A covered porch ran around all four sides of the house. A sprawling structure, three stories high, the house’s walls were field stone and timber, the roof done in red cupped tile. Tall catalah trees, manicured lawns and raked gravel driveways surrounded the house and barns. The broad catalah leaves must have shaded the house all through the day.
I could smell the money here. No one who ranched had time for such landscaping, unless they could afford servants. Field hands and wranglers, too, most likely, and that took money. In the conversations Tuck and I had shared about our homes, he’d never mentioned he came from wealth. I’d never thought to ask.
As we swung down from the saddle, the door opened. A man and a woman stepped onto the porch. Older, both tall and broad. Well dressed for ranch living. I saw reflections of my friend in both their well-tanned faces. He sported thick, dark hair, but hers was the same shade of blond as Tuck’s, but streaked through with gray.
A young man, almost my own age, stopped just behind them. A boy of twelve or so hung at the door. Tuck had told me about his younger brothers, Teddy and Garr. Both mirrored Tuck’s features, but their skin and hair were darker, like their father.
The woman came to the edge of the porch and stood, arms crossed, studying us. The older man stopped behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. She pulled away to stand on her own.
“Are you from that boat?” the man demanded.
The look he gave me set my fingers itching for my weapons.
“They knew you were coming,” Eken whispered. “Soon sent a message through the wires two days ago.” It was the first I had heard of that, but then I had some secrets of my own.
“I’m from Blessèd Vessel of Our Lord,” I said. “It’s a ship, not a boat.”
“You being smart-mouthed with me?” the older man asked.
“I don’t care much for smart-mouthed. Andy was always quick with it, too.”
Andy. Tuck’s baptism name. Andrew Lloyd Tucker.
“Hush, Laird,” the woman said. “These men have come a long way to do us a service. It’s impolite to talk in such fashion.”
The older man looked down at her, frowning, but didn’t respond. She made her way down the steps toward us. “I’m Amanda Emerick-Tucker,” she said. “Andrew’s mother. The rude man on the porch is my husband, Laird Tucker. That’s Theodore, our middle son, behind Laird. Garrick is the sprout at the doorway.”
“My name is Ishmael Cummings,” I answered. “I’m Tuck’s .. Andy’s Wayfarer. And this is Del Benè, the tracker who brought me across the Furnace.”
Amanda nodded. “I’m blessed to meet you both.”
She drew a breath, as if it had been some time since she had done so, and took my hand in both of hers. Her grip was dry, her fingers thick with callus, but not sandpaper rough.
Amanda glanced toward her husband. “We’re blessed.”
Then she drew another breath, pulled her shoulders back, as if getting ready for a blow. Laird must have seen it, too. He hurried down the steps and stood behind her, his hands on her shoulders. His love for her was obvious. This time she allowed his touch.
“And now that introductions have been made,” Amanda said. “Would you please give me my son’s remains?”
The meal they offered us proved generous, even if provided at a table in the kitchen. The company remained subdued. Amanda said little, sat clutching the brass urn on her lap. What few words Laird said were addressed to me, as if Del wasn’t there.
“Where are you from, boy?” Laird demanded.
“My folks work land south of Port Angeles.”
I forked a bite of roast beef into my mouth, more to keep from talking than because I needed food. I didn’t like this man, who looked so much like my friend, but didn’t act like him. He spoke to me as if I were a wayward child.
“No, sir. My father manages orchards for a landsman who lives in Saint Edwards.”
I could hear the disdain dripping from that single word. I came from hired help. Tenants.
“Your father approve of you joining those heretics?”
I set my fork and knife onto the table with a thump. Del kicked me, under the table.
“Boy, do you never learn?” Eken whispered. “He’s baiting you, looking for a reason to throw you off his property.”
“I was raised Freewill, Landsman Tucker,” I said, working to keep my voice even. “My parents felt blessed I chose to join the Brotherhood.”
“Is that so?”
Clear I wasn’t the sort he would have picked as a companion for his son.
“There any money?” Teddy blurted.
He leaned against the frame in the doorway to the central hall. Garr hovered behind him, trying to look adult. It was the first time either had spoken.
“Hold your tongue, son,” Laird said.
Teddy took a step into the room. I decided I didn’t care for him one little bit, either.
“I got a right to know, Pa,” he said. “If Andy left money, by law Garr and me are entitled to a share.”
I decided to stir the pot a bit.
“There’s gold. An accumulated share of profits, minus costs of my travel.” I pulled the remaining pouches from my belt and tossed them onto the table.
Teddy drew a breath, almost hissing, as the gold landed, heavy and solid. Laird shot up from his chair.
“That’s getting to be a bad habit, boy,” Eken whispered. “You endanger your life and that of the tracker. You dishonor the memory of your friend, as well.”
“How much is it?” Teddy’s voice squeaked.
“I told you to shut up,” Laird thundered.
He turned on me then, his index finger pointed like a gun. “As for you, I won’t allow you to corrupt my two remaining sons, do you hear me? Your heresy has already stolen one son from me.”
Del pushed away from the table then, stood with his back to the wall. “If we leave now,” he said to me. “We can make it most of the way to Windswept by morning.”
His words were calm but they had a sandpaper rasp to them.
“Fine by me,” Laird said. He waved toward the table. “Take your dirty money with you, too. We don’t want it.”
It seemed to me that Laird would have been dead just then, if Teddy had had a weapon handy. He turned, pushed Garr out of the way, and stormed down the hall. His little brother followed.
“No!” Amanda said. She remained seated but her voice was on its feet. “This young man was Andrew’s friend. He has done us, a great favor. I will not turn him away. They stay the night.”
Laird might run the lands but the name on the gate told me who owned the ranch. Amanda’s name was listed first and so her word was law. Women might be looked upon as second-class citizens in some places, but their claim to land rights had been rock-solid from the first days on Daniel. Laird glared at me. I glared right back.
“I think it best we leave, ma’am,” Del said.
“Listen to the tracker, boy,” Eken whispered. “For your life and soul, please listen to him.”
I should have heeded both of them, but I saw the way Amanda cradled Tuck’s urn against her chest, heard the need in her voice. I was determined not to bring her further hurt. I scooped up the gold, feeling its real weight for the first time.
“No,” I said, my eyes on Laird. “You can go, Del, if you like. I intend to stay the night.”