Monday, July 16, 2018

The Dead Man's Hand

This short story provides background for a magical relic and a restless spirit for use in The Sixth Gun adventures and campaigns.


Fort Arneson and Smith's Crossing
To find more information about the locations mentioned in this story, refer to the following PDFs.

The Dead Man's Hand”
Standing back from the main activity happening at Fort Arneson—a long ceremony in which chiefs and warriors, officers and soldiers discussed the terms by which the native people would relinquish their ancestral lands to the US government and renounce their traditional way of life—all Little Raven could do was watch with pity the line of men who touched pen and paper to make the treaty official and binding.

“Oh,” the fort's commander announced. “There's one other stipulation.” As he spoke, Little Raven could hear the sound of an approaching wagon. “As a sign of your good intentions to reform yourselves, everyone who signs must give up all trappings of your forsaken, heathen ways.”
There was much grumbling, and one man asked, “What will happen to these things?”

It was the wagon's driver—a fellow with dark hair and gray eyes, wearing the color and collar of a preacher—who answered. “They will, of course, be destroyed; we need proof of your commitment to this new way of living.”

And so, in spite of the grumbling, those who'd become resigned to the ways of the Whites began divesting themselves of prized possessions: a headdress with numerous eagle feathers, a painted war shield, a coup stick, a medicine pouch, and other such items. Each one the preacher placed into a large, iron-bound wooden chest, and when they'd finished, he sealed it with a stout padlock.

* * *

In the middle of the night, when most of the people staying in the camp of tents and tepees around the fort were sleeping, Little Raven made his decision. Finding a lashed travois, he hitched it to a pony. Then he headed for the preacher's tent. Pausing, he listened, and heard only snoring.

It was then or never.

With careful and quiet steps, Little Raven moved into the tent. On one side the preacher slept in his bedroll; against the opposite wall rested the trunk. He lifted it as gingerly as he could, considering the weight of its contents, and then left the tent. Once outside he moved without hesitation, setting it down on the travois and then mounting the pony and urging it forward.

Only did others from the camp begin to react. A guard from the watchtower cried “Halt! Who goes there?” Little Raven ignored him.

Then another voice—he recognized it as the preacher—called out, “Stop him! He's a thief and an apostate!”

Little Raven spurred the horse on faster, hoping that the darkness would cover his escape, but then a shot rang out, and he felt a bullet tear through his right side. Grunting in pain, he pulled off his short, wadded it into a ball and pressed it over the wound.

“Take us away, my friend,” he told the pony through gritted teeth. “Take us away.” Then he remembered no more.

* * *

Dr. Mordechai Smith was just sitting down to breakfast when he heard the sound of a wagon approaching his home; it was followed by tromping feet and then a knocking at the door.

“Doctor?” It was Samuel Clayton, who farmed the land west of town.

“Good morning, Sam. What can I do for you?”

“I have a boy with me. An Indian boy. He came riding by my land this morning, and he's hurt pretty bad.”

“Show me.” Dr. Smith followed the farmer out the door to his wagon. In the back of it, next to an iron-bound chest, lied the boy, unconscious and soaked in sweat, with a bloodied shirt tied against his side. Carefully he untied the bandage and examined the wound beneath it. “There is still time; let's bring him inside and I'll see what I can do.”

* * *

It took a good deal of time and considerable effort, but Dr. Smith was able to remove the bullet and a scrap of cloth trapped with it. Then he cleaned the wound and applied a fresh bandage, before giving the boy a dose of morphine and leaving the boy to rest.

He was just returning to the table for his lunch when he heard another wagon. This time he went outside to welcome the new arrival; it was Rev. Malachi Smith, his brother.

“Mordechai.” Dismounting, the other approached and clasped his hand. “I hear tell that you received a patient this morning.”

“Yes. Samuel Clayton brought him to me.”

“An Indian boy, perhaps with a bullet wound?”


“I believe he's one who stole from being before fleeing from the fort.”

Dr. Smith raised an eyebrow. “A thief, you say?”


“And you pursued him here all the way from there?”

“Well, there is little that we can do until he recovers. You should rest, too, and I will let you know when he is awake.”

* * *

Rev. Smith did as his brother instructed, happy to sleep after riding through much of the night. It was past time for supper when he was jolted awake by a scream that came from the house's main floor. Racing downstairs in his nightclothes, he found the doctor and his wife, Angelica, standing over the boy, who was sprawled facedown on the floor. She clutched a bleeding cut on her upper arm, while he held a heavy candlestick.

Malachi looked from one to the other, and then to the boy. “What happened?”

“He attacked me,” Angelica replied. “Moredechai came to my aid.”

Only then did Mordechai see one of the doctor's surgical knives lying on the floor next to the body.

“I—“ Mordechai stammered, “I'm afraid I had to kill him.”

“Do not blame yourself, brother,” Malachi said. “He brought it on himself.”

* * *

They held a funeral for the boy the next morning at the little cemetery beside Mordechai's church in Smith's Crossing. Along with the reverend, the doctor and his wife, and their housekeeper, only a few curious locals attended. Rev. Smith read a few Bible passages that dealt with temptation, sin, repentance and grace. For his part, Dr. Smith dressed the body in a nice suit and hat that he purchased just for that occasion.

During the burial, nobody noticed that, while black gloves had been put on the boy's hands, the left one was stitched to the sleeve of his coat.

The Restless Spirit
Given the injustice of his death, the spirit of Little Raven is unable to rest peacefully. For that reason, he has become a haint, dedicated to recovering his hand so that it can interred with the rest of his body and thus he can attain eternal rest.

Haint—Refer to pages 75-6 in the Sixth Gun RPG for stats.

The Dead Man's Hand
It should come as no surprise that Dr. and Mrs. Smith used Little Calf's severed limb to create a Hand of Glory, an item that aids in searching for items of value. Refer to pages 40-1 in the Sixth Gun RPG for details.

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