(I intend to have this available through Amazon in a few days. I've been working on it hard, and it's taken me longer than I expected. But I've been having a real blast writing this fifth book in the Colter Farrow series. I started it back home in Minnesota and I'm doing the final polish here in southeast Arizona. Here, Colter returns home to the Lunatic Mountains. Only, much has changed, and a war rocks the land...)
The first front of the Lunatics, their flame-shaped pediments of towering gray rock streaked with snow that glowed in the high-altitude sunshine, stood up proud and tall on their aproning pedestal of blue-green forest. In the lens-clear light, the crags appeared close enough for Colter to reach out and grab.
But even after three hours of steady riding, they appeared only slightly larger than they had from the outskirts of Hodges. They did, however, look altogether different, for the westward-angling sun now stretched purple shadows into long flues and fissures that hadn’t been visible in the sun’s direct gaze. Now the angling light revealed precariously balanced boulders, slab-sided rock outcroppings, church-like steeples, and steep talus slides over which the dark specks of birds of prey—eagles or hawks or both--circled as they hunted for their evening meals.
As Colter and David continued riding, their horses now snorting and blowing as they lunged up into the lower foothills tufted with forest, the mountain shadows slid over them suddenly.
Just like that, day became night.
Just as suddenly, the air turned brisk, and it smelled of the cold rock jutting above. The craggy peaks were now hidden from view as the riders ascended the forested pedestal atop which the Lunatic Range was balanced.
Colter drew Northwest to a halt at the crest of a steep stone dyke that poked out of the cedar- and pine-peppered shoulder of the mountain, like a broken rib. He curveted the horse, sitting sideways to the mountain, and stared back out over the broad valley from which they’d come.
The town of Hodges was a distant brown speck to the southeast, nestled in a bowl in the jade valley. Colter wouldn’t have been able to see the settlement at all if not for the diminishing rays of the tumbling sun painting it copper.
Above him, Colter could hear the muffled roar of the wind blowing against the natural stone battlements. Here where he sat Northwest, the air was still. He heard a faint crackling and turned to gaze over his right shoulder.
A heard of mule deer, likely having scented the riders, bounded across a far shoulder of the mountain, just below timberline, the younger, smaller yearlings following the does while a big stag with a massive rack and yoke-like shoulders stood on the incline above, at the edge of the trees, gazing back toward the source of possible danger.
The wash of sunset colors across the sky. The tang of pine and cold rock. The distant roar of the wind, the occasional screech of hunting raptors. Every cloud and tree shadow, the deep green and purple shadows of the maze of cliffs and mesas jutting around him. Every breath of the air against his face…
Everything whispered that single, comforting, reassuring word in his ears and warmed his blood:
Colter turned his head to gaze out along his back trail once more, his eyes tracing the slender purple ribbon of the ancient Indian trail that he and David had started following when they’d left the stage road many miles back. He could see only parts of that old trail carved years ago by an unknown people—at least, an indigenous people unknown to Colter.
Only horses could negotiate that ancient trace, which undulated up and over and around all of the many hills and valleys and small canyons and haystack buttes, around or through small bosques and mottes of scrub trees and brush—all the stuff one didn’t even notice until you traveled over and around such obstacles yourself, until this country closed around you and swallowed you, made you feel at once very small and insignificant, very whole and very free.
“Hey, Colter—you all right?”
The redhead turned to see David sitting the claybank maybe forty feet up the slope, at the very edge of the spruces and tamaracks darkening behind him and from which came the exhilarating smell of forest duff and balsam.
“I couldn’t be better.”