A hot Texas sun beat down on the small valley town of Deep Gulch. In the distance was a long range of snow-capped mountains. A most welcoming sight considering the blazing hot air filling the valley like a waterless flood.

"Hey you, nigger! Come here!"

Prince Ress Sesithi of Zambolina continued walking, his boots clattering slightly on the boardwalk as he headed for the hitching rail and his horse. A dusty road separated him from the speaker.

Ress kept the cuffs of his denim jeans tucked into the tops of his boots. He wore a white shirt. A grey derby hat sat aslant on his head.

"Get yer black ass over here, boy!" the man shouted.

Ress, whose father had seen to it that he was educated at Oxford, stopped at his dapple gray horse and turned to look at the man. "Are you addressing me, sir?" he asked.

"Addressing. . . ." the man muttered, a look of confusion on his sun-tanned face. "I was telling you to get over here. Wanna ask you something."

Both sides of the road were lined with wood buildings. A few patches of paint remained, most of it flaked away by the sizzling sun or frozen off by the icy winters.

When Ress remained by his horse, the man strode across the dusty street. He equaled Ress's six-two in height, had a broad chest, and wore sun-faded blue jeans and a red shirt. A ten-gallon hat shaded his square jawed face, the usual gun belt with a single pistol around his waist.

Ress also had a six-shooter strapped to his waist.

When the man stopped in front of him, Ress asked, "You have a question for me?" He had a natural aura of authority which supplemented his title.

The man's eyes traveled across Ress's body, and then he nodded. "Yeah. I need a cook at my ranch. Can you dish up anything aside from collard greens?"

"While I have no desire for employment, I do possess certain culinary skills," Ress admitted. "However, I've never heard of collard greens."

The man's jaw dropped. He looked at Ress again and shook his head. "A nigger what don't know collard greens! Guess I done heard it all. Who the hell are you, anyway?"

"I am Prince Ress Sesithi of Zambolina, a small African country. With whom am I conversing?"

"Huh?"

Ress smiled. "Your name?"

"Jack Monarch, owner of the Monarch Ranch. Got me near a thousand acres and a mess of cattle. Lots of cowpokes to feed and my cook done died on me." He chuckled and shook his head. "Reckon I done showed my ass, the way I been talking to you." He grinned. "Guess I just proved a monarch don't outrank a prince. Ain't got no manners. Sorry 'bout that." He held out a hand. "Shake?"

After a pause of consideration, Ress took his hand.

"Let's go have a beer," Jack suggested. "On me," he added.

Ress shrugged. "Why not?"

The saloon was high-ceilinged with a big-bladed fan at the top of the room. As it lazily turned, it drew wispy gray cigarette smoke up, and then churned it away.

When the two men pushed through the swinging doors,the bald, round-headed bartender looked up. "Hey, you!" he said, looking at Ress.

Jack held up his hand. "It's okay, Dub. He's with me."

The aproned barkeep stared at Ress a moment then shrugged his broad, rounded shoulders. "Sure thing, Monarch, if you say so."

Two cowboys stood at the bar while four others were at a table in the far corner, playing cards. Several were smoking cigarettes.

Then, as the two newcomers seated themselves at a small table, Dub added, "What can I bring you?"

"Coupla beers, Dub," Jack told him.

Not cool inside, but much better than the blaze of the sizzling sun.

After foaming mugs of beer were served, Jack Monarch took a swallow, wiped his mouth on his shirt sleeve, and said, "Hard to think of you as, well, as a man, prince."

The black man smiled. "What would you be like if you were an uneducated slave?"

Jack took another sip of beer then stared at his mug in deep contemplation. At last he nodded. "Yeah, I guess I get what you mean."

"So we're all humans," Ress pointed out. "Some are just doing better than others."

The white man nodded his head in agreement. "Yeah," he said. "But," he added, "they're still niggers," he said with a smile. He held up a restraining hand before Ress could answer. "At least, they act like niggers."

Ress shook his head disdainfully. "You're making progress, Jack, but it should be 'black men' or 'Negroes' instead of . . . what you said."

After time for thought and another drink of beer, Jack asked, "What're you doing out here anyway? You got a staff with you, seeing as how you're a prince?"

Ress shook his head. "My father suggested that, but I didn't like the idea. As for the reason for my presence, I was told there's much land here, land available for a pittance."

"If you mean cheap, well, yeah. Millions of acres of it, you know. The government's practically giving it away. In fact, they do give it away if you homestead. But you ain't gonna homestead, I bet." Then he eyed the derby Ress wore. "Why you got that thing on your head? What's wrong with Stetsons?"

With a smile, Ress replied: "At Oxford, I got used to wearing a derby hat. I'm comfortable with it."

The swinging doors burst open as a cowboy rushed in. "Boss!" he shouted at Monarch, "We got rustlers!"

Jack Monarch's chair fell back as he jumped to his feet. "Where?"

"That herd on the plains just outta town. We need to round up the guys and go get 'em!"

"Get everbody, Jug," Monarch ordered. "Have 'em gather outside the saloon. Move!"

Ress stood. "Need any help?"

Jack Monarch looked at Ress. "You any good with that gun?"

"Indeed. I also have a rifle attached to my saddle. I was first in my team when using it."

Heading for the door, Monarch said, "Then get your black ass up and let's move!" He took only one step and then turned, a sheepish look on his face. "Did it again, didn't I?"

Ress stood. "I am black, and my rear is colloquially referred to as an ass, so I see nothing wrong." He finished the statement with a smile. "Shall we proceed?"

Jack Monarch grinned with relief. "Hell, yes"

While they mounted their horses, other cowboys were riding up. When they all arrived, Monarch stood up on the stirrups of his saddle. "Got a new friend with me, guys." He waved at Ress. "Meet Prince Ress Sesithi. Says he's a good shot."

Ress was pleasantly surprised that Monarch had pronounced his name correctly.

Because the rustlers had to control the herd they stole, Monarch's group caught them quickly. Guns fired from both sides, with three rustlers knocked off their mounts while none of the pursuing group were injured. Ress lifted his rifle and shot.

Another rustler went down.

"Good shot!" Monarch shouted.

One last rustler spurred his horse, a pinto, heading toward a small butte with a ten foot ledge rising from the desert.

Ress aimed his rifle --- and then held his fire. A Negro prone on the ledge rose to his feet and plunged down toward the rustler. He hit the man's shoulder and knocked him from the pinto. The two men hit the ground rolling. The black man made it to his feet first and kicked the rustler's head. Then, for good measure, he stomped his boot heel on the man's skull.

Riderless, the startled pinto kept running.

Ress galloped up then reined to a stop beside the black. "Good work!" he said.

Panting, the Negro said, "Catch dat hoss! Mine done died."

Without hesitation, Ress spurred his dapple gray and gave chase. Nearing the runaway, he skillfully leaned forward and grabbed the dangling reins.

Getting the pinto under control, he took it to the butte. "Here you are," he said, handing the reins over. He added, "That was a brave thing you did, jumping on that rustler."

The black man shook his head. "Warn't no brave 'bout it. Ah did dat 'cause I need a hoss. Snake bit mine dis morning."

Ress chuckled and dismounted. "My name is Ress Sesithi." He extended a hand. "What's your name?"

The other enclosed Ress's hand in his own broad, blunt-fingered one. "Ah be Sergeant Jehosophat Washington."

"Sergeant?" Ress asked.

Washington nodded. "Yas, sah. Confederate Army. We done lost. Din't have no fambly left, so's Ah come west." With a grin revealing several missing teeth, he added, "Friends call me Wash."

"I hope I can be your friend."

The grin widened. "After bringing me dis hoss, ya mah friend fer sho'." Then he looked at Ress's derby. "Why da hell you wear dat thing?"

Ress chuckled again. "You're the second one today to mention that. Guess I'd better get a Stetson, like everybody else."

On a spur of the moment decision, Ress said, "I'm a prince from the country of Zambolina. Would you accept the position of my assistant?"

"As what?" Washington asked, puzzled.

"It would be your duty to keep me on my toes, help me deal with these people. I'm new to this country. You could help me adjust. Your salary," he added on impulse, "would be ten dollars per week."

"Ten dollar?" Washington exclaimed, eyes wide. "I'd be one rich nigger!"

Ress frowned. "It would be a two-way street. For example, don't use 'nigger'. You're a black man, a Negro. You're not a nigger, not if you work for me."

"Fo' ten dollar a week, Ah'll be anything you want! Yas sah!" He shook his head in disbelief. "Built me a shack in da foot of dem mountains yonder. Crick with fish in it, rabbits Ah traps, but Ah needs salt 'n' flour 'n' stuff what done cost money. Ain't found no gold yit, so yo money is good!"

Washington tilted his head to one side and added, "Whar dis Zamboleenah be? Ah don' know nuttin' 'bout jawgraphy."

"That's 'geography', Wash. This adds to a point I made earlier. I want to teach you better English."

"Sho' nuff. Ain't had no schoolin'." He added, "Dat must be one rich country."

"You should say 'this' instead of 'dis'. Also 'then' instead of 'den' and 'there' instead of 'dere'. And yes, my country is in excellent financial condition. It has a diamond mine," Ress replied. He went on, "It's in Africa, by the way."

Washington was adjusting the saddle on his newly-acquired pinto when Jack Monarch rode up.

"Hello, Jack," Ress greeted him. "Meet Jehosophat Washington. He killed the last rustler."

"Good. Glad to meet you, Jehosophat." He eyed the pinto. "Ain't that the rustler's hoss?"

"It used to be," Ress admitted. "Now it belongs to Wash."

Jack Monarch laughed. "Makes sense." He wiped sweat from his brow. "Look, my men is rounding up the herd. Le's go to my house where it's cooler. Then you can tell me all 'bout it."

"Good idea," Ress said.

"Lemme get my stuff from my dead hoss," Washington said. "It jes' on t'other side of dis --" Remembering the ten dollars, he changed it to: "this butte."

Ress smiled and nodded his approval. It's amazing the wonders an appropriate incentive accomplishes, he thought.

Flies were already swarming around the dead horse. Part of their tiny bodies was blue, a shiny blue in the glaring sun.

Wash jumped off the pinto and started waving his arms. "Shoo, damn ya!" he shouted.

Disturbed, the flies withdrew, but hovered near the side of the butte, waiting to return to their prize. Tiny wings blurring, they formed an amorphous cloud which shifted, shrunk and enlarged.

Wash went to his dead mount, eyeing the saddle. After a moment of deliberation, he unsnapped the saddle bags and turned back to the pinto to attach the bags there. "Saddle on this hoss be better," he announced, emphasizing 'this'. After a brief search, he found his Stetson hat on the nearby ground and picked it up.

He settled the hat on his blocky head and said, "Reckon that's it." He looked at Ress with satisfaction at his pronunciation, then remounted the pinto. "Le's go."

The glistening swarm of flies quickly returned to their target.

At first, Ress and Washington followed Monarch as they rode away. When they approached the ranch, they were side by side, Ress in the middle.

Looking at the tree-surrounded house which sat at the foot of the mountains, Ress commented, "Good planning."

Monarch gave him a questioning look.

"The house was built under shade trees. There are even a couple of trees over what I'd guess is the bunkhouse."

Jack Monarch chuckled his agreement. "Damned sun bakes us at least eight months of the year," he explained, as they neared his house.

A woman in a gingham dress opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch, waving a greeting.

"My wife Ellen," Monarch explained.

Nearing, Ress noted Ellen's manner and posture made the gingham dress look expensive.

After a quick glance at Ress and Washington, Ellen looked up at her husband and said, hesitantly, "You have company." It was a question.

Swinging off his horse, Monarch waved his hand at the two blacks. "Honey, meet Prince Ress Sesithi an' Jehosaphat Washington. They helped us get rid of a bunch of rustlers."

Nothing like helping in a fight to make friends, Ress thought.

"Greetings," he said to Monarch's wife.

Ellen performed a slight curtsy as she looked at Ress. His attitude, speech and bearing had a regal aura. "We don't get royalty that much," she said, grinning self-despairingly. "Welcome to our ranch."

"Let's go to th' kitchen and have some coffee," Monarch suggested. "Unless you'd wanna have ice tea. Gets us some ice from up them mountains now an' again."

Ellen followed them inside. "You'll need to make coffee. I never learned how."

Wash grinned as they entered the kitchen. "Lemme take care of that." He picked up the enameled coffee pot. "Got any egg shells?"

"Egg shells?" Ellen asked.

Nodding, Wash responded, "It helps. Dunno why, but it do."

"Look in the trash unner the sink," Monarch suggested.

Rummaging through the trash, Wash located a couple of egg shells and took them to the sink. Moving the handle of the sink pump, he held the shells under the spewing water and rinsed the pieces. Next he retrieved the blue enameled coffee pot from the stove and rinsed it as well. Soon he had sufficient water in the pot and dropped in the shells, filled the percolator basket with coffee, dropped the lid in place and put it on the stove. Soon he had fire blazing in the stove.

There was a metal hood above the stove, sucking some of the generated heat up a chimney.

"When it whistles, we have coffee," Wash declared, aiming the statement at Ress, since the Monarchs would know it.

Jack Monarch had watched the entire operation. "Can you cook?" he asked.

"Hoecake, corn bread, fried chicken 'n' poak chops," Wash admitted. "Pancakes 'n' other stuff, too."

"You got a job," Monarch told Wash. "You'll have quarters behind the kitchen. I'll pay you five dollars ever week."

Jehosaphat Washington's eyes widened in amazement. "Five dollar?" he asked. Then he looked at Ress. "Well, Ah already --" He looked at Ress.

"I hired Wash as my assistant," Ress explained. "At present, I only need him occasionally. There's no reason he can't temporarily handle both duties until you find a permanent cook, Jack."

Ress smiled at Wash. "You'll be paid by each of us."

Wash grinned, sighed with relief and then looked at Monarch. "Is d-- that okay witchya?"

"A lot better'n us doin' it ourselves," Jack Monarch agreed.

By the time the coffee pot whistled, Ellen Monarch had put cups and saucers out, plus a crystal glass bowl of sugar and milk from the icebox. When available, ice was put in the top so the cold would seep down to cool items on the slatted wire shelves below.

When the new brew was poured, Jack added milk and sugar and took a cautious sip. "Good stuff," he declared, then smiled and turned to Ress. "Well, tell us 'bout what you're up to." Ress noted that Monarch spoke better in the presence of his wife.

Taking a sip of his black coffee, Ress leaned back. "Let me give you some background. When my grandfather was chief of our tribe, some missionaries showed up." He added, "This was before diamonds were found.

"Anyway, the missionaries had learned enough of our language to talk to him. They explained they wanted to teach our people about Christianity, and to do schooling."

Ress took another sip of coffee.

"Now, my grandfather was an unusual man. He saw the importance of education and immediately agreed. Some of the tribe built a house with not only bedrooms and a kitchen, but also a large room with benches where members of the tribe could sit." He took another sip of coffee. "They were still building it when my grandfather found the diamonds.

"The missionaries immediately recognized them for what they were and told my grandfather they were valuable. Well, then he found the mine.

"My grandfather said that, since they were on tribal land, the wealth would be shared with the people."

Ress was in thought for a few seconds. He grinned. "Part of the missionaries' biblical tales caused my grandfather to declare he was king instead of chief. No one objected. A leader is a leader. Also, they were all figuring what they would do with all the money they were now worth."

Ress's eyes were seeing only the past as he continued. "My grandfather put up a chain-link fence and hired guards to protect the mine. Then he built a schoolhouse and hired full-time teachers. Before he died, he told my father a high school should be built, with more teachers."

"Fascinating," Jack Monarch breathed. "And so, why'd you come here?"

Returning to the present, Ress explained, "My country is small. My people multiplied. Now there are so many, some are wanting to move. Twenty-six families with extensive building experience are waiting for me to buy land so they can build a place large enough for many of us. Of course," he added, "they will apply for citizenship as I did."

In awe, Jack Monarch exclaimed, "Goddam! You're gonna have your own town!"

Ress nodded. "Exactly. New Zambolina. We'll start with a community building, a church, a general store and other basics needed for a town."

Monarch nodded. "Don't forget a saloon," he suggested, smiling. "For that matter, lotsa saloons have a piano player and sometimes a singer." Then he added, "I bet Dub could be a big help."

"I'll remember that," Ress told him. "Once," he added, "I have found and purchased the property."

Jack sat back in his chair. "I have a place in mind. It's between here and town. I'll show you tomorrow, if you like. It's over six hunnerd acres and it's at the foot of the mountains, just like my place. It's got a lotta trees and a crick coming down from the mountains. Be a good idea to build a dam on it, so's people could fish and kids could splash 'round in it."

Ress lifted his eyebrows. "It sounds interesting. I'll come out first thing in the morning."

"Why not spend the night here? We got a guest room. You'd save time doin' that." Monarch looked Ress over. "You look 'bout my size. You can wear some of my clothes, if you wanna change."

Ress thought Monarch's offer of his clothes was a major cultural leap.

Wash spoke. "Ah kin go to my shack 'n' get my stuff. Ain't much dere -- there," he quickly corrected himself and looked at Ress.

Nodding his approval, Ress nevertheless thought, Making headway, but still a long way to go, Wash.

Ress and Monarch had an early breakfast and rode off while the sun was still low in the east. When they arrived, the prince's eyes swept over the site and he said, in awe, "It's even better than I imagined! The mountains, the creek, the trees. You were right, Jack; this is an excellent place."

"Didn't find it till atter I was settled in," Jack Monarch admitted. "Otherwise, might have it myself. 'Cept it ain't got as much acreage."

They returned to the ranch for a wagon and driver then went into town and Monarch led Ress to the land office. The land agent gave a dubious look when Ress entered, but relaxed when he saw the prince was with the well-known and respected Jack Monarch.

The agent was a government employee, but he also a Texan and a citizen of Deep Gulch and stood in awe of Monarch.

He glossed over some rough spots in the paperwork, and Ress received the title. He thanked the agent, and Jack then led them to the general store.

Monarch spoke. "You always carry that much money?"

Ress shook his head. "I made a large withdrawal from the bank in anticipation."

They neared the store. "There's the wagon," Monarch declared. "Reckon Jug's inside a-waiting for us."

Stacks of packed shelves lined the aisles of the huge store. Ress purchased a tent, many other camping supplies and a percolator and coffee. "I've developed a taste for coffee," he told Jack. "We didn't have it in Zambolina until I was eighteen. The missionaries," he added, "didn't drink coffee."

He also bought a kerosene lamp and a two-gallon can of fuel for it.

"One more thing," Monarch said. "We need to go to the lumberyard."

"For?" Ress asked.

"Boards for your outhouse," Monarch explained, grinning. "Not room on the wagon, but they can deliver."

"Excellent," Ress replied, nodding.

Jug helped load all the equipment into the wagon, and then followed. After the lumberyard, Ress stopped at the railroad station to telegraph the twenty-six families to start their journey. They rode to the new land.

After everything was unloaded, Ress stood with hands on his hips, a look of satisfaction on his dark face. "Looks like I have my work cut out for me," he said. "Jack, you and Jug have been a great help. Now go about your regular business and let me set up camp."

"Hey, there's a lot gotta be done," Jack objected. "We'll help. Tha's what neighbors do."

Ress shook his head. "I appreciate the offer, but from now on, it's up to me." He grinned and added, "I like hard work."

"But --" "I'm serious, Jack. This is my work and mine alone."

Jack Monarch hesitated and then shrugged. "Yeah, well, if tha's the way you wanna do it -- but we're gonna be available any time you want us. Okay?"

Ress shook hands with Monarch and said, "You're a good friend, Jack Monarch."

When the two left, Ress rolled up his sleeves and began working.

That afternoon, pounding a tent stake into the ground under a tree near the creek, he saw three riders ride up. They sat and watched Ress for a moment, then one of them said, "Hey boy! Whatcha doin'?"

Ress put down the hammer and straightened. He was wearing his gunbelt. "I happen to be over thirty years old," he responded. "Therefore, I am no longer a boy. Also, I feel it is obvious I am putting up a tent."

His statement and bearing, as well as the six-gun on his hip, had an effect on the new arrivals. They looked at each other, then the one who had spoken said, "Well, I guess tha's it. See ya later." He pulled his reins and turned his mount. "Le's go, guys."

Ress stood and watched until the three were out of sight. He returned to his work.

As the sun lowered, he stood and surveyed his progress. The heaviest work was finding large stones to dam the creek, but he had made headway. He had accumulated wood for a fire under a metal ramp. He could cook there, as well as prepare his coffee. The tent was up, camp stools unfolded, and a cot was against the far side with a pillow and sheets, as well as a quilt against the chill of night.

On the floor sat a small wooden table, with a kerosene lamp on the top. "Now to put fuel in the lamp, and then start a fire."

He was surprised he couldn't locate the can. "I know I bought it," he said, frustrated. "I even remember putting it on the wagon." Then he slapped his forehead in disgust. "It's still on the wagon! Somehow it wasn't unloaded."

Mounting his horse, he headed for the Monarch ranch.

Jack Monarch was standing on the porch when Ress rode up. "It's 'bout time," he said, a twinkle in his eyes.

Ress dismounted and headed for the porch. "You were expecting me?" he asked, suspiciously.

"Damn right," Monarch said, grinning. "You need kerosene."

"You found it?" Ress asked, stepping up on the porch.

"More'n that," Monarch admitted. "We took it a'purpose."

"What?"

"Sure did. Knew you'd work hard and need good food and a rest. C'mon in."

Ellen Monarch bustled up as they entered. "Perfect timing!" she exclaimed. "Washington is setting the table right now, Prince Ress. Follow me into the dining room."

After a good meal, Ress relented and accepted the offer to spend the night. As it developed, he needed the rest.

When Ress returned to camp, kerosene can strapped behind his saddle, all he saw was devastation. The tent was pulled down and everything smashed. Clothing from the broken trunk was scattered about. In the ground, written in large letters, was the word NIGGER.

"I'm surprised they could write," Ress said with bitter anguish. Tight-lipped, he added, "I shouldn't've said that. It brings me down to their level."

Fortunately, Jack Monarch was still at the ranch when Ress returned. Hearing hoofbeats, Jack came out on the porch. "You're back in a hurry."

Getting off the dapple grey, Ress mounted the steps. "I'm going to need your help again, including Jug and the wagon." He paused, took a deep breath and then added, "Somebody destroyed my camp. I need to replace everything."

"What?" Jack Monarch exclaimed. "I'll get the sheriff!"

"And tell him what?" Ress asked, tight-lipped again. "That somebody tore up a nigger's camp?" He held up a hand to stop Jack's response. "Sorry, Jack; I shouldn't have said that. I'm . . . frustrated, that's all. Anyway," he went on, "what good would it do? I can't prove who did it. I just want to rebuild."

"Just to get it tore down again?" Monarch asked, sarcastically.

"I must take care of this myself, Jack. I have a plan."

"Such as?"

"Rebuild, and defend myself," Ress replied. "Meanwhile, may I again request your assistance?" Quickly he added, "Also, do you have a sledge I may borrow? I need to pull a load of stones from the mountain to complete my dam."

Jack Monarch stared a moment and then shrugged. "You are a stubborn man, Ress Sesithi, so I will letcha have your way, much as it worries me."

Jug was called up, a sledge was found and loaded on the wagon, and they returned to town. The first stop Ress made was at a clothing store, where he bought black trousers, a piece of black cloth and a black shirt. When Monarch lifted a questioning brow, Ress said, "Part of my protection," and left it at that.

Staring at Ress, Monarch scratched his head, but didn't pursue the matter.

At the general store, yesterday's items, minus the kerosene, were purchased again, plus a box of cartridges. Monarch nodded satisfaction at the last purchase, but said nothing.

Soon they were back at the camp, unloading everything. Finished, Jack Monarch looked at Ress. "I could send some cowboys to stand guard," he offered.

"Don't," Ress told him. "I must handle this myself."

After staring at Ress, Jack Monarch nodded his head. "I really think you will, Ress. Come by for breakfast in the morning."

With that, he mounted his stallion and followed Jug and the wagon.

Enough daytime remained for the prince to rebuild his camp and even tie the sledge to the saddle of his dapple grey and pull some large rocks from the mountain for the dam which was taking shape.

After fixing a pot of coffee, he used a cast-iron skillet to fry bacon and eggs for his meal as the sun sat. A crescent moon was soon in the sky. He entered the tent, lifted the pot-bellied glass chimney from the lamp and lit the wick. Satisfied, he retrieved a bundle of clothes from the cot and changed to black pants and shirt, then wrapped the black cloth around his face.

Satisfied, he slipped under the back of the tent and into the bushes. He went along the creek, walking as silently as he could, until he entered the clump of trees where he had left his horse.

The dapple gray mount shifted uneasily. Ress put a reassuring hand on its neck. "Guess you're surprised by my new clothes," he murmured softly. "It's so I won't be seen easily."

Putting a boot onto a stirrup, he rose into the saddle. "Now we wait."

Less than half an hour later, three riders neared. "Damn!" one exclaimed. "He done rebuilt. Guys, we gotta teach that nigger a lesson."

"What if he's in the tent?"

"You got guns, don'tcha?"

Ress pulled out his rifle as the three neared his tent. When one rider lit a torch, the light of it showed the same riders as before.

When the man lifted the torch to throw at the tent, Ress's rifle barked. The torch exploded into a thousand sparks and one bit of flaming cloth fell to the ground, where it died.

"What the hell?" one of the men asked.

The prince rode out from the trees. "I'm protecting this place," he announced, rifle pointed toward the three. "Leave, or regret it!"

When one pulled his pistol, Ress fired again. One intruder put a hand to an ear.

"Ow!" he screamed.

Just aimed close, Ress thought, but he moved. Might be better.

"Le's get outta here!" shouted another.

Ress trailed them as they rode away. Shooting over their heads, he cried, "Don't come back, or you die."

Feeling obligated, the prince went to Monarch's ranch the next morning. Again, Jack Monarch was waiting on the porch. He greeted Ress with, "I was just 'bout to ride your way. Glad you made it through th' night. What happened?"

Ress swung down from his dapple grey and joined Monarch on the porch. "Three of them showed up last night, the same three. I could recognize them when one set off a torch."

"A torch?" Monarch exclaimed. "They was gonna burn you out?"

Ress nodded. "Apparently. I was waiting in a clump of trees, wearing black to make it hard for them to see me." He was still wearing the same black outfit. "I shot out the torch. One went for his gun and my shot clipped his ear. It was a lucky shot; I just aimed near him. They retreated, and I followed, firing another shot or two, telling them to stay away." Ress smiled. "The remainder of the night was peaceful." He looked at Monarch. "I'm counting on it, because my future holds lots of work for me, work I am determined to complete." With a sweep of his hand indicating his clothing, he smiled and added, "Hopefully, the Black Rider won't need to ride again."

He was mistaken, but that's another story.