Jacob cleaned his father's guns - among his many responsibilities at the homestead, that was the most important. As the eldest he had been the one who learned how to clean the rig - Ezekial tended father's stallion, Michael kept his bedroll and camp gear clean and in order, but Jacob cleaned the guns and the belt and holster they rode in.
He remembered how his father had called him over to the fire one night when Jacob was eight - seven years ago now. His father had just returned from the desert and still wore the sour smell of weeks spent under the pitiless hammering sun tracking his prey; always, before even washing himself he would tend to his guns. He had called Jacob over and Jacob had approached apprehensively - if he had come near on his own his father would have driven him off with scarce more than a baleful glare, but now his father beckoned him close with a gesture. He remembered how his father had wordlessly shown him how to clean the guns - removing the cartridges from the cylinders, breaking down the pistols, lathering and cleaning and polishing the leather holsters. When he had finished, his father had handed them to Jacob and said, "Now you." Jacob remembered the quailing nervousness in his heart as he took the guns in his hands, but he knew Father would be more angered by trepidation than mistakes, so he did his best to repeat the steps Father had taken. Father had watched him wordlessly, correcting with a grunt and a pointed direction when Jacob erred. When he finished, Father said to him, "Next time I return, you will do this," and Jacob had done it since. How many times had that been? Easily ten, twelve times a year...nearing a hundred by his estimation.
He had come to know those guns and the leather of the rig intimately by that point. When he was done the ancient scrollwork on the barrels would gleam and catch the light; the countless layers of salt and grime that had seeped into the leather of the belt had been washed clean and the carved leather shone with a deep glow.
The gun-belt had been intricately worked and carried symbols and runes that ran around the entire edge of the leather, top and bottom. On the back the belt-maker had carved a tableau; Jacob speculated that it depicted a scene from some lost tale. It showed a barn surrounded by spreading trees and standing hard by a vast pond; at least Jacob reckoned it to be vast - he had never seen a pond, so anything larger than the watering trough the horses drank from was vast to him.
Father had returned today after ten days' absence. He arrived just after sunrise; Zeke had slammed the door open and yelled that Father was back. Michael and Jacob had immediately dropped the chores they'd been attending to and readied for Father's arrival. Jacob pulled the lacquered box that held the soaps and brushes from the red cabinet in the entryway and Michael cleared a space among the breakfast dishes, preparing to clean father's camp plates and cups and the coffee pot he always carried.
Father had come through the door limping. Jacob and Michael bowed formally but instead of stopping and studying them a moment before returning the bow as he usually did, Father made a noise, a sound halfway between a gruff dismissal and a grunt of pain, and brushed past them into the bedroom and closed the door. Jacob observed that he was holding his left arm stiffly by his side. Jacob turned to see Michael and Zeke, who was standing in the doorway, both staring wide-eyed at the door Father had just shut. None spoke for a moment, then Zeke whispered,
"Come, see! There's a man on Father's horse!" He swallowed nervously, then continued, "I think he's dead!"