Garden of the Gods, Tennessee 1845
It was late. The sun had set two hours ago, and the deep black dark of night was beginning to set in. A rancher's cabin sat in the middle of an eighty-acre farm located in the valley nicknamed Garden of the Gods near the small town of Tree Hill. A herd of cattle almost too big for the farm rested near the barn. The cabin itself had two small windows covered as if the contents inside were purposely verboten. There wasn't another dwelling for almost a mile.
Inside the cabin, a family was sitting down to supper. A fire crackled in the fireplace, and the four people sitting at the table were eerily quiet. Renfrew Brown, known as "Ren," sat at the table, struggling to stay awake. His dog, Blaze, was watching him silently from the corner of the room. Sitting completely still and silent for a long time didn't help Ren keep his body from trying to shut down. His ten-year-old frame beat and bruised after a grueling day working on his father's farm. Actually, it was his stepfather's farm now, and his stepfather continually made that point very clear. Ren's birth father planned to teach his boy how to farm and raise animals and then pass the farm down to Ren, but he knew his new stepfather never would. Tonight, his stepfather, Magnus, had been eating for almost an hour. In the fields, Magnus worked ferociously. But, at the dinner table, he lounged, almost unnecessarily. His stepfather's plate was empty, and he was going for seconds, which meant Ren would not get dinner tonight. His mother sat across from him stone-faced, still and silent. Ten minutes later, Ren, his muscles aching and his belly hungry, slowly reached his hand toward some food at the edge of the table, trying to sneak a tiny bit of food unnoticed. Pain flared upon his right temple as his stepfather's cup shattered across his forehead. Sounds of his baby brother crying from the other room filled his head as he faded out. Ren briefly regained consciousness only for a few moments to realize he was being dragged outside through the fields towards a patch of woods on the property's far edge. Ren faded out again.
Some time had passed before sounds started forming inside Ren's head. It was the woods beginning to wake up for the day. A penetrating cold enveloped Ren, and he opened his eyes. Only one eye would open; the other was swollen shut. The sun wasn't up yet, but dawn would be arriving soon. Ren tried to sit up but couldn't. He felt a heavy weight covering his body. He was buried under a layer of mud with only part of his face uncovered. Ren started to fade out again until he felt something wet and slimy run across his face and flinched slightly. It happened again. Ren opened his eye, and a grin formed on his face as he realized it was his dog. Blaze had uncovered his head from the mud. He tried again to get up. This time he was able to pull an arm out of the wet earth. His dog pranced around with excitement. It took some time, but Ren pulled himself out of the shallow mud grave where he was left to die. Luckily, he was stronger than his stepdad believed him to be; or at least he was so far. But, his thoughts were slow, and his body was so cold. He had to get warm. He pulled himself up into a low thick Juniper tree where it was a little warmer. Blaze snuggled up against him. He looked out towards the direction of his home. His mother thought she found salvation with his stepfather after his birth father died. She did not. Magnus was brutally cruel. By the time she discovered his cruelty, she was pregnant with his child and felt her only option was to endure. Ren loved his mother and his new baby brother. But he knew he couldn't go back home. His stepfather now thought him to be dead or dying. His only option was to leave. Ren pulled some pine boughs in close to him and snuggled closer to his dog. The sun would be up soon and bring warmth with it. Now would be his time to leave. All he had was the mud-soaked clothes on his back and his dog, but that would have to do. A few minutes later, Ren stood up, and he and Blaze walked west, away from his home, and away from Tree Hill.
Tree Hill, Tennessee, 1852
Ren hiked up to the top of a ridge and looked down. The sun had set, but the blue light of twilight still illuminated the land. Below was the home he left seven years ago. There were no lights and no signs of activity. There was no livestock, and the fields were overgrown. Ren surveyed the land that he used to know so well. The land had moved on while he was gone. Trees and brush had taken over areas once cleared, and the cabin and outbuildings were in disrepair. A twinge of sadness sprang up in Ren's mind at the reminder of things lost in his life and the thought that maybe his mother and brother didn't fare so well after all. Ren walked back down the ridge to his mule. There was a storm coming in, and the winds were starting to pick up. Ren climbed back up on his mule. He had several miles to travel to get to town. He removed a deerskin poncho from one of his saddlebags and draped it over himself, and rode on towards town as the storm picked up.
The ride into town was beginning to get tough. A bitter wind howled across the land, and rain began to pelt his face and body. The rain was cold and heavy, and the night was getting late. Ren's mule was struggling. He needed to find shelter soon. Ren came to the top of a slight rise in the land. Down the slope in front of him was a river, raging from the recent rains. Off in the distance, on the far side of the river, Ren could see the faint lights of a small town. The town he left years ago.
He came to the river that was now raging violently from the storm. The wind gusted and nearly knocked him and his mule over. The town would have to wait. Maybe he could find a place to cross in the light of day. Ren stepped off his mule. Trying to build a fire in this storm would be futile. He pulled his mule along to a small break, away from the river, then removed his bags off the mule and ate the last scraps of food left in his pack. His rapidly growing teenage body constantly demanded sustenance. After pulling off the saddlebags, he watched his mule lay down. She wasn't as young as she used to be, and this trip was arduous for her. He strung up his rain poncho between two trees and underneath his hammock and underquilt and crawled in for the night. As he began to warm up and drift off to sleep, his thoughts drifted to the past, thinking of his mother and brother and the dog Blaze he once had.
* * *
Ren quickly walked through the stream the following day as the water was less than a foot high. He left his mule back at the overlook. It would make a good camp, and it wasn't near any trail or road. Once Ren made it to the other side, he sat on a large rock and put his dry boots back on. He had left most of his gear back at camp, except two items; a canteen and his whip. The whip was unassuming, but he knew how to use it well, and it had saved his hide more than once.
Ren approached the town. He kept his head slightly down with his hat on, which slightly masked his face. The city was composed of the main street running about five blocks with another row of blocks on each side. It seemed both larger and smaller than he remembered from his childhood. After passing half a dozen homes, Ren entered the town proper. One of the first businesses Ren came to was a mercantile. That suited him just fine. Ren walked through the doors and right up to the counter.
"How can I help you" A large man came out from the backroom.
"Some jerky, please, venison would be fine"
The man reached under the counter. "It's a nickel a stick," He stated as a question.
"I'll take three." The guy handed him the jerky wrapped in paper. He paid the guy, thanked him, and left the store.
Ren sat down on the bench near the storefront. As he ate his jerky, he took in the town. It was still reasonably early, but it was starting to come to life. A few men were walking around and a couple of families. There seemed to be a lot of activity at a large building on the far side of town. Several wagons were loading people. As the four wagons passed the mercantile heading out of town, he noticed all the wagons comprised of children, children that looked sullen, sickly, and just plain beat. About an hour passed, and nothing eventful occurred until an older man walked out of the shop across the street. The older man noticed Ren immediately and paused. Ren looked away but could see out of the corner of his eye that the man was now walking directly towards him.
As the older man approached, another man came out of the mercantile behind him. "Hello, sheriff," he said with a mocking tone.
The older man didn't respond but just kept walking towards Ren and sat down on the bench next to him. As the other man walked off, he looked back with a smirk. Once the other man was gone, the old man inquired, "You're not from here, are you?"
Ren looked at the old man, "No, my family and I are just passing through." The older man nodded.
"Are your parents here in town?" "No, they are back at our camp making some repairs to our wagon."
"Oh." remarked the old man.
"Are you the sheriff?" Ren asked.
The old man paused, "By name only," he shrugged. "Anyway, you might want to steer clear of this town without your family. I know you're not a little kid, but this town isn't safe for kids, even young adults."
Ren didn't respond, but the older man just kept looking at him. "Well, in any case, you should be gone before that other guy comes back around." The older man got up and went inside the Mercantile.
A few minutes later, Ren walked out of town, west, towards his camp. About halfway to his camp, he noticed the wagon tracks that contained the children all turned south. Ren looked to the south and surveyed the land but didn't see anything in the distance. He continued walking towards his camp, but after a hundred yards, he turned south and walked through the light brush paralleling the wagon trail.
After a few minutes, Ren came to a small river, probably the same river that flowed near his hidden camp. Ren followed the river upstream as it appeared to go in the same direction as the wagons. Traveling was easy until he started entering some rocky hills, which made following the river much more difficult. Ren abandoned following the river and moved off closer to the wagon trail. As Ren climbed out of the river bottom and onto a slight rise, he froze. His eyes filled with terror. Ren was looking into a pit filled with bones. But, these weren't just any kind of bones; these were human bones. He was looking at the small bones of children. Ren had seen and experienced many things over the years, but the scene before him made him stagger. He gazed over the pit in astonishment. Ren bowed his head, said a little prayer, paused, and moved on.
Ren wasn't walking long before he began hearing sounds of activity ahead of him. He kept inside the brush, moving very slowly and silently, stopping every so often to watch and listen. Ren was getting close. He could make out some movement at the base of the hills ahead of him. He inched closer. It appeared to be a work camp. The boys from the wagons were busy hauling buckets of some material to the men. The men were shouting and pushing the kids to move faster and work harder. The kids look beaten, both physically and mentally. Ren heard movement and sound behind him, but he stayed frozen and quiet. Two men on horses were riding up to the camp from the way the wagons came. One of the men was the guy with the smirk from town. Ren watched silently as the men dismounted and walked over to the camp, and started examining the boys' work contents. They appeared angry. Three boys were called over. The other man with the smirking guy pulled his belt off and proceeded to whip the boys on their backs until they lay on the ground motionless. He yelled something at the other boys, who then seemed to start rushing furiously about their work. The two men got back on their horses and started back towards town. Ren stayed motionless, peeking through a tiny gap deep in the brush. As the two men approached, it would be the second time Ren would be shocked today. The other man riding on a horse was his Stepfather.
* * *
One hour later, Ren was walking into his camp. He checked on his mule and led her down to the river and then to a better area to graze. Ren sat on a log overlooking the river and stared out over the horizon, deep in thought. He didn't know what to expect returning to the area after many years, but these developments surprised him. Ren also profoundly wondered what had become of his mother and little brother. He knew he couldn't walk away from this, yet he didn't know how to proceed. Ren knew there were probably half a dozen men in the operation, maybe even a dozen. He knew his stepfather's cruelty, which shed a lot of light on the type of operation and people involved. There were just too many unknowns; how much of the townsfolk were involved, how the children would react, and how the heck he could develop a plan where he could best a dozen or so hard men operating a child slave operation in a small town that was, at least, partially complicit. He looked out at the river. He then looked past the river towards the town. He had time; he didn't need to rush. He would have to do some reconnaissance first. He was just a young man, but he was smart, and he had time and the element of surprise working with him.
Ren spent the next day thinking and working on disguising his camp from anyone that may stumble across it. He did some fishing and built some fish traps. Ren also walked upriver a bit and found an ample supply of wineberries and a massive supply of fiddleheads in a shaded swampy area. He harvested a fine collection of both, and along with the recent catch of fish, he would have a very filling dinner tonight.
As Ren started the fire, his thoughts again wandered to his mother and brother. Where were they now? Where they even still alive? Rage filled his mind as he considered the fact his stepfather might have killed them in his absence. He cooked his dinner over the small fire. He devoured the meal then put the fire out as the sunset. There was no need to chance anybody noticing the light from his campfire. He looked again at the town in the distance, then walked over, climbed in his hammock, and turned in for the night. Tomorrow would be a big day, the start of many big days.
* * *
The following morning Ren didn't shave. He decided to let his stubble grow. His beard would come indecently and help separate him from the boys in town and help disguise him from anybody who might recognize him. He put his hat on and, this time, saddled up his mule and rode into town. He spent a good part of the day just riding through town and around the outskirts taking everything in. The large building housing the boys was the Greybrook Orphanage. It appeared to house three or four dozen children, mostly boys. There were always a few men surrounding the building, and who knew how many inside. Some of the men had guns. While purchasing some more supplies from Hal, the mercantile owner, he overheard some ladies talking about "gold in the river" and that they think "the men work the children too hard out there." He couldn't hear any more than that, and Hal was watching him closely. He thanked him once again for his purchases and left the store. Ren rode around a while longer observing the townsfolk and the layout of the town and the surroundings and was about to head back to camp when out of the corner of his eye, Ren saw something awful taking place in the alleyway he just passed. Ren hurried his mule around the block. When he was close to the other end of the alleyway, he quickly roped his mule to a post and peeked into the alley. The smirking guy was beating a young boy nearly to death. The boy was almost motionless on the alley floor.
The smirking guy raised his fist to strike the boy again, and his fist froze in pain. Something had wrapped around his arm. It loosened, and he turned just to see a glimpse of a young man before a bolt of pain shot through his right eye. He didn't even hear the crack of the whip; the pain was so bad. His eye exploded in his skull as he fell to the ground in pain. He looked up and screamed furiously, but the boy and the young man were already gone.
* * *
Ren and the young boy quickly rode the mule out of town. This time he rode to the north first and curved around west to avoid any of the men that might be traveling between the work camp and town. Ren had left town in haste but didn't think anybody was following. He looked back several times and again didn't see anyone or any signs of movement. The boy rode behind him semi-conscious and in very rough shape.
* * *
Back at camp, Ren put a blanket on the ground and laid the boy down on the blanket. He gave the boy some water and nursed his wounds, lightly rubbing some pine pitch on the cuts to disinfect them and pouring cool water from the river on his bruises. The sun was setting, but Ren wouldn't chance a fire tonight. He would let the boy rest. Ren grabbed his mule, tied it near the boy, and then went over to his hammock for the night. He felt uneasy. He was now in a precarious situation, and it called on him to be extra cautious. He grabbed some extra blankets from his mule and went back to his hammock.
An hour later, the sun had set, and the camp was dark and quiet; a large man crept into Ren's camp. The large man moved towards the little boy on the ground, and the mule brayed loudly! The man stopped and looked towards the mass in the hammock. "I know you heard that, and you know I'm here. You might as well come out". There wasn't any movement from the hammock. There was just the slightest noise coming from behind him. "This boy was pretty clever," he thought. The man didn't turn around or move but just spoke calmly. "Boy, I'm not here to harm you. I'm here to help you and the young one. We talked yesterday morning briefly. I'm Sheriff Sutter". He paused. "Can I turn around now without you ambushing me?"
Ren stood about ten feet behind the sheriff. "Sorry, sheriff, it's been a trying day, and I'm not sure who I can trust around here."
The sheriff turned around. "You picked a good place to make camp; nobody comes through here nowadays." The sheriff sat down on a log. "I saw what happened. You saved this boy's life, but NOW you're in a heap of trouble. I'm hoping I can help you out of it."
Ren sat down on a log near the sheriff, looking back over his shoulder briefly. "Don't worry, nobody else followed you here, and I covered your tracks." We can start a small fire; the warmth will help the boy, and nobody will be out this way tonight.
Ren collected some wood as the sheriff lit a fire. The sheriff opened his pack and pulled out some dried fish and crackers. "We might as well eat while we talk."
Ren sat down, and they both ate in silence for a while. "You're the Smith boy that went missing years ago, aren't you?"
Ren gave the sheriff a brief assessing look. "Yeah, that's me."
The sheriff nodded, "A lot has happened since you left. Why did you disappear?"
"My stepfather beat me and left me for dead in the swamp by our house. I was only ten, and his temper was getting worse every day. I thought my only choice was to let him think I was dead and slip away. I just came back around to see what became of my family. I went by our old house, and it has been empty for a while. Do you know what became of them?"
"I do, and that's partly why I came here tonight, partly." The sheriff and Ren sat by the fire, and the sheriff began telling his story.
"Seven years ago, a few days after you left town, I had a run-in with your stepdad, Magnus Cole. Your mother came running into my office one evening. She said you had gone missing and was afraid Magnus was to blame. She told me you two argued, he hit you and knocked you out, and she put you on the couch downstairs to rest. She fell asleep, and when she woke up, you were gone. Magnus had told her you walked out and said you were never coming back. She was skeptical but didn't let on to Magnus that she doubted his story. I've kept my eye on Magnus; I even went out to the ranch and did a little investigating. Not while Magnus was around, of course. I didn't want to cause trouble for your mother. I didn't find anything; by then, recent rains had washed away any tracks or clues. Still, I believed he had a hand in your disappearance. Nothing came of it, but I let your mother know I understood her predicament, and if she ever needed help, all she had to do was ask."
"Two years later, your mother slipped me a note and asked for that help. Magnus told her in a drunken rage that he buried you out in the swamp, and if she didn't watch it, she would be next. She wanted to escape. So I helped your Mom and brother out of there. It was easy enough. Magnus had discovered gold in the river by then and was off all day panning. This occurred before the work camp got up and running. But I'll get to that later. Anyway, I snuck your mother and brother out of the house mid-morning, and by the time Magnus came home that evening, your mother and brother were in another state, and they are still there and doing well. They sure would be happy to know you are alive." He smiled.
"I dug up areas of the swamp over the years but never found anything. Something told me you might have made it out somehow." Sheriff Sutter threw another log on the fire.
"Life went on like normal for a few months until Jasper Steele came to town. I knew Jasper was trouble. He wasn't a troublemaker in the normal sense. But, I could tell Jasper was a dangerous one. He was charismatic; he charmed the ladies with wit and compliments and impressed the men with tough talk. I could tell, under that shiny veneer, he was not a good man. Jasper opened the Greybrook orphanage in the old hotel at the edge of town, giving orphan kids strict discipline and hard work to help bring them up correctly and god-fearing. At least that was their spiel. Jasper and Magnus teamed up at some point, and the orphanage expanded and brought the work camp on the river to its current state you see today. They work those kids mercilessly. I try to help the kids when I can. Most of the townsfolk look the other way. Their gold operation must be making an incredible amount of money, and that money benefits the town. People can become pretty blind when money is clouding their view. So that brings us up to today."
There was a long pause, and Ren asked, "Why did you tell me you're a sheriff by name only?"
"There are too many of them and only one of me, besides the more pressure I put on them, the more they would take it out on the boys," replied the sheriff.
"You did quite a number on Jasper today. He and his men are going to be searching for you, and if they find you, they'll no doubt kill you in the worst way imaginable." Sheriff Sutter gave Ren a long assessing look.
"These are evil men, son. My strong advice is to follow the riverbed upstream until sunrise; this will hide your tracks and then make north for Somerset in Kentucky. That's where you'll find your family under the name Sanders." The sheriff gave him another long assessing look.
Ren looked over at the small boy recovering on the ground and back at the sheriff. "I have another plan," Ren said, and then he and the sheriff talked deep into the night, no longer about the past; now they discussed the future. And it was daunting.
* * *
Ren woke up bright and early. The sheriff had left after their discussions and had given him a lot of new information. He tended to the young boy who was feeling much better this morning. The young boy's name was Sam. They had a long breakfast together and discussed his stay at the orphanage and the work camp, along with his last confrontation with the smirking man. He expected Sam to be defeated, but he still had a lot of strength in him. Ren finally asked Sam, "Are your plans to head out of this area, or do you have other ideas?"
Sam looked at Ren, intrigued.
That was all Ren needed to know. He then laid out the plan he and the sheriff came up with last night. They would need Sam's help for their plan to have a decent chance of working. It was just going to be up to the three of them since they couldn't trust any of the townsfolk with confidence.
The Plan Begins
Ren sat in the old silver mine that the sheriff described the night before. He didn't like hiding out while others were busy at work. But, his time for action would be soon. It was just hard to wait. He tried to get some rest but couldn't sleep. The mine was built into the hillside about a mile past the work camp. The sheriff was right; it was pretty extensive. He was back at least a few hundred yards, and it kept going for several hundred yards more before it came out the other side in a smaller opening. He had a tiny fire going to give him a touch of light.
Sam entered the cave riding the sheriff's horse, carrying two large bags. He sat down, winded and tired from the hurried trip.
Ren walked over to him. "Did the sheriff get you everything okay?"
"It's all there," Sam replied.
Ren opened the first bag and took out the two guns and ammo. He gave half to Sam. "You just rest here for a bit" Ren opened the other bag, removed the contents, and got to work.
Once Ren had finished, he walked back to Sam. "Are you ready for this?"
Sam looked at him straight in the eyes. "Those men are crueler than you could imagine. I've never been more ready".
Ren nodded. "Be ready." Ren hopped on the sheriff's horse and rode towards town.
* * *
Only one man was outside the orphanage. He was watching the area closely. Most of the other men, including Jasper, were out on the hunt for that brat boy. He would get what's coming to him and more, he thought. The boy had taken his eye, and he would have hell to pay. He and two other men kept guard at the orphanage. The man surveyed the town. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the large boy dart behind the mercantile. A smile rose in his mind. "Stupid kid," he thought. He backed up into the building and exited through the side door on the adjacent street. The boy would be in for a big surprise when he snuck upon him. He approached the back of the Mercantile with his gun drawn. Pain erupted from his hand, and his weapon dropped to the ground. He turned to see that the boy had snuck up behind him. He had a whip in one hand and a gun in the other. He dove for his gun and heard a loud bang. That was the end for him.
* * *
The sheriff was in the kitchen's pantry. A few boys had been on cooking duty for the rest of the orphanage, occasionally entering the pantry to grab an item or two. The sheriff was hiding in a corner in the dark behind some boxes. Everyone, including the two men, would be in the dining hall to eat soon. The sheriff continued to wait. He was currently alone in the pantry when he heard gunfire in the distance. It wasn't close, but it was unmistakable, as it was one of his guns. Now was the time.
The sheriff rose and peeked out of the swinging door. Two men were standing guard inside the hall, just outside the door. The hall had enough noise with the boys eating that the men didn't notice the gunshot's sound. One of the boy cooks was coming his way. The sheriff ducked back to his hiding spot. The boy entered the pantry, looked around for something, then proceded quickly toward the corner the sheriff was hiding. As the boy reached for something on the shelf above him, the sheriff covered the boy's mouth and whispered into his ear.
* * *
There was a large crash in the pantry after a couple of minutes, and the boy screamed, "Help!" The two men burst into the pantry only to be gunned down immediately by the sheriff. After talking with the boy, he had the boy create the diversion to lure the only two men left guarding the orphanage into his trap. The sheriff and the boy walked out of the pantry. Several dozen boys sat frozen at their tables, stunned. The hall was crowded today as all the kids were at the orphanage and not at the work camp because Jasper and the other men were out hunting Ren. The sheriff sat down with the boys and told them everything was going to be okay now.
But, in the back of his mind, he wondered, "Where is Magnus?"
* * *
Ren rode the sheriff's horse toward his old camp by the river; as he approached, he could see smoke from his campfire. The smoke was visible from a mile away. As he came over a rise, he could see the sheriff's plan had worked; Jasper and his men had found his camp and were now searching for him. He sat there on the rise until one of the guys spotted him and yelled to the others. Ren took off riding toward the work camp as fast as the horse could carry him. It was a fast horse, much quicker than his mule, and he was a little lighter than the men chasing him. He kept ahead of them and their bullets.
Ren approached the work camp, which had recently been ransacked. Sam had done a great job while he was gone. He looked closely. He could see deep tracks in the ground from the heavy box containing the gold supply heading up the hills toward the silver mine cave. Ren moved quickly up the slope toward the cave, even in more of a rush. The sheriff's horse climbed the hills with Ren on his back. Ren could hear the men behind him and some gunfire. They were getting closer. Ren came to the cave entrance, dared a look back, saw the men approaching swiftly, Jasper in the lead. "Where is Magnus?" he wondered. He entered the darkness of the cave.
Jasper led his men to the entrance. He told four of his men to wait outside while the other six came inside with him. Two of the men lit torches and affixed them to their horses. They nudged their horses to move into the cave ahead of them, and the group followed in the shadows. As they approached the center of the cave, they heard movement from the other end. They all looked toward the small opening at the far end and briefly saw the silhouette of Ren exiting the cave. They quickly picked up their pace just as a massive explosion knocked them to the ground. Looking back from where they just entered, Jasper could see a dynamite explosion had destroyed the entrance. He also knew the blast assuredly killed men on the other side. He and his men got up and scrambled toward the remaining opening in the back. Just as they got to their feet, another explosion rocked them. Now, they had no way out.
Ren and Sam met back at the work camp after they set off their dynamite that collapsed both entrances. Ren put the box of gold on a small trailer and attached the horse. He patted Sam on the back. They smiled and headed into town.
The Final Confrontation
A couple of hours prior, Magnus had sat in his room above the mercantile. He had seen one of his men just get gunned down right outside his room on the road behind the mercantile. He wasn't the kind of person to be shocked, but the large boy looked like a grown version of the boy he killed years ago and buried in the swamp. The shock made him hesitate. He sat by the edge of the window staring at the boy while the boy slipped away. Yes, that was him. Magnus just stayed right there watching and waiting for his opportunity.
Magnus heared the gunfire at the orphanage and knew it wass either the boy or the sheriff. He continued to wait and watch. Two hours went by, with little activity in town and no sign of any of his men, the sheriff or the boy. In the distance, he could see two figures approaching town on horseback. As they grew closer, Magnus identified them as Ren and another kid. He watched from the window as they rode through town, pulling a trailer with HIS gold. They were heading toward the orphanage. Magnus smiled and quietly left his room, with his gun drawn. As he went down the stairs into the Mercantile, he noticed Hal was in the backroom, but the three little old gossip ladies of the town were right by the front door watching the boys ride by the storefront. He snuck up on them without any notice.
Ren stood in front of the orphanage, next to the horse and cart, watching and waiting. Sam had gone inside to check on the rest of the boys. A door opened from the mercantile, and the three little old ladies walked out in a daze. They were closely followed by Magnus holding a gun to their backs. Magnus moved the ladies toward the boy and HIS gold. Once, they were half a block away. Magnus stopped and surveyed Ren. "You grew up," he yelled.
"You left me for dead," Ren replied.
Magnus just grinned. "I'll make you a deal: these old ladies in exchange for that box you have there. I'll take the box and be on my way. You can go home to your mother, and we can all move on."
Ren surveyed his surroundings as he spoke, "This gold belongs to the town and these boys, not a killer of women and children like you."
Magnus scowled with anger, "you can play it that way if you want, but I'll just kill these ladies and then you and take the gold anyway" Just as he finished his sentence, a loud bang, and his gun, along with his gun hand were gone. The sheriff stood up from the rooftop nearby and aimed his large rifle directly at Magnus. Real shock overtook Magnus, and he turned just in time to see one of the old ladies hit him square on the head with something hard. Magnus faded out.
Magnus Cole was sentenced to hang two weeks later. Ren, now reunited with his mother and brother, did not attend. Magnus no longer had influence over them. Almost all of the town attended and watched the hanging and were glad to see him gone. The boys took over control of the orphanage and lived very well with the aid of the gold. Ren and the sheriff were given a portion of the gold in thanks. Ren, his mother, and brother restored his family farm and lived there for quite a long time in prosperity and happiness. The unmarked gravesite filled with children was honored, with the town also attending a service for all the young lives lost. Lastly, the sheriff deputized Ren, which would be just the start of Ren's incredibly adventurous life.