(This is a short story I wrote for a #BlogWar. My required genre was Western, my required word was Persepolis. I’ll be writing a post to explain the history behind my theme word and why I chose to go the route I did for my story in a day or two.)
There it was, Persepolis, shining like a beacon of hope in a desert of madness. Its position on the mesa caught a halo of the setting sun in such a way as to take any onlooker’s breath away.
Mr. Darius had named his ranch after the great Persian city as a statement of his power and wealth. There was not another ranch in all of Texas as vast and successful as his.
Mordie dismounted and grunted on impact before he grabbed for Esther’s reins. She relinquished them into his hands without protest and sat atop her mount staring at the grand ranch house for several more seconds before jumping off her mount.
“Well, I suppose there will be no welcoming party.”
“Essie, honey, Mr. Darius and his son are ranchers through ‘n’ through. They’ll be off with the cowboys rounding up the last of the cattle you see over yonder.”
She swiveled around making the layers of her skirts circle her legs then bounce back. Her hand shielded her eyes from the last of the evening sun while she glowered at the grazing cows in the distance.
“Uncle, I know Mama and Papa would have wanted you to take care of me, but I don’t want to do this. I’m afraid.”
“Sugar, things out here in the West, it’s not like back East. You’ve got no choice in the matter if you want to make it. Mr. Darius says give it a week or two then if you still don’t want to marry Mr. Shay then you don’t have to. But in a week I’m heading out to California territory, and you can’t come with. This is your best shot.”
Esther turned pleading eyes on her uncle. “Please, Uncle Mordie. Please let me come with you. I’m strong, and I can cook for you. I’ll even help you pan for gold.”
“You can beg all you want but your pa would never forgive me, and it’s no place for a woman.”
Esther ducked her head and didn’t say another word as she went to her saddle bags and unstrapped them. When she pulled them off the horse the weight of them tugged down on her arms, and she almost dropped the bags in the dust.
Meanwhile her uncle set to work unloading her things from the one of the mules carrying two small trunks. Mordie lugged them one by one up on to the porch, and Esther watched with a despondent frown etched in place. She absently rubbed under the halter of her horse with her free hand but didn’t lift a finger to help him.
An older Mexican stepped out through the front door onto the long expanse of front porch and dried his hands on a white dish cloth. His smile was kind and welcoming. “Hola. You must be Señor Mordecay and Miss Esther.”
His accent was heavy and difficult to understand, but Mordie’s look of confusion was quickly replaced by understanding. “Oh! Yes, sir, we are.”
“Welcome to Persepolis,” the man said while he gestured for them to follow him into the house. “Come, come. Señor Darius will be home any minute. I fix dinner just in time.” His grin was still wide. Esther didn’t bother to smile but gazed around the generous room, a little bit of wonder lighting her eyes. “Miss Esther. I have hot water for a bath. Come. You get freshened up.”
“Thank you,” she said, and a genuine, albeit miniscule, smile trespassed across her face.
“Mr. Mordecay, you have a seat in the parlor, and I get Miss settled.”
He led her down the hall to the right and departed only to return with bucket after bucket of steaming water which he added to an already half-full tub. The last thing he brought in was her trunks. “Thank you, sir.”
When the door closed behind him and she was alone the first thing she did was check her trunks. She unlatched each and threw the lids back. After chucking out all the clothes she kneeled and caressed the hard covers of her books and cried.
Her uncle had made up his mind, sure this was for the best. Her parents were dead, never to return again. Life in the West was harsh, and it had left poor Esther all alone when her family was killed by Comanche raiders.
She wiped the tears from her eyes and took a quick bath since the water had already cooled to a tepid, unwelcoming temperature. After she was dressed and her hair plated in a wet braid it was time to go meet her husband-to-be, Shay Darius.
She tiptoed down the hall and listened to the sound of conversation. The rumble of her uncle’s voice and another man’s softer one wafted toward her, and she faltered in indecision.
“You may as well get it over with.”
She jumped, threw herself back against the wall, and grabbed her collar as all the air was expelled from her lungs.
The freshly groomed young man who’d spoken looked on in amusement, his thumbs tucked into his gun belt. “Sorry, ma’am. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
Esther glared at the grinning fool before dislodging herself from the wall. She gave him her most stern look, one she’d learned from her mama, and vigorously wiped her hands on her skirts several times, then turned her back on him and marched down the hall.
He followed behind her. When they emerged into the great room, Esther was met by the sight of her uncle and two others. “Essie, meet Mr. Darius and his foreman, Mr. Hammand. I see you’ve already met Mr. Shay Darius.”
Her eyebrows arched when she realized he was gesturing to the man standing just behind. Esther’s cheeks glowed red as she turned to face him.
“Welcome to Persepolis West, Miss Esther.” Shay’s cocky smile seemed to stretch from one end of Texas to the other, and Esther looked ready to smack the handsome clean off his face.
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