The Heretic – Snippet 19

What, and tear the head off poor Corie with a misfire? answer Raj with a chuckle.   Wait till you reach the wagons, then give it the flick.

Abel spurred his dont and race up and out of the brush.  Then he turned the beast to the south to circle around the melee in front of him and get to the wagons if he could. He pushed his dont to her ultimate speed and, with only Abel’s light weight to support, she was soon up on her back feet and racing.

The wagons loomed ahead.  Abel fumbled for a moment, then managed to cock his rifle.

He felt his finger snaking toward the trigger and consciously pulled it away.  He’d been lectured time and again on the need to keep one’s finger out of the trigger guard until it was time to fire, but in the heat of the moment, he found it extraordinarily hard to do so.

There were three carts with half a dozen occupants or attendants nearby.  Two wore the billowy, multicolored patchwork pants and shirts of Redlander men. The others had the flowing white robes worn by the Blaskoye women. He’d heard tell that Blaskoye women were not only allowed to serve as muleskinners and drovers, but were actually the clan’s traders and merchants as well.  Abel found this hard to believe, but Kruso and Sharplett had assured him it was so.  In the Land, a female merchant would have been inconceivable.

Just another way the Redlanders behave as complete heathens, Abel thought.

Don’t be so sure, and don’t underestimate the does, lad.  Might be your last thought.

I think I can take a woman, at least.

You must concentrate on the animals first, boy, said Raj sternly.  At least one on each cart must be put out of commission to bring the wagons to a halt.

The motley-clad driver of the first of the carts was armed, and he pointed a gun at Abel and fired.  A flintlock.  Even running at full tilt, Abel saw the flashpan ignite and the smoke rising.  A whistling sound nearby.

Was that a bullet?

Aye, lad.  Be glad about the ones you hear. It’s the ones you don’t hear that are the problem.

He grew closer, closer — the driver with the rifle was attempting to reload by pouring powder out of a horn down the muzzle.  Abel smiled, and aimed the carbine at him.

The move must have registered, for the driver suddenly gave up what he was doing and leapt behind the cart in blind panic.

Abel adjusted his aim for one of the daks in the middle of the team.

He pulled the trigger.  Nothing happened.

Damn it, bad cap or —

Look down, lad.

Abel did as instructed.  His Scout tunic had wafted up and gotten between the hammer and the cap.  He quickly cocked again, pulled the fabric free, took aim.

Bang!  The rifle’s report was startlingly loud, even though he was rushing forward full tilt on the dak.  And this time, the ball had its affect.  The dak he’d been aiming at let out a roar.  It rose into the air pawing at the sky in agony and spurting its milky blood over the other herbidaks, terrifying them.

He grew so fascinated watching the effect that he nearly forgot to turn his mount to avoid a head-on collision.  As it was, he reined just in time and headed for the wagon that was next in line.

He drew his pistol and didn’t waste time trying for a middle animal, but shot the lead dak of the pack team straight in the head at point blank range.  Dak blood and brains spattered across his chest and a bone fragment popped him smartly in the cheek.  Abel rode on.

To the next wagon and —

He was riding into the muzzle of a musket pointed directly at him.

A swirl of flowing white robes, a headscarf.  It was a woman, a young woman with crystal blue eyes.  A fierce, beautiful face.  Her mouth curled to a snarl.

But the musket had his attention now.  There was no way he could turn his dont in time.  The Redlander woman would shoot him in the chest.  He reared back to throw his pistol at her, sure the move wouldn’t work, but unable to think of anything else to do —

When an arrow took the woman through the neck.

Startled, she dropped the gun, reached for the shaft protruding from either side, and let out a piercing scream.  It did not sound like pain.  It sounded like anger to Abel.

He charged past and swung his mount around as quickly as he could.  More arrows were flying into the remaining occupants of the cart. Kruso emerged from the western thicket and was firing his bow in a steady rhythm.  His rate of fire was like nothing Abel had ever seen before.

Abel pulls his mount to a stop and leapt to the desert floor.  Corie stopped expertly without shying.

“Good girl,” he muttered, then reached for his rifle in its saddle scabbard.  The rifle was nowhere to be found.  He’d dropped it after firing and hadn’t realized it.

In his belt was the blunderbuss dragon, however.  Would it take a minié ball?  He supposed he’d find out.  He reached into the cartridge box at his waist and dug out a cartridge, which consisted of a ball and powder charge wrapped in a thin layer of knife-peeled papyrus.  He bit off the end to expose the powder.

Okay, okay, thumb up the frizzle, shake gunpowder into the pan.  Not too much, not too much.  Close it up.  Half cock the hammer.

He flipped the pistol over. It had a bell-shaped muzzle.  This was not to spread the charge upon firing.  Instead, it had been given this shape in order to funnel the powder down the barrel more effectively.  He poured the powder in and followed it with paper and ball.  The lead seemed to be a close enough caliber, and maybe the paper would serve as a makeshift patch to form enough of a seal.

Or maybe not, and he’d have an exploding pipe bomb in his hand.

No time to worry about it.

Abel yanked out the small ramrod from the pistol’s underside and stuffed it down the barrel once to set and once again to pack.

The wagon was blocked by the others ahead and the packtrain had stopped moving, but the lead animal was attempting to find a way to get around the jam.  Several arrows quilled its hide, but they didn’t seem to faze it.  Daks were smart, and their toughness must never be underestimated.