W3 Story- 3K to 9K words, aiming for 6,000 words.
The stories must be related to, inspired by, or set in a Western setting, whether on Earth, in a fantasy world, or on another planet. Let your imagination run free figuring out what dangers the frontier folk might face from magic or science (or both!).
The gathering darkness was a peaceful quietus upon the range. Here and there an orange-furred beef mooed loneliness and kicked up its' hooves to rejoin the herd, over two hundred strong and headed down-river, ultimately to By-The-Sea.
The hands had just begun eating; beef stew with carrots, peas and caramelized onions, plus biscuits and apple pie for desert. The Double C fed its' ranch-hands well and worked them twice as hard as any other outfit, or so they said in the North Country. Which was only half true. There were an awful lot of bright, ambitious young kids who wanted to work for the Captain.
Humans had brought horses and cattle, chickens and ducks, and also small furry escape artists, to this world which was so like Earth…
"Run, Rabbit! Run!" a young cowboy cried, as one got spooked by cloven bovine hooves and raced away from danger.
"Run, Forrest, run!" one of the Uncles added, and the rest of the Ancients laughed along with him. The young hands had to have it explained, but Bruce Clinkenbeard knew the reference well. 'Forrest Gump' was his father's favorite movie, and Bruce wondered about what that said about him. He and his Uncle George's favorite movie was 'The Princess Bride'. What did that say about the two of them?
The sweet smell of an orange being peeled and- yes, eaten, he distinctly heard the sound of lips smacking loudly, interrupted his thoughts. Bruce looked around and saw the city woman, the Ma's factor, Ma Chenhau, sitting a camp chair by the fire, almost at his elbow. She smacked her lips again and smiled.
"Did you bring enough to share?"
"With you, perhaps. Last two, out of the three bushels I brought up-river to bribe the natives."
"And how's that working out for you?"
"Reasonably well." She held out an orange and he took it. "Nobody turns down an orange in the North Country."
"Thanks, I think. Have you eaten? Cookie will be annoyed with you, if you turn your nose up at chow."
"The line was long, and I didn't see you. Aren't you going eat?"
Bruce shrugged. "The hands come first."
The woman nodded. "Why, exactly?"
"Is this a quiz? You take after the people who take care of you."
Cookie had other ideas, and showed up a moment later trailing a couple of young hands loaded down with plates and glasses.
"…and they'll look after you, too. You shouldn't have, Cookie."
"Just seein' ta the guest and figured she din' wanna eat alone, and she ain't gonna!"
"Thanks, Cookie. I greatly appreciate this."
Cookie beamed and the two cowpokes both tried to hand their bowls of stew to the Ma factor. Bruce accepted second place with good grace and a wry smile. It suited him, brought out the laughter lines. The men, teenagers, really, stood there a beat and each tried to out-wait the other into leaving first.
"Thanks, boys…" Chenhau purred at their backs.
"Foresee a much enhanced and embroidered tale of this."
"Then we'll all be happy." She suddenly giggled and almost lost a mouthful. "I overheard-"
"'She's awful purdy' one of these kids said to another, I swear he hasn't had to shave yet, and his buddy was saying, "Easy on the eyes and-" when they both saw me and shut it down."
"The Princess has minions in my midst, a fifth column in my camp…"
"You see me as a princess?"
"Yes. A working princess, but a Ma, nobility, the elite of By-The-Sea, new Shanghai."
"My name means 'Spring Flower'."
"I know. I'm a round-eye, but not a barbarian."
"And, hm, noble-"
"We're not nobility-"
"I said 'noble'. Your grandmother, the Captain, is a Scots-Irish Captain General, the last one we'll have from the old American Empire-" she giggled at the look on his face. "C'mon, that's how the General, my grandfather, always put it. He's People's Liberation Army Space Navy, through and through."
Bruce shrugged. "She's a preacher's kid who went down to the sea, to Annapolis, then the aliens blew her up and didn't quite kill her. Clever apes reverse engineered alien tech from that day of dragons after they fought over us in orbit and went away for half a generation. Gave her a new eye which tried to kill her, too. Failed. Went up to the sky and out into the deep black. The Dragons call her 'Teacher Cee', say she taught them lessons in space warfare, costly lessons in blood and steel, fusion-fire and cometary-ice. Tried to kill her some more…"
"You're… quite the poet, aren't you?"
Bruce flushed and looked away. "Pretty words don't mean much. This an age of iron, gun-powder, steam… we're an accidental colony, peoples and species which don't get along or outright hate each other, and for good reason."
The 'Ma Princess' studied him, took a bite of her cooling stew, and thereafter tucked into it, stealing a considering glance at the 'noble prince' from time to time.
The Ancients are soldiers and spacers stranded in the accidental colony, and mostly unmarried bachelors, the Uncles. The young hands are sons and grandsons of the few women in the task force, such as Captain Clinkenbeard, USAFSV Corpus Christi.