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Legend of the Grave: Part 1 - Big Little Man

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[This one's for Spawny.]

Moses Forth hugged himself against the cold and tried to stop shivering, the small tent in which he was being kept was doing little to insulate him from the cold outside. The Native American left to attend him was just as frosty. If Moses even tried to ask a question, the man would glare at him with a contempt that drained Moses of his courage to continue. Moses was hungry and wanted to ask for food, but he kept his mouth shut. He had no idea why these savages would rescue him from having been hogtied at Benedict Point or what they could possibly want from him.

Some guy named Marston and that stupid little shit Seth had broken him free of police custody only to interrogate him under duress and leave him tied up for the authorities to find again. And during that interrogation he’d revealed to Seth that the treasure map was in Odd Fellow’s Rest and he was sure that that bastard would get to it before him, especially now that he was being detained by these savages for whatever reason.

Moses set to amuse himself by thinking about the things he’d like to do to Seth when the tent flap parted and a Native American different from the one who’d originally attended him entered the tent. This one was carrying a thick fur and what looked to be a folded blanket as he stepped aside to allow another man into the tent. This was a white man, tall and very tan with a tousle of dark black hair with greying sideburns, a thick mustache and what appeared to be several-days’-worth of stubble. He wore a few pieces of jewelry and fur boots like the savages, but he was not one of them, though they clearly took his orders. The man had a newspaper folded under one arm and addressed Moses with alluring confidence.

“Hello, son.” the man smiled and gave Moses a nod, “I hope you find the accommodations to your liking? While it’s a bit chilly, it’s better than bein’ warm and in a jail cell in Armadillo, I’d wager.”

Moses said nothing.

“Well, anyway,” the man said with a chuckle, “I’m sure you’re wonderin’ why we brought you here. But first, my associate would like to present you with something to help keep you warm, a canteen… and a fresh set of trousers.”

Embarrassed, Moses turned slightly red remembering that he’d pissed himself when Seth had thrust a knife in his face earlier. He took the items from the savage and immediately wrapped the fur around himself. The trousers would have to wait.

“Uh, much obliged… er, stranger…,” Moses said meekly, still shivering slightly.

“Oh, how positively rude of me,” the man said with a hearty laugh, “I haven’t introduced myself. When you see the same folks day-in and day-out you tend to forget the niceties. Name’s Dutch van der Linde, and I’m hoping you can help me. But first, can I indulge you in a little story?”

“S-sure, I reckon so,” Moses’ mind was racing trying to come up with anything he could possibly offer this Dutch van der Linde. Nursing the canteen and coming up with nothing, he had no choice but to hear the man out, “you got anything to eat?”

“Of course, again, rude of me,” Dutch said as he made a gesture to the Native American who’d given Moses the clothes and canteen and the savage quickly ducked out of the tent. “Now where was I?”

“There’s a little-known legend ‘round these parts,” Dutch began, “of a coffin filled with Confederate treasure that was buried in an unknown grave as the South was folding at the end of the War Between the States. According to the legend, a small group of soldiers in Port Hudson saw the writing on the wall and, with General Banks’ men right outside the city, robbed the military coffers. One of the men was apparently an undertaker before the war, and came up with the bright idea of building a coffin as a sort of treasure chest, and then they buried it in a graveyard somewhere in this vicinity and rode into Mexico to wait until things settled down here in the States.

“But apparently the boys musta hit some kinda trouble South of the border since not a single one ever came back to claim the treasure. And since the name on the gravestone was committed to memory, it was lost with them.

“However, I could use that treasure to finance some, ah… plans I’ve got to workin’ on. And this is where you come in, friend…"

The savage reappeared with a bowl of steaming soup of some kind and Moses took it and held it warming his hands.

“Moses, is it? Well, Moses, I’m hoping you are the prophet that’ll lead me to salvation.”

“B-but I don’t know nothin’ about no coffin filled with treasure, mister. And I ain’t no undertaker…” Moses protested. It had always slightly annoyed him when people connected his name with scripture.

“Of course you aren’t. But according to this,” Dutch unfolded the newspaper beneath his arm and thrust it in front of Moses’ eyes, “you were incarcerated for being a grave robber. It seems that you really get around, too. Been robbin’ graves all over the New Austin Territory by all reports.”

Moses swallowed hard.

“Descriptions of the coffin vary, but they all tend to agree that it was hinged and had the battle flag burned onto the lid,” Dutch informed him, “Ever come across something like that, Moses?”

Moses couldn’t remember finding any coffin remotely fitting that description. All the graves he’d robbed had had the small trinkets usually buried by the family with the corpse, not treasure. But it also began to occur to Moses that he could use this as an opportunity. That he might be able to get some benefit out of this yet, and he might even be able to end up with the treasure he did know about. And maybe even get revenge on Seth for the humiliation he suffered earlier.

“Well, I ain’t never found nothin’ like that, mister,” Moses answered, now sipping the bowl of soup, and added finally, “but I can lead you to the man who pro’bly has.”

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