The Last Guardian

The Last Guardian by David Gemmell Read Free Book Online

Book: The Last Guardian by David Gemmell Read Free Book Online
Authors: David Gemmell
boots and gun were missing, though the belt and scabbard remained. Shannow was about to return to his horse when he heard a groan. He could hardly believe that life still survived inthat ruined body. Unhooking his canteen from the saddle, he knelt by the man, lifting the burned head.
    The man’s eyes opened. “They gone after the woman,” he whispered. Shannow held the canteen to his lips, but he choked and could not swallow. He said no more, and Shannow waited for the inevitable. The man died within minutes.
    Something glinted to Shannow’s right. Under a bush, where it must have fallen, lay the man’s gun. Shannow retrieved it. The caps had been removed; he had had no chance to defend himself against the attack. Shannow pondered the evidence. The men were obviously brigands who had shot down one of their own. Why? Over the woman? But they had all been at the camp. Why leave?
    A group of men had come across a woman and two children by a wagon with a broken wheel. They had mended the wheel and left—save one, who had followed afterward. His pistol had been tampered with. But then, surely he would have known that. When he had arrived, his … friends?… had shot him. Then they had headed back to the woman. There was no sense in it unless he had stopped them from taking the woman in the first place. But then, why would he unload his gun before returning?
    There was only one way to find out.
    Shannow stepped into the saddle and searched for the tracks.
    “Why did God kill my dad?” asked Samuel as he dipped his flat baked bread in the last of his broth. Beth put aside her own plate and looked across the campfire at the boy, his face white in the moonlight, his blond hair shining like silver threads.
    “God didn’t kill him, Sam. The Red Fever done that.”
    “But the preacher used to say that nobody died unless God wanted them to. Then they went to heaven or hell.”
    “That’s what the preacher believes,” she said slowly,“but it don’t necessarily mean it’s true. The preacher used to say that Holy Jesus died less than four hundred years ago, and then the world toppled. But your dad didn’t believe that, did he? He said there were thousands of years between then and now. You remember?”
    “Maybe that’s why God killed him,” said Samuel, “ ’cos he didn’t believe the preacher.”
    “Ain’t nothin’ in life that easy,” Beth told him. “There’s wicked men that God don’t kill, and there’s good men—like your pa—who die out of their time. That’s just life, Samuel; it don’t come with no promises.”
    Mary, who had said nothing throughout, cleared away the dishes, carrying them beyond the campsite and scrubbing them with grass. Beth stood and stretched her back. “You’ve a lot still to learn, Samuel,” she said. “You want something, then you have to fight for it. You don’t give ground, and you don’t complain and whine. You take your knocks and get on with living. Now help your sister clear up and put that fire out.”
    “But it’s cold, Ma,” Samuel protested. “Couldn’t we just sleep out here with the fire?”
    “The fire can be seen for miles. You want them raiders coming back?”
    “But they helped us with the wheel.”
    “Put out the fire, snapper-gut!” she stormed, and the boy leapt to his feet and began to kick earth over the blaze. Beth walked away to the wagon and stood staring out over the plain. She didn’t know if there was a god, and she didn’t care. God had not helped her mother against the brutality of the man she had married, and sure as sin, God had never helped her. Such a shame, she thought. It would have been nice to feel her children were safe under the security of a benign deity, with the faith that all their troubles could be safely left to a supreme being.
    She remembered the terrible beating her mother had suffered the day she died; could still hear the awful soundsof fists on flesh. She had watched as he dragged her body out to the

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