Preacher and the Mountain Caesar

Preacher and the Mountain Caesar by William W. Johnstone Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: Preacher and the Mountain Caesar by William W. Johnstone Read Free Book Online
Authors: William W. Johnstone
    Terry and Vickie exchanged silent glances. Preacher leaned close to their faces.
    â€œYou’d best one of you open up. I don’t abide sneak-thieves. Nor those who abuse a body’s hospitality. Turns out you’re guilty of both. I promise it will go easier if you do. You”—he nodded to Terry—“you said I was famous. Then you must know that if I am who I said I was, an’ you crossed me, I would squeeze the life out of both of you and never blink an eye. I could skin you alive, an’ not feel a pang.” He loomed over Vickie. “I could eat your liver.”
    Vickie turned deathly pale, and her lips trembled. “Oh, no—no. Please! ”
    â€œThen you’d best be tellin’ me what’s true and what’s not.”
    Terry mopped at the single tear that ran down his soft cheek. “We—we were abandoned by our parents more’n a year ago. They hated us, said we were even more violence prone and bloodthirsty than they themselves. There weren’t no other mean fellers. We been out here ever since. We’ve lived since by takin’ things from unsuspecting travelers we come upon who were dumb enough to take us in.”
    â€œLike me.” Preacher prodded, his anger not entirely quenched.
    â€œNo, not like you,” Terry hastened to correct. “You’re different altogether. Not like them at all. I—I kinda like you, an’ I’m sorry we tried to rob you.”
    â€œIf I hadn’t whupped you, would you be sayin’ that?”
    Terry looked at Preacher in naked horror, and his face dissolved. “You—you’re right. We’re both awful, ugly kids.” He buried his face in his hands and sobbed wretchedly, no longer a would-be killer, only a small boy alone and frightened.
    Uncertain as to what to do, Preacher decided to hog-tie them for the rest of the night and take them along with him to Trout Creek Pass. Surely someone at the trading post would be able and willing to take charge of them.
    * * *
    Pacing the polished granite floor caused the purple stripe on the hem of the tall man’s toga to ripple like a following sea. Through the window, beyond his broad shoulders, the western peaks of the Ferris Range gave off a rose glow from the rising sun opposite them. The newborn orb struck highlights from the rings that adorned six of his eight fingers and the gold and silver ornaments on his bare forearms. Anger gave his long, narrow face a scarlet hue that clashed with his sandy blond hair. He reached the limit of the large, airy room and turned back. Before he spoke he drove a fist into an open palm.
    â€œFive men have failed to return and no one says anything about it? Why was I not told of this at once?” he demanded of the other man in the atrium.
    â€œThe centurion of the guard did not consider it an important event, First Citizen.”
    The sandy-haired man shook his head sadly as he examined the other. He saw a burly man, with wide-set legs, thick and muscular, protected by shiny brass greaves. A barrel chest, encased in the brass cuirass of a Roman officer, rode above a trim waist and was topped by a full neck and large, broad-faced head. The horsehair-crested helmet tucked under one huge arm seemed a part of him. His white and red kilt was skirted by brass-studded leather strips. On his feet, the plain, brown leather marching sandals. Taken together these factors made him every inch the mighty general of the Legions of Nova Roma that he was. Yet, he allowed laxness and mistakes to weaken those powerful forces.
    Any newly made corporal would have known to see that such vital information be relayed upward. The First Citizen sighed before he spoke. “Gaius Septimus, I chose you as my constant companion and commander of my legions because you are awfully good at what you do. The years you spent with the barbarian army before leaving their ranks for—ah—a freer life are

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