” Rosco commented. He stepped up behind MaryAnne and rested a supportive hand on her shoulder.

“Rather preposterous, I know. Especially in light of the Haverston’s furnishings being found within this fort. Dunham’s prior record speaks for itself, Sheriff. He may have wiggled out of the grip of justice before, but this case is one of mine, now.”

The note of finality in the Marshal’s voice was like the tolling of a bell. MaryAnne knew she would never have to worry about Dunham again. “We appreciate your involvement,” MaryAnne said.

“And we’re glad you got here so quick,” Rosco added. “Is there anything else we can help with?”

The Marshal turned an eye to Rosco. “Come to think of it, Sheriff…perhaps you can clear up another case. I received a telegraph from you some time ago, about an outlaw you were holding in the county jail. There was a reward on him, but I never heard back from you.”

“What outlaw? OH! You mean…that outlaw. JIT! Well, uh…ya see…”

MaryAnne interrupted. “We hanged him.”

“You did?” The Marshal asked.

“Ooo! Khee, that’s right…” Rosco agreed. “We strung ‘em up! We don’t mess around in Hazzard County.”

The Marshal nodded his approval. “Very good. You’re entitled to the reward, then. I had raised it to fifteen hundred dollars, by the way, thinking he was still at large.”

Fifteen hundred….” Rosco began counting on his fingers excitedly.

“Which we will gladly accept,” MaryAnne said. “To give to the Haverston family. I’m sure they could use it to rebuild their farm.”

“Admirable of you,” The Marshal smiled. “I’ll send it with the next stagecoach out of Atlanta.” With a brief salute, the Marshal took his leave. The Yankee troops left too, herded out with the help of Federal authorities.

From beneath a damaged wagon that had been left in a nearby heap, Brian climbed out from hiding. He had been hidden within earshot the whole time, and he looked at his cousins with incredulity. “I can’t even believe you two. You’re actually going to collect on my reward?”

“Why not?” MaryAnne shrugged. “We weren’t lying to him completely. We did hang you…almost.”

“It’s not our fault things fell apart at the last minute,” Rosco grinned.


***** ***** *****

War Eagle’s braves had allowed the Federal men and the departing Yankees to leave unmolested. Hiding in the woods, the warriors watched and waited silently until the Dukes and Coltranes rode from the fort to return to Hazzard. War Eagle rode out to meet them, and was greeted courteously by Bo and Luke.

“Your warriors fought well,” Luke said to War Eagle. He spoke to the chief in the same halting formality that the Indian used. “The blue soldiers are gone. We have found the friends of our uncle. In thanks, we will share our crops with your tribe this season.”

War Eagle merely grunted. “Your uncle owes no payment. War Eagle did not like chief of blue soldiers. Chief of blue soldiers make War Eagle help, or lose tribe. Tribe now free of blue soldiers. Tribe will move where no white man find.”

Without waiting for further comment, War Eagle turned his head and locked his stately gaze on MaryAnne, speaking to her. “Kinswoman of Chief and Thief.”

“Uh…yes,” she admitted uneasily.

War Eagle raised one palm solemnly. “May the Great Spirit mark your trail for safe journey.”

“Thank you,” she nodded, taken aback.

War Eagle then stared harshly at Rosco and Brian. “Chief and Thief.”

They swallowed in unison. “Jit…gah….”

“May you never catch arrow in hindquarter.” War Eagle gave a hint of a smile, then kicked the flanks of his war pony and bounded off for the cover of the woods.

Rosco and Brian traded dumfounded expressions, which grew into grins as MaryAnne and the Dukes broke into laughter.

The long ride to Hazzard resumed after War Eagle’s departure. The companionship of Dukes and Coltranes was peaceful for this occasion, and as they rode, very little was spoken. It was enough to be alive and together. The Coltrane horses walked side by side, with Phoenix in the center. The appaloosa held her head high, and was so happy to be reunited with MaryAnne again, that the horse was nearly prancing.

Behind the mare followed the Haverston pony, trotting merrily in the procession. At one point, the pony tried to come up beside Phoenix and move Damascus over, but a sharp snort from Damascus discouraged this. The pony then tried to move Rosco’s mount aside, but the mustang would have none of it, and swatted the little animal with angry swishes of its tail. The pony neighed piteously at this, and was finally appeased when it was allowed to trot in front of Phoenix and lead the way.

The pony was the first thing the Haverston’s little girl saw once the Coltranes rode back into Hazzard. When the child embraced the pony, MaryAnne felt a sense of accomplishment that was somehow more satisfying than bringing Dunham to justice. “My pony! You found Butterscotch!”

“We found Butterscotch,” MaryAnne smiled, summing up the adventure in one massive understatement.

****** ***** *****

The Coltranes received a friendly welcome-back reception from Hazzard. The gratitude of the Haverstons, along with the reports of events from the Dukes, went a long way towards fostering goodwill for the Sheriff’s department. Even Brian found himself feeling appreciated, and mildly complained about the damage to his bad-guy reputation.

Learning this, Bo and Luke recounted every act of his heroism in great detail, until Brian holed himself up in the county jail for the sake of keeping up appearances.

And so it was the Hazzard hoosegow where the Coltranes rested and regrouped from their ordeal. Rosco leaned back in a wooden chair next to the jail cell, napping with his black Stetson pulled down over his eyes and his hands folded in his lap. Light snoring came with the rise and fall of the Sheriff’s chest.

Inside the jail cell, Brian was fast asleep on the wooden bunk. His cattleman’s coat had been folded up for use as a pillow, and the rustler’s hat covered his face. He too, was sawing lumber with an easy snore.

MaryAnne was the only Coltrane awake at the moment, but she didn’t mind. She sat behind the booking desk and cleaned her Winchester rifle, occasionally glancing up from it to watch her cousins sleep. The sight of them looking so peaceful and innocent made her smile.

It didn’t make Boss Hogg smile. The rotund County Commissioner bustled into the Sheriff’s department, and found the Sheriff snoozing away, while another Coltrane slept in a cell that could be earning bail money. Boss nearly bit his cigar in two and spun to MaryAnne to demand an explanation.

“Shhhhh,” she whispered, holding a finger to her lips. “They’re sleeping.”

“I can see that,” Boss whispered back hoarsely. “You Coltranes come back from a three-day picnic and then have yourselves a slumber party!”

“Boss,” MaryAnne sighed. “Haven’t you heard what we’ve been through? We were nearly all shish-khee-bob for those Indians, and then I was put to a Yankee firing squad, and…”

“Bah! Is that all! You can gallivant around the countryside, but then you come back here and sleep on the job!”

“You know, that’s a good idea.” MaryAnne leaned back in the chair, put her boots up on the booking desk, and tugged down the brim of her tan Stetson. She shifted the rifle within her crossed arms, cradling it. She drew a long breath in through her nose and imitated an obnoxious snore. “Zzzzznx…..”

“Hmph!" Boss scowled at the three of them, realized he was being soundly ignored, and left in a huff. The only giveaway to his true feelings, was in the shooing away he gave to the news-curious townsfolk that were lurking outside. “Go on, go on, they’re busy! Come back tomorrow!”

From beneath the brim of her Stetson, MaryAnne gave a giggling khee.


THE END

***** ***** *****

Epilogue


Brian shut the book. From his seat within the center of the couch, he had read story to Rosco and MaryAnne, who were sitting on either side of him. He turned to look at each of them in turn, expecting reaction.

MaryAnne spoke first. “Is there anything you didn’t put me through in that one?”

“Shoulda had a stampede,” Rosco suggested. “Every good western needs a stampede. Cattle, wild horses, buffalo...”

“Stampede?!” MaryAnne paled. “Rosco, don’t encourage him. Lord knows what we’ll see next.”

“I take it ya’ll dug it?” Brian asked.

“I dug it,” MaryAnne nodded. “I’m not sure I could live through it twice, tho’.”

Rosco made a thoughtful remark. “I’m not sure how you lived through it once!”

“I’m not sure how any of us did.” Brian grinned and tapped the book cover. “Hopefully, there’s enough Coltrane luck left for us to get through the next one.”

MaryAnne raised an eyebrow. “Hopefully? The next one?” She abruptly took the book from Brian’s hands and gave him a light whap over the head with it.

“Ooo! My turn!” Rosco grabbed the book and rapped Brian on the head. “Khee! See, this is why shorter stories are better, they don’t hurt as much when they catch up to ya.”

“Gah!” Brian grabbed the book out of self-defense. “Maybe there is somethin’ to be said for light readin’.”

“There might be, but we don’t know what it is,” MaryAnne deadpanned. This brought laughter from all three of them, and the Coltrane homestead was filled with the sound of their mirth.

Later that evening, Brian took the book back to the library, sneaking out his bedroom window to do so.


(The End! Until next time…)