by DiVoran Lites
When Ellie and Lia were finally allowed to get off the horses, they found themselves inside a large cave on the edge of a cliff. Furstus and Lastus unpacked the horses and made a fire.
“You can kill that one if you want to,” said Lastus, “but this one is my little darling’ and you ain’t touching her. I saw her first a long time ago when she was making a picture at the pond and she hurt herself and fainted and… He leaned over and kissed Lia on the cheek. She tried to spit at him, but he dodged it. “You know durn well I want a woman of my own, and I’m picking this one.”
“Oh, shut up you low-down ugly old skunk.” Furstus shook his head. “Now you women, if either of you can cook, do not tell Ma. She’d take it hard if she thought we didn’t like her cooking and brought someone else to take over.”
“Neither of us can really cook,” said Ellie quickly.
Lastus pulled something from his pocket and bit off a chunk filling his cheek with it. He held what looked like a hard, brown cake up to Lia. “Have a chaw, sweetie?” he said, offering to share. Lia shuddered and shook her head.
“Don’t you like this kind of tabaccy? It’s Ma’s favorite” said Lastus. “She might like you better, sir, if you weren’t so hairy,” Ellie said, coming up with a plan to get his bowie knife away.
“Might you, Miss?” He looked at Lia who sat on the stone floor rubbing her wrists.”
“I might,” she said, cutting her eyes at Ellie and then quickly back at Lastus.
“Good, I’ll give you a haircut and a shave.” Ellie said.
“You don’t look like you got anything to cut with,” the young man said.
Ellie recalled Aldon wanting to hang a gun belt on her and wished she had accepted it. She had no idea whether she could actually shoot somebody, but she thought if they made a move to hurt her or Lia, she’d be willing to give it a try.
“I can cut your hair with that knife.” She indicated the knife in a scabbard attached to his belt. “If it’s sharp enough, I can shave you too.” Just in time, Ellie had recalled Granddad’s mention of the pride most men took in the sharpness of their various knives.
“Ya got a deal,” said Lastus. He pulled out the knife and began to rub the blade on a small whetstone from his pocket. “I always keeps my knives as sharp as my brain in case one a them bears gets mad when we’re trying to kill it.”
Lia fanned her face with her hand and Ellie knew it was a way of saying, what a lot of bologna.
“All right, hand it over.” Ellie ordered.” He slapped the knife handle into her palm. “Sit on that rock. I’ll shave you first.”
When he was clean-shaven she picked up a strand of greasy hair, sliced it off and threw them in the fire. She kept cutting until the tangle of curls had been tamed into a short, military cut.
When she finished, she angled the broad blade into the last rays of the dying sun so he could see a reflection of his appearance. He turned his head this way and that and ran his hand over his cheek. Having been shorn, he looked almost harmless—and much younger than Ellie had imagined.
“Is that me?” he said, his voice full of awe. “Why I’m a right pretty sight, ain’t I?”
“How many years have you?” Lia asked, her voice subdued.
“I don’t rightly know. How old are you, Miss Lady?”
“Trenta, old enough to be your mama,” Lia snapped.
“Oh, no, Ma’s a real old lady. You’re beautiful and I want you to come live with us. I’ll treat you good, I promise, and I won’t let Ma hit you and I won’t let Furstus be mean. I do all the clothes-washing and I’ve got a pair of real good sad-irons. I know how to use them, too.”
“I can’t, Lastus, I am married all ready and my husband and I are going to have a baby.”
“I had no idea, that’s wonderful!” Ellie interrupted. “Oh, I hope you’re all right.”
“Yes, I am sana, how you say, full of good health. And the bambino, is so tiny he would not be hurt by such a day.” Lia looked smug and rather proud of herself.