He woke with a start. Glancing all around him, getting his bearings, he realized it was still dark, and most of his travelling companions still slept. Piper, with her mouth agape, was snoring and drooling, as usual. Above him, the sky was a canopy of brilliant starstuff. The Milky Way painted a brilliant stripe across the sky. In the distance, the wind was still blowing over the hollow pipes of the Ancients, like ghosts blowing on bottles.
His father was the one keeping the watch. Colin Walsh sat up on Emma’s carriage with his rifle across his lap. He nodded to Graeme when he saw him sit up.
Graeme crawled out of his bedroll and rubbed at his arms. Cold tonight, which wasn’t a surprise, considering how clear it was. He threw his duster and hat on, picked up his gunbelt, and climbed up to sit beside his father. “What time is it?” he asked in a low voice.
The elder Slinger glanced at his pocket-watch. “’Bout half past one.”
“Why didn’t you wake me up for my watch?” He should have started half an hour ago!
“Way you was sleepin’, reckoned you’d be up soon enough.” He drew out his cheroots and passed one to Graeme without a word.
Graeme hopped down to light a stick from the low-burning embers of their campfire, then brought it up so they could light the little rough-rolled cigars.
“You’re too young to smoke,” growled his father, gazing off at something in the distance while he puffed. Graeme didn’t say a word. Should he put it out? But then his father sighed. “You’re too dang young to be a Slinger too. But you are, so what can I say?” He passed the flaming stick to Graeme.
“You could say you’d rather I didn’t.” He got a good smoulder going, carefully keeping one eye closed to preserve his night vision, and shook the kindling out.
“You’re makin’ adult decisions now. I got no right to tell a grown man he shouldn’t smoke. “Specially when I do.” They sat together in companionable silence for a while, and the tips of their cheroots winked like glowing eyes in the dark.
“I didn’t want to kill those men,” he told his father after a long silence.
His dad sighed. “I know, son. I’m sorry you had to. Now that you have, was it what you expected?”
“No.” He fell silent and gazed out into the glowing night. Strange contrast, that. The night sky always made him feel peaceful, but that drone was getting on his nerves.
“How did it feel?”
Graeme shrugged. He wasn’t sure. “I was sick,” he said. “But I was excited too.” Maybe his father had an answer. “Dad, just what makes us different from the Desperados?”
The elder Walsh chuckled. “Nothin’, son. Just our choices.”
Check out The Vigil (Wyrd West Chronicles #3) and the rest of the Wyrd West Chronicles by Diane Morrison.