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FROZEN FARGO

Night was falling. Fargo had to get up. He had to keep moving. If he stayed there he’d freeze. His days of roaming the frontier wherever his whims took him would be done. He got his hands under him and pushed but his strength had deserted him. He rose only as high as his elbows and then fell back.

“Not like this, damn it.”

Again, Fargo sought to rise. Again his body betrayed him. He lay staring up into an ocean of falling flakes, his consciousness swirling like the eddies in a whirlpool. He felt himself being sucked into a black abyss and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

Nothing at all . . .

The Trailsman

Beginnings . . . they bend the tree and they mark the man. Skye Fargo was born when he was eighteen. Terror was his midwife, vengeance his first cry. Killing spawned Skye Fargo, ruthless, cold-blooded murder. Out of the acrid smoke of gunpowder still hanging in the air, he rose, cried out a promise never forgotten.

The Trailsman they began to call him all across the West: searcher, scout, hunter, the man who could see where others only looked, his skills for hire but not his soul, the man who lived each day to the fullest, yet trailed each tomorrow. Skye Fargo, the Trailsman, the seeker who could take the wildness of a land and the wanting of a woman and make them his own.

1861, the Beartooth Range—where no one ever went because few had ever come back.

1

It was the worst blizzard Skye Fargo ever saw, and it was killing him.

Fargo was deep in the rugged Beartooth Range. Mountains so far from anywhere, few white men had ever visited them. He was there on behalf of the army.

“Scout around,” Major Wilson had requested. “Let us know what the country is like. Keep on the lookout for Indian sign. And for God’s sake, be careful.”

It was known that the Blackfeet passed through the range now and then. So, too, did the Crows. Rumor had it another, smaller tribe lived far into the Beartooths, but no one knew anything about them. Like many tribes, they wanted nothing to do with the white man or his ways.

So far Fargo hadn’t seen any Indians. He’d been exploring for six days when the first snow fell. It was just a few light flakes. Since snow in early September seldom amounted to much, he kept on exploring. The light flakes became heavy flakes—the kind that stuck and stayed if the temperature was right, the kind that piled up fast. Within two hours of the first flake falling, the snow was two feet deep and rising.

Fargo kept thinking it would stop. He was so sure of it, he went on riding even when a tiny voice in his mind warned him to seek shelter. A big man, he favored buckskins, a white hat and a red bandanna. In a holster on his right hip nestled a Colt. Under his right pant leg, snug in his boot, was an Arkansas toothpick in an ankle sheath. From the saddle scabbard jutted the stock of a Henry rifle.

A frontiersman, folks would call him. It showed in the bronzed cast of his features, in the hawkish gleam to his lake blue eyes, in the sinewy muscles that rippled under his buckskins. Here was a man as much a part of the wild land he liked to roam as any man could be. Here was a man who had never been tamed, never been broken.

The blizzard worried him, though. Fargo had a bedroll but no extra blankets and no buffalo robe, as he sometimes used in the winter. He hadn’t brought a lot of food because he’d intended to fill his supper pot with whatever was handy.

Drawing rein, Fargo glared at the snow-filled sky. A deluge of snow, the flakes so thick there was barely a whisker’s space between them, the heaviest snow he had ever seen, and that was saying a lot since he had seen a lot. He could see his breath, too, which meant the temperature was dropping, and if it fell far enough, he was in serious trouble.

“Damn,” Fargo said out loud.

The Ovaro stamped a hoof. The stallion didn’t like the snow, either. Great puffs of breath blew from its nostrils, and it shivered slightly.

Fargo shivered, too. Annoyed at himself, he gigged the Ovaro on.

As near as he could tell, he was high on a ridge littered with boulders. Humped white shapes hemmed him in. The game trail he had been following when the storm broke was getting harder to stick to. He hoped it would take him lower, into a valley where he could find a haven from the weather until the worst was over.

Shifting in the saddle, he gazed about. There were no landmarks of any kind. All there was was snow. Visibility six feet, if that.

Fargo’s fingers were growing numb and he took to sticking one hand or the other under an arm to warm it. He tried not to think of his toes. He knew a fellow scout who had lost all the toes on one foot to frostbite, and now the man walked with an odd rolling gait but otherwise claimed he didn’t miss his toes much.

Fargo would miss his. He was fond of his body parts and intended to keep them in one piece.

Since he couldn’t see the sun, he had to rely on his inner clock for a sense of time. He reckoned it was about one in the afternoon but it could have been later. If the snow was still falling when night fell, he would be in desperate trouble. He tried not to think of that, either.

Fargo wasn’t a worrier by nature. He didn’t fret over what might be. He did what he had to, and if it didn’t work out, so be it. Some people were different. They worried over every little thing. They worried over what they should wear, and what they should eat, and what they should say to people they met, and they worried over how much money they made, and whether they were gaining too much weight or going gray or a thousand and one other anxieties. They amused him no end. All the worry in the world never stopped a bad thing from happening.

But Fargo had cause to worry now. He would die if he didn’t find somewhere to lie low until the worst was over. He would succumb to the cold, and his flesh would rot from his bones and a wandering Indian or white man would come on his skull and a few other bones and wonder who he had been and what he had been doing in the middle of nowhere and why he had died.

“Enough of that,” Fargo scolded.

It helped to hear his own voice. To remind himself that he was alive and a man, able to solve any problem nature threw at him. He had never been short of confidence.

So on Fargo rode, looking, always looking for a spot to stop. An overhang would do. A stand of trees, even. A cave would be ideal but it had been his experience that life was sparing with its miracles.

More time passed. The only sound was the swish of the falling snow and the dull clomp of the Ovaro’s heavy hooves.

The cold ate into Fargo. By now the snow was three feet deep in most places, with higher drifts. The drifts he avoided, if he could. They taxed the Ovaro too much, and he must spare the stallion.

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