Trailing Home Ch. 12byharemgirl©
It was early October when they reached the cutoff where they could choose to continue on to the Dalles Mission or turn south onto the Barlow Road. They were only about a hundred and fifty miles from the Willamette Valley. With any luck, a couple of weeks more should see them to their destination. Selena could sense Liam's excitement. He, even more than the others, was relieved they were close to the end of their journey. As the unofficial leader of their traveling group, he felt a responsibility for all their safety.
They made camp that night and agreed to share a community dinner. Liam described what lay ahead of them in either direction.
"The Dalles Mission, or Fort Dalles as it has come to be known, is a collection of rundown buildings surrounded by a crude stockade fence. It is situated on the Columbia River, where large rocks confine the water and the river is forced from rapids into a slower moving, wide body of water. The river is over a mile wide in some areas, and the water is quite deep. There is a group of soldiers, both regulars and volunteers, to guard against hostile Indians in the area, since they've had some problems in recent years." Liam gave them a sheepish smile. "When my brothers and I crossed several years ago, we went through there, but now there's the cutoff that allows us to bypass it entirely if we decide to. I've heard supplies are limited there, so the town doesn't really offer much opportunity to restock. Everyone is anxious to move through the area as quickly as possible."
"What are our choices then, Liam?" Gerald asked quietly.
Liam chewed on a stalk of grass as he considered. "We can go on to Dalles. Once we get there, we have two choices. We could abandon the wagons and load our belongings onto rafts to float down the river. However, the river is treacherous and develops into another series of dangerous rapids further downstream. Many emigrants have died trying to navigate the river on their own. As a result, professional ferrymen have set up business, and emigrants can load their wagons onto flat bottomed boats to be floated down the river. They know how to negotiate the rapids, so it's a lot safer, but it's still risky. Then there's the cost. The ferrymen charge exorbitant rates for their services, sometimes over eighty dollars, and many people can't afford their prices. I don't think the cost would be a problem for any of us." He glanced up to see their agreement. They were fortunate that everyone in their traveling group had sufficient funds for whichever route they chose. "If we chose that route, we could save several days of travel time."
"And if we go the other way?" Matthew asked quietly.
"The other choice is to take the Barlow Road around the south side of Mount Hood. It's the tallest peak in the Cascade Mountains, and the Barlow Road is the only land route around it. The route is a toll road that was carved out of the dense woods around the mountain several years ago. It would allow us to avoid the Columbia River altogether, but it is not without challenges. That's the way I went when I was returning east, and as I remember it, it was the hardest stretch I faced. That's the way most people go though, because of the expense and danger of the river." When Liam lapsed into silence, a few thoughtful moments passed as the others considered what he had told them.
"What do you think is best, Liam?" Hank asked, taking a deep puff from his pipe and squinting through the smoke.
"Well, I think we should take the Barlow. The charge is five dollars per wagon and ten cents a head for the livestock." Liam stared into the flames, thinking back on his earlier experiences. "It's a rough trail, even when I came back east on horseback by myself. Sometimes it's so narrow and steep we'll barely get the wagons through. In fact, there's one hill, Laurel Hill, that is almost impassable." He thought for a moment, recalling his trip with his brothers. "But I still think it's safer than the river." He looked up to scan the group. "I'm worried about the weather though." Liam paused again, his hesitation palpable as he considered their options. "It would take us several extra days of hard travel, but if we all have sufficient supplies, I think we should go that route. Of course, if we go that way, we have to hope and pray that the weather will hold a few more days. It would be impossible to try and get the wagons over those steep hills in ice or deep snow. Luckily, all our oxen are in decent shape. They're tired and lean, but they're healthy and I think they would make it alright."
A few thoughtful moments passed, and Gerald was the first to break the silence. "I trust your judgment, Liam. You haven't steered us wrong before." He looked at the others, seeing their nods. "We're okay on supplies. We're running low on a few things, but we won't starve by any means."
"We should be alright too," Matthew said, looking at Cassie for confirmation. When she nodded, he looked back at Liam. "I'm fine with going that way."
Liam glanced over his shoulder at Selena. She was perched on a log behind him, and he was leaning back against her legs. "What about us? Will the foodstuffs hold out another week or two?"
"We're fine," she answered with a smile. "In fact, we might have some extra if anyone needs."
"Good," Liam sighed. "Well, if we're all agreed, let's head out first thing in the morning."
Everyone murmured their agreement, and the families headed to their respective tents. Liam and Selena undressed and settled into their pallet, snuggling under the blankets as they shared their warmth. Selena's head was cradled in the crook of Liam's arm, and her hand lay across his chest as she listened to his breathing in the flickering firelight that lit their tent. She could sense his tension.
"What's the matter, Liam?" she asked softly, turning her head so she could see his face.
He hugged her against him and sighed. "I just hope we made the right decision. The river route would be several days faster, but I can't justify the risk just to save time. I don't mind telling you though, I'll be glad when this trip is over. I'm ready to be home."
Selena gave him a reassuring smile. "We all trust you, Liam. There's no way to know for sure which way is better, so we'll just have to hope for the best. We're almost there." Seeing that he was still troubled, she sought for a way to distract him. Her smile turned mischievous as she rose on an elbow. "You should be worried about when we actually get to your farm. Then you'll have to explain me to your brothers. I'm sure they were expecting you to return as a carefree bachelor. They may not like it when you show up with me."
Liam's eyes took on a teasing glint as he smiled up at her. "Now you're just fishing for compliments. I guess you expect me to tell you how happy they'll be to meet you." His hand that held her against him wandered down to boldly knead her bottom. "I bet you think I'm going to admit that my brothers will realize instantly that you're just the woman for me. They'll see how good you are for me, that you're my every wish come true, and they will be anxious to welcome you to the family." His other hand reached to cup one breast with sensual familiarity as he gave her a devilish grin. "You probably think I'm going to say that when they see how beautiful you are, they'll understand why I couldn't help but fall hopelessly in love with you." As his hands continued to play, he pulled her down to receive a heated kiss. "But I'm not going to tell you any of those things."
"You're not?" Selena whispered, her lips parting on a gasp as his caresses grew increasingly possessive.
"Nope," Liam said, rolling to pin her beneath him. He parted her thighs and drove into her, sighing as she closed lovingly around him. He settled into a leisurely rhythm as he grinned down at her. "I wouldn't want you to grow conceited."
"Oh, you're insufferable," she accused, but she was smiling as she arched her hips to meet each thrust. "I shouldn't let you take such advantage of me."
Liam's face took on a look of wide-eyed innocence as he abruptly withdrew until the tip of his erection was barely parting her folds. "Do you want me to stop?" he asked with a teasing brow raised.
Selena gave a long suffering sigh as she reached to brazenly massage his buttocks. "Now who's fishing for compliments? I guess you expect me to tell you that my entire world revolves around you." She grinned as she slid her hands up his chest, threading her fingers through the sprinkling of tawny hairs to tease his flat nipples. "I bet you think I'm going to admit that you're so handsome that you take my breath away with the merest glance." She pulled him down to her and began trailing kisses along his jaw as she rubbed her breasts enticingly against his chest. "You probably think I'm going to say that you're the best thing that's ever happened in my life and that I'll die if you ever decide you don't want me." She flexed her hips, letting her wet pussy tease him further. "But I'm not going to tell you any of those things."
"You're not?" Liam asked through clenched teeth, stifling a groan as he resisted the nearly overwhelming urge to plunge into her welcoming softness.
"Nope," Selena said, wrapping her legs around his waist and pulling him deep inside her once more. She chuckled as he gave a sigh of satisfaction and took up his slow rhythm once more. "I wouldn't want your ego to grow even bigger than it already is."
The next morning, they set out on the Barlow Road. They paid the toll at the first booth and before long, they all understood what Liam had been telling them. The trail was so rocky and passed through such dense woods, that they could barely get through in some areas. There were many times that they had to all walk in front of the teams, leading the oxen to urge them up the steep hills. Since it was a bit late in the year, they didn't have to wait behind slower moving wagons, and Liam told them that, at least, was a relief. For the most part, the weather was cooperative, with only light snow and some icy fog at times. There wasn't enough precipitation to impede their progress.
After a week, they reached Laurel Hill. It was the single most difficult obstacle they had faced, and crossing it was a monumental task. Every member of their group was called on to help, even Natasha. The hill was so steep, they had to triple team the oxen to get the wagons to the top. As they had done once before, they had to secure all the wagon wheels so they wouldn't turn when they reached the top of the hill. In addition to tying ropes around tree trunks, they had to cut hundred-foot-long trees and drag them behind them to keep the wagons from tipping over as they made the steep descent. By the time they had all descended safely, they were exhausted but exuberant. The worst was behind them.
They reached Oregon City, at the north end of the Willamette Valley on October 18th. By the time they had left their wagons and oxen at the livery and checked into a hotel, it was early evening. It was the first time any of them had slept in an actual bed or eaten dinner at a table in months. Everyone was elated as they sat around a large dining table, sharing a much deserved celebratory meal that night.
They were thrilled to be eating something other than beans and bacon, and the women were delighted not to have to cook. They offered prayers of thanks for their safe arrival, and the mood was light all around. They toasted numerous times to the future success and happiness of all their families, and the events of the trip were recalled with colorful humor. The hardships they had suffered were remembered but were overshadowed by their joy and optimism.
Near the end of the meal, Gerald stood up and raised his mug of beer to gain everyone's attention. "I'd like to propose a toast," he said smiling at each of them in turn. Finally, his eyes settled on Liam. "Here's to our wise, brave and faithful guide, Liam McKenzie. Liam, I count you a true friend. I'm not sure we would have made it without you. Thank you for everything."
Loud cheers, whistles and clapping accompanied the toast. Selena was surprised to see Liam blush as he smiled and inclined his head, looking uncomfortable beneath such praise. Her heart swelled with pride that she could claim him as her husband. For a brief moment, she remembered her fist days with him and how she had wondered how it might feel to be his wife in truth. Now she knew, and it was a heady experience.
They stayed an extra day in Oregon City to stake their claims, new ones for the Boyds and the Robertses, but just adding additional acreage for Liam's claim in the wake of his marriage to Selena. They were pleased to find that the land available to claim was very close to the McKenzie farm, and all three families would be close neighbors. By the time they had completed their business it was early afternoon. After a delicious lunch, Liam escorted Selena back to their hotel room.
"I need to get some supplies. Do you want to come along, or would you rather wait here while I'm gone?" he asked.
Selena yawned and stretched out on the feather mattress, enjoying its softness. "I'm quite happy to wait here. I think I will have a nap and then a nice hot bath before dinner."
Liam swatted her bottom playfully, dropping a kiss onto her hair when she squeaked with mock outrage. "Well enjoy doing nothing while you can. When we get home, I'm going to put you straight to work."
"You're a slave driver," Selena accused with a groan, stretching on the bed. "If I hadn't spent half the night appeasing your lustful appetites, I wouldn't be so tired now."
"I guess you have earned a rest," he said with a chuckle, remembering just how eagerly she had made love with him through the wee hours of the night. The feather mattress was indeed a luxury after months of sleeping on the ground, and they hadn't let it go to waste, trying out many new positions as they explored each other's bodies. He gave her one more kiss before turning to go. "I won't be gone long."
Selena watched him leave then she turned and snuggled deeper into the pillows, pulling a light quilt up over her shoulders. She lay for several minutes, enjoying the opportunity to relax completely. Her lips curved into a secretive smile as she hugged an arm across her belly. Her monthly was more than a week overdue, and she was fairly certain she was expecting again. She wouldn't tell Liam yet. There would be plenty of time once they got home and she was sure that this pregnancy would last, but somehow, she wasn't worried. Her keen intuition told her that come next summer, she would be having Liam's baby. Liam's baby! The thought thrilled her. She didn't know the exact time she had conceived, but it didn't really matter. Each and every time she and Liam had come together, it had been with an abundance of love. That love would soon blossom into a child they could both treasure. She fell asleep with a dreamy sigh.
It seemed like only moments later when she awoke, hearing the key in the door. She sat up in the bed just as Liam came in, carrying a large pile of packages wrapped in brown paper. She noticed that the sunlight coming in the window was tinged with the colors of late afternoon.
"What time is it?" she asked with a yawn.
"You're still asleep?" Liam teased. He crossed to drop the packages on the bed near her feet before sitting down beside her, wrapping one strong arm around her waist. He explored her lips with a thorough kiss before smiling down at her. "I should have known not to marry such a lazy woman."
"Mmm," she murmured as she sank against him. She eyed the packages. "What are those?"
"Why don't you open them and find out?" Liam said with a grin. "They're for you."
With the eagerness of a child, Selena gave a squeal of delight as she reached for the parcels and pulled them closer. She tore the paper back on the first one, and her eyes opened wide. A lovely dress of lavender silk lay nestled in the paper. The heart shaped neckline was trimmed with delicate matching lace, as were the cuffs and bodice. A multitude of tiny pearl buttons went down the center of the bodice and several more closed each sleeve. The quality of the garment rivaled any dress she had seen Natasha wear.
"Liam, it's beautiful," Selena breathed as she scrambled up from the bed. She lifted the dress and held it against her, turning this way and that to see how the skirt moved. "I've never owned such a lovely dress."
Liam's smile only widened. He indicated the other packages. "There's more."
Selena opened the other parcels and found a half dozen other dresses in various colors and styles, all equally beautiful. The fabrics and trimmings were the finest quality, and the garments were sewn with exquisite attention to detail. There were also three pretty, but much plainer dresses that were obviously to be worn for everyday chores. Liam had also purchased new chemises, pantalets and stockings made from soft silk trimmed with delicate lace, a luxury Selena had never had. There were frilly garters, ribbons for her hair, a beautiful comb and brush set and three pairs of fine leather shoes. Selena's eyes filled with tears as she looked over her shoulder at Liam.
"You shouldn't have. This is too much, Liam. I don't need so many new clothes, and such fine ones too!"
"Sure you do," he said, coming to stand behind her. He hugged her back against him as he looked at her reflection in a tall, standing mirror. His hands nearly spanned her tiny waist, and he had to fight the urge to cup her full breasts. "I've noticed that you've been mending your clothes much too often lately, with the wear and tear from the trip. It's time you had some new things. You deserve a treat."
"But Liam, you must have spent a small fortune. Can we afford these?" she worried, tugging at her bottom lip with her teeth.
Liam's smile was indulgent. "Selena, you're not married to a pauper. I'm not rich, but our farm is quite prosperous, and my share of the money we got from selling my parent's farm is quite a tidy sum. I can certainly afford to treat my wife to some new clothes. Now try them on. I want to see whether they fit well."
Liam pulled off his boots and stretched out on the mattress, lounging against the headboard of the bed to watch his wife. Selena eagerly shed her old clothes and changed into the new undergarments and gasped as she caught a glimpse of herself in the full length mirror. The silk was so fine it appeared almost transparent, and the effect was even more alluring than total nudity as she looked at her puckered nipples and the dark thatch of hair between her thighs.
"Liam," she whispered, turning to face him with a sultry smile, "do you really want your wife to dress in such wanton undergarments?" As she asked the question, she smoothed a hand slowly over her breast, noticing how his eyes followed her movements.
The lustful glow in Liam's eyes sent her pulse pounding. "Actually, I bought those as a treat for me," he said with a grin. "Now, try on one of the dresses."
Selena slipped into a dress of soft, mint green twill. She turned in a circle before him, showing him that the fit was perfect. That dress was followed by a dove grey one trimmed with wine colored piping, then a cornflower blue dress that was embroidered around the neckline and cuffs with darker blue stitching. Selena was astounded by the beauty of each garment, and she noticed that not only had Liam gotten the size right, but his choice of colors and fabrics was perfectly in line with her own taste. Each dress complimented her coloring and showed off her trim figure. The only alterations that would be needed were to shorten some of the hems since Selena was not very tall.
"Where did you manage to find all these clothes?" Selena asked as she doffed the blue dress and laid it neatly across a nearby chair before picking up a rose colored muslin dress. "They're beautiful."