A Cowboy Christmas Legend – Linda Broday

Texas Panhandle Winter 1900 Sam Legend startled from a deep sleep to the whisper of a sound. Or was it a mere dream? Was someone outside? Or had he imagined everything? Hard telling. He lay still and listened a moment but heard nothing more. Finally, he rubbed sleep from his eyes and sat up, reaching for his pocket watch. He fumbled around until he located the matches and struck one. The hands showed a little after midnight. He reached for the blanket on his bed and pulled it over the pair of faded red long johns, then grabbed the Colt from under his pillow. He didn’t bother with boots and skirted the fire on the floor in the middle of the room. Still listening to every sound, he slowly pulled back the flap of his wickiup. Cold November air rushed in, drawing a shiver. The abode of sticks and grass proved little protection against the elements on the best of days, and during winter in the high plains of the Panhandle, it was downright piss-poor. He quickly scanned left, then right, and saw no flicker of movement. Maybe some animal had caused the noise. From the top of the rocky escarpment where he’d made his home, he stared across the dark expanse of the barren landscape, watching far-off streaks of lightning. Silence, his constant companion, skulked against his skin like a thief looking to steal a man’s peace.

But Sam had always been unsociable, so solitude provided a perfect setting. Yet unending days of aloneness created fear that he might become completely uncivilized like some mad dog and try to bite everyone he ran across. A year ago, his adopted brother called him “prickly” and his little sister used the word “crabby.” They should see him now. They’d probably run. Maybe that was why he was dreaming of three-legged dogs licking cactus thorns. Some folks had told him he leaned toward the mountain man look, with dark hair flowing wild to his shoulders, an unkempt mustache, and long beard. Fair to say, he didn’t resemble a single one of his famous Legend family, owners of the largest ranch in North Texas. That suited him fine. He didn’t have to explain to anyone why he’d become a recluse. A whine drew his focus, accompanied by a familiar nudge on his hand. Sam glanced down at the gray-and-silver dog that had wandered up last year and decided this was her home. Shadow and he were a perfect match, since neither liked most people. The dog most definitely had a great deal of wolf blood in her. “Hey there.

” Sam patted the sleek head, meeting the intelligent gray eyes glancing up at him. “We’re quite a pair. I see you’re not missing a leg like the dog in my dream. Bet you have more smarts than to lick a damn cactus.” Shadow whined and nuzzled his hand. Then she pulled back and pricked her ears at some noise that escaped Sam. “What is it, girl? What’cha hearing?” With a soft huff, the wolf dog turned to go back inside, telling him everything he needed to know. Sam seemed to have lost what sense he had, standing out there in faded red long johns, freezing his rear off. He glanced at the small shed that housed a cold forge and sighed. He’d have to keep it going strong throughout the next day to complete the Christmas knife orders. Sam loved plying the bladesmith trade, and the creative opportunities it afforded fulfilled something deep inside that was hard to explain. The fun part was turning his imagination loose and seeing what he could design. His knives had begun to gain recognition for both craftsmanship and quality, which meant he had to talk to more and more people. Dammit! He couldn’t have one without the other, and he needed the income to live on. Finding all this reflection bothersome, Sam slipped inside and lowered the flap.

Stoking the fire, he crawled back beneath the covers. The soft crackle and pop of the fire lulled him to sleep in no time. A sudden burst of air rushed into the crude abode. A fleeting image crossed his vision. Was this just another crazy dream? Or was it more of the danger that existed far outside of town? He started to throw back the covers when a figure ran across the room and leaped on him. “Where is he?” the person growled. “What did you do with the man living here? Kill him?” Shadow lunged at the intruder, teeth bared. The voice, belonging to a woman, spoke gently to the dog. “I have no quarrel with you, Taklishim. Quiet.” The obedient animal lay down. Sam struggled to get his bearings. The pressure at his throat had to be a sharp blade. That much was clear. He swallowed very slowly and glanced up, moving nothing but his eyes.

Long hair hung over her shoulders; the ends of a few strands brushed his cheek like the whisper of silk. She seemed tall. Slender. The firelight revealed strong facial features, though not the color of her shadowed eyes, and led him to believe she was probably pretty. The woman sitting on his chest had curves in all the right places. Even though Sam hadn’t been to town in a blue moon, or been with a woman longer than that, he recognized that softness. “Who the hell are you, lady, and what are you doing here?” “I ask the questions.” She pressed the blade against his windpipe and growled. “What happened to the man living here? It’s a simple request.” “He died.” “Liar!” Anger swept over him. “You got some damn nerve!” For the first time, her glance wavered, and the sharp edges of her face cast a softer shadow. “When did he pass?” “About four months ago.” “You’d say anything to save your hairy neck.” “Come daylight, I’ll take you to his grave.

” She snorted. “Name one reason why I should believe you.” “Because it’s the truth?” Sam eyed the woman with fire in her eyes. He wondered who she was. Tarak had been pretty old. Maybe a great-granddaughter? When he caught her casting a curious glance around the room, he grabbed her arms and flipped her onto her back. He held her arms above her head, the knife still in her hand. Her chest heaved with seething anger. Though she wore some kind of long duster, her deerskin dress indicated a Native. Comanche? Apache? Both had occupied this area until forced onto reservations. Maybe she’d walked off one. “My turn now. Who are you?” Her eyes, glistening pools of black in the dim light, stared silently up. Rage tightened every inch of her supple body. If she got free, she’d probably plunge that blade into his heart faster than he could spit.

Her glare promised that. She remained stubbornly mute. Finally, she grated out, “One you should fear.” Maybe he should, but his gut wasn’t screaming that loud a warning. At least not yet. “Was Tarak your grandfather?”


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Updated: 24 November 2021 — 02:22

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