With a single, long chord of achingly beautiful complexity, the ring of light collapsed back into the initial, pinprick spark. It quickly vanished back out of sight on Moric’s antler, swallowed in the much brighter illumination of his new location. The light briefly blinded the Moose, but a few minutes blinking soon exposed the sheriff’s new surroundings as a small stand of trees which blocked out a generous portion of the early afternoon sun. With a good look around, Sheriff Moric soon placed the his surroundings as near the rocky stand which held the newly widened cave mouth with Georgia, Alfred, Ima, and Clint standing round, looking down into the dark with varying degrees of concern.
Sheriff Moric pulled off his hat and started to beat the dust off his fur, just as he would after a long day helping with a round up or teaching new riding beasties to work with their rider instead of simply getting rid of it. Very little dust and dirt had managed to reach him way up on the Titan Lizard’s back, and the gesture did very little to remove the cave mud that clung to him where he brushed ceiling and walls, but the small, rhythmic sound drew the attention of the waiting watchers, which was, perhaps, the real purpose.
As a group, they strolled, hopped, rushed, and ambled over to where the Sheriff stood in the shade of the trees and waited for a time to see what the Sheriff had to say. When it became obvious that Sheriff Moric intended to stick to his ‘strong, silent’ role of the good Western sheriff, Ima brushed back her short, pink hair with both hands and demanded, “It was all right wasn’t it?” She waved a quick hand at the rest of the group to emphasize her next word. “They keep going on about how you all went to such trouble to rescue me, and I went charging right back into danger. You were stuck, it worked, and no one was hurt, so I saved the day, didn’t I?” Ima planted both fists on her hips and stood staring at the Sheriff, not quite tapping her foot and glaring, but you could still see the foot tapping in the way she stood still, and the restrained glare sat clearly in the way her mouth slowly tightened up as she waited for a response.
Moric blinked slowly at the girl and drawled out,”What?” as well as one could expect to do with such an uncooperative group of vowel and consonants.
“Ima tied the burning bush to the Titan’s tail. She did not consult or even warn anyone and the move rather startled and frightened several people. As you might expect, that made a number of them rather cross which can produce a rather shouty and accusatory disposition,” Clint explained in a rather dry tone, one corner of his wide mouth curled up, spending some of Moric’s allotment of words, since the sheriff obviously had no use for them.
“I see,” the Sheriff of Funtown nodded. “Hard to hero properly without sacrifice or risk. Hard on rescuers, too, when the rescued runs back into danger after the risk or sacrifice is paid, but,” Moric turned to look at Ima before he said, “Thank you.”
Ima blushed happily in the face of the Moose’s sincerity, dropping her arms, but Alfred could see Georgia swelling up with the urge to defend her position, especially since she knew Clint was right about why she got mad in the first place. The white rabbit spoke up quickly to prevent more loud noises. “I have everything set up and ready for you, Sheriff. I have horses ready for Georgia and Ima, if they should like to go along.”
“You really should,” Clint said earnestly, looking at the two humans in the group. “It is only fitting that all the heroes should go on this ride together.”
Georgia stared at Clint for a long moment. Then she rolled her eyes to heaven, threw up her hands, and nodded giving in grudgingly. How could she hold on to her mad when everyone else was so elated by their victory. Even Sheriff Moric had pushed back his hat and had a smile lurking about his face. Then Georgia gave up entirely and grinned at the others, Ima let out a great whoop and did an enthusiastic back walk over just to celebrate.
Such was the joy and relief of the moment, that Alfred did not even start at the loud noise. He smiled and led the way around the juniper to where four tall horses decked out fully in western saddles and bridles. They stood cropping the scarce, dry grass in company with one long riding lizard.
Without any real discussion, each rider claimed a mount. As the least experienced rider, Georgia gravitated instantly to the bay mare. Eyes, tail, blanket, saddle, and bridle soothed the spirit in warm, dark shades of chocolate so that one knew, just by looking, the horse had a gentle disposition and a smooth gait. The caravan master put her foot in the stirrup. It took Georgia a couple of preliminary hops, but she got into the saddle smoothly enough from there.
Ima’s eyes fastened immediately on the restive paint, with his motley hide in blotches of white, brown, and black. He wore a brown saddle with bright red stitching with a bright crimson blanket. Electric blue tassels hung from his bright green bridle. With a Moose like gesture, Ima produced an apple from somewhere about her person. She held it out on a flat palm. The horse crunched happily as the girl slid into place upon his back.
Clint, of course, mounted his own horse with the white hair often called grey after the dark grey coat he wore when he was young. Clint’s saddle and saddle blanket were made white, but long use gave the blanket a dull tan hue and the leather saddle greyed with age, as if they both approached the horse’s color from the other side.
Moric sat easily on the back of a great, dark stallion, almost as if the two creatures merged to form a Moosetaur. Moose fur, horse hair, saddle, boots, hat, blanket, and bridle all flowed together in the same warm, ruddy brown shade. Without a word, the sheriff led the riders out, back towards town. Alfred, on Bill, disappeared even before the four reached their mounts, so the four horses strode out onto the flatter, scrub covered ground.
On the far side of the cave mouth, the townspeople gathered with all their collected gear and livestock. A great cheer went up, carrying clearly across the little distance. The heroes waved hat or hand as their temperament dictated but did not slow. The sky ahead of them lit up with the fiery colors of sunset, reds and golds and oranges with touches of pink and purple at the edges. They rode in silence until the crowd and rocky scene faded behind.