Monday, November 10, 2014
Where It's At
I came up empty today, that’s why this is late. Luckily, I’ve got a WIP set in Talbot’s Peak. In this scene, Rick the mountain lion points out where everybody lives in relation to the Peak. If you don’t agree with my geography, let me know so I can rework it. That’s what drafts are for.
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Rick led them by a roundabout trail to a high rocky promontory that offered a spectacular view in all directions. Around them and below, the trees cut off in a distinct line and gave way to grassy slopes and meadows. A wide pond lay in a dip at the bottom. In the distance Nilambari could see more peaks, some with trees, some rocky and bare, even a few with snow.
“That’s where you came up from.” Rick pointed to the slopes behind them. “Zhere Ghan’s compound is back that way. There’s only one trail, and I check it a lot. I’ve got the trail and a few other spots rigged. Anything big—say, tiger sized—tries to get up here, I’ll be able to tell.
“Over there is the peak itself, the one the town was named for.” He pointed out another mountain crest opposite their own. Nilambari sat up and squinted. She thought she’d seen a flash of sunlight bounce off something halfway up the other mountain’s side. Rick nodded when she mentioned it. “Hancock headquarters. The Hancock pack are the dominant wolves in this area. Damien’s the current alpha and a major piece of work. He hardly ever comes out this way, though. Too concerned with keeping tabs on his neighbors. That’d be Ghan and the Fledermaus spread, over there on his flank. The Flying F is a cattle ranch, run by bats. Fruit bats, I think, not vampires. They might fly over, but they won’t bother us either. There’s a little dude ranch tucked off there to the right, bordering the Peak and the Flying F. Again, no threat to anybody. Talbot’s Peak—the town, I mean—is down at the foot of Hancock’s mountain. You can’t see it because of the fold of those hills. The only way from there to here is that road we were on this morning. If you follow Route 15 in the other direction you’ll come out at the interstate. It’s a whole other world out there, mostly humans. I’ll take you there sometime if you want, after the heat dies down.
“Down that way”—he pointed to the slope in front of them—“the Turkle clan has a cabin tucked away in the woods. Old Man Turkle used to run the game farm, but he retired. Do not trespass on their land. They’re turkeys, and tend to shoot anything that moves. I’ll show you where the borders are. Learn them.”
“What’s a turkey?”
“No turkeys in India? It’s … it’s like a big chicken with a head like a buzzard and a tail like a peacock. You won’t see them. You’ll just hear the gunshots.”
He went silent. Nilambari waited for him to complete his aural map, with the burned-out farmstead at the foot of Rick’s mountain and its absent owner. Was he human or shifter? What if he returned? But Rick did not continue.
She started, “What about—”
“Shhhh.” He held up his hand. His voice dropped to a hiss. “We’ve got company.”
She followed the line of his stare to the pond. A band of horses was picking a cautious path across the meadow toward the water. A brown mare scouted every inch of the way to the water’s edge. She decided all was safe and allowed the others in. A big gray stallion trailed the herd, keeping lookout.
“Damn,” Rick muttered. “I know this bunch. They belong to that little dude ranch. Sometimes they wander over here, following the grass. Merry’s man Dash’ll be over in a day or two to herd ‘em back. Until then, no hunting. They’re off the menu.”
Nilambari eyed the horses. She judged their condition, the height of the grass and the available cover. “But I could—”
“So could I, but I have an arrangement with Merry. I don’t kill her horses, and she doesn’t shoot me.” Rick flashed a grin. “I don’t much care for horse meat anyway.”
Nevertheless, he seemed most interested in the big gray. “There’s a new face,” he murmured. “That’s no mustang. Didn’t think Merry could afford a new stud.” He shucked his poncho in one smooth motion. “Stay here.”
Before she could protest he was gone, a tawny lion bounding down the slope. He made no attempt at stalking or silence. The horses couldn’t help but notice him.
And they did. The stallion bugled an alarm. The brown mare cut between Rick and the others. She bunched her nervous band together and started them away from the pond, while the stallion high-stepped and tossed his gray mane and whinnied threats at Rick.
For his part, Rick simply sat and commenced washing a paw. Don’t mind me, go about your business. Except he was their business now. Nilambari didn’t like how the stallion’s prance-and-weave brought him and his hooves ever closer to Rick, or how the mare had circled back to flank him from the left.
Nilambari ripped off her moccasins and flung her poncho aside. In tiger form she raced down the slope to Rick’s defense.
Her roar was drowned by the stallion’s scream. He half-reared, started a charge, then broke off and fled. The mare had already bolted, as had the rest of the band. In seconds the last flailing horse-tail had disappeared from the meadow.
Rick shifted to human and stood. “What was that about?”
Nilambari circled him, snuffling. He was unhurt. She also shifted. “They meant to attack you.”
“G’wan. It was a bluff. I know that mare. She’s got a temper, but she isn’t stupid. She knows the difference between a hunting cat and one just passing through. That big boy, though, him I don’t know.” He gazed thoughtfully toward the stallion’s last visible location. “No brand on him. Good lines. Too well-bred to be wild. Wonder if he came off the Flying F? Be a smart move on Brand’s part.”
“Brandon Fledermaus. He owns the Flying F. He can afford a whole herd of horses that classy. Wouldn’t surprise me if he let one kind of wander over to Merry’s. The dude ranch isn’t much, but it makes a good buffer between Fledermaus and Hancock. Damien would just love to gobble it up, put pressure on Brandon’s borders. But Merry won’t sell.” Rick bared his teeth, sort of like a smile. “Brand likes Merry and Dash. He sends a lot of rich clients their way. He probably sent the horse too. Wherever that feller came from, he sure as scat doesn’t like tigers.”