Mother bears were protective of their young. They attacked anything that came near their offspring. Anyone who stumbled on a cub was well advised to hasten elsewhere before the mother noticed, or risk being torn to pieces.

The last thing Fargo wanted was a clash with a bear. It would take but an instant for him to jump up, grab a low limb, and climb into the pine. Once he was high enough, the she-bear wouldn’t be able to reach him. But that meant deserting the Ovaro. He would as soon slit his wrists.

So Fargo went on unwrapping the Ovaro’s reins while keeping his eyes on the mother bruin and the smaller version of herself. Both stood there and returned his stare. The reins came loose. Girding himself, Fargo slid the Colt into its holster, then launched himself at the saddle. He grabbed the saddle horn and swung his leg up and over.

The cub squalled.

The mother roared.

And Fargo got the hell out of there.

The mother bear gave chase. . . .

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.

Idaho Territory, 1860—among the rivers and rocks, only one thing lurks more dangerous than the Nez Perce Indians—gold!


The ten canvas-topped turtles rattled and creaked as they wound into the mountains at the lumbering rate of fifteen miles a day. On good days. On days when the going was steep or the weather was bad or one of the wagons broke down, they lumbered less.

The tall rider in buckskins had no trouble keeping them in sight. He was broad of shoulder and slender of hip, with pantherish muscles that rippled when he moved. His white hat, brown with dust, was worn with the brim low over his eyes to shield them from the harsh glare of the relentless summer sun.

His name was Skye Fargo. He wore a Colt and had a Henry rifle in his saddle scabbard and a double-edged Arkansas toothpick in an ankle sheath, and he knew how to use all three with uncommon skill. As a tracker, he was without peer. He also possessed an uncanny memory for landmarks and a superb sense of direction. A lot of folks got lost in the wilds; Fargo never did. A lot of folks couldn’t tell east from west or north from south, but Fargo always knew. He relied on the sun and the stars and his own inherent senses, and they never failed him.

Quite often, Fargo used his skills scouting for the army. At other times he hired out for whoever struck his interest. At the moment he was shadowing the wagon train to earn the one thousand dollars he was being paid to find out what had happened to a missing family. A thousand dollars was a lot of money at a time when most men barely earned five hundred a year. Not that Fargo would hold on to it. With his fondness for whiskey, cards and women—not necessarily in that order—he spent every dollar he made almost as soon as he made it. A friend of Fargo’s once joked that his poke must have a bottomless hole, and the joke wasn’t far from the truth.

So here Fargo was, astride his Ovaro a quarter mile to the east of the wagons, riding at a leisurely pace and wishing he was in a cool saloon somewhere with a willing dove on his lap, a bottle of red-eye at his elbow, and a full house in his hand.

Fargo had been trailing the wagon train for over a week now. The wagons were filled with settlers, and Fargo wasn’t all that partial to their kind. There were too damned many, swarming from the East like locusts, fit to overrun the West with their farms and their cattle and their caterwauling children. As yet only a few areas west of the Mississippi River had become civilized, but give them fifty years and Fargo worried that the untamed prairies and mountains he loved so much would become an unending vista of settlements, towns and cities.

Fargo dreaded that day. City life was all right for a festive lark but too much of it bored him. Worse, after a couple of weeks of having a roof over his head and being hemmed by four walls, he got to feeling as if he were in a cage. He couldn’t stand that feeling.

The Ovaro pricked its ears and looked toward the wagons, prompting Fargo to do the same. “Damn,” he said, annoyed with himself. He hadn’t been paying attention, and two riders had left the wagons and were coming directly toward him. For a few tense moments he thought that they’d spotted him. But that was unlikely. He was far enough back in the trees that he blended into the shadows.

Fargo didn’t want to be seen until he was ready. Reining toward a cluster of boulders, some as big as the covered wagons, he swung behind them and dismounted. Palming his Colt, he edged to where he could see the riders approach.

The pair were scruffy specimens. Their clothes had never been washed and their hats were stained, their boots badly scuffed. The rider on the left was short and stout, with a face remarkably like a hog’s. The rider on the right was big and wide and wore a perpetual scowl on a scarred face only a mother could love. They slowed as they neared the woods and shucked rifles from their scabbards.

Hunting for game, Fargo reckoned. He strained to hear what they were saying, but they weren’t close enough yet. He was concerned they would see the Ovaro’s tracks, but they entered the trees at a point a dozen yards north of him.

The pair were prattling away, seemingly without a care in the world.

The hoggish one gave voice to a high-pitched titter more fitting for a saloon girl.

“Ain’t it the truth, Slag. Ain’t it the truth. I don’t know how that dirt grubber puts up with it.”

“He does it for the same reason any man does,” Slag said in a voice that rasped like a file on metal.

“I’d as soon slit my throat as be nagged and badgered and insulted to death.”

“You don’t have to worry, Perkins. Neither one of us will ever hitch ourselves to a dress.”

Slag drew rein and his companion did the same. Both shifted in their saddles and gazed back at the plodding wagons. “Look at them. Like so many sheep. Makes me glad I’m a wolf.”

The two men laughed.

“I can’t wait to get there,” Perkins said. “For me the best part will be the carving.”

Slag snorted. “I believe it. Don’t take this wrong, pard, but you’re twisted inside. To watch you gives me the chills.”

“Why, that’s just about the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me,” Perkins gleefully responded.

“It wasn’t meant to be. You’re spooky, is what you are. You should have been born a redskin. You would fit right in as an Apache or one of those devil Sioux.” Slag paused. “Now there’s something I never thought I’d say to a

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