FRIENDSHIP

BY Leslie

This is my first posted story onto the Magnificent Seven Web Site. I hope you enjoy the story.

Two weary riders traveling to the small burg of Four Corners. Returning, finally after transporting three prisoners to Yuma Prison. Two riders as different as night and day, the first use to the open space of the wilderness raise practically by Indian’s, a tracker turn bounty hunter and now sought after for a murder he did not commit. A tall and lean man, wearing a buckskin jacket, had given to him by an Indian friend, handsome, with long waving brown hair, intense bright blue eyes, very noticeable among his tribal friends. A soft voice unless riled, not very talkative unless he has something to say.

The other rider, use to the crowds of gaming halls, raised by various relatives, a loner by nature but with an affinity to mask his insecurities with a quick wit and large words. Tall and lean, who wears an assortment of bright color jackets, and can mingle with the worst and best of people depending on the circumstance. Handsome, clean-shaven, short brown hair, jade color eyes which women finds most inviting. A charming southern accent; that can con a snake from its skin, while entertaining children for hours on end.

Both men however, find themselves drawn to a family like no other, associated with five other men, all different yet finding a companionship among the closeness that only brothers can feel. What started out as a 30-day job has turn into a six-month duty. A duty these seven men have sworn to uphold to the residents of Four Corners and to the Judge who hired them.

Both these men have been away from their surrogate family for almost a week, traveling slow and finding enjoyment in each others company. It has been a long time since these two men felt alone and are grateful for the brotherly assemblage of their friends.

Ezra Standish and Vin Tanner will finally be back home among friends and family. The gambler and tracker turn peacekeepers find themselves looking forward to their long overdue return. The gambler shuffles cards through dexterous fingers to past the time while Tanner looks to his friend and smiles.

“Hey Ezra, how long you been shuffling those cards?”

Standish turns to his friend and smiles showing off his fancy gold tooth. “Well my friend, let me ponder that for a moment.” He pauses, “I would have to conclude that I have been shuffling these cards as you put it for most of my life.” Looking at his friend in amusement.

“That’s a long time, they don’t even look that old.”

Which brings laughter to the cocky gambler, “that my friend, is because I cherish these cards, they were a gift from my mother.”

“Oh,” replies the tracker.

The rest of the journey is ridden in silence. Not uncommon for these two men, they enjoy the silence, the company is what matters and the quietness is not deafening or uncomfortable. On the contrary for men as diverse as these two the silence is companionable.

As darkness begins to descend and with only an hour's ride to town, the decision to continue is not even voiced. One rider halts his horse abruptly bringing the other along side him.

“We got trouble,” but before the tracker can make any other comment, gunfire quickly eliminates any other words. Both quickly ride their horses from a slow gait to a very fast gait. As they take cover still only an hour’s ride from town, Vin and Ezra begin to return fire.

They ride into a large tree coverage, Vin is hit on the left shoulder, and Ezra notices covering his friend as they both lay low trying to determine the odds. The gambler takes a moment to assess his friend’s injury.

“The bullet has gone through, my friend. You will need to head back to town and get help. I shall hold these miscreants until your return.”

“I’m not leaving you here alone,” replies the tracker, sucking in his breath as the gambler applies pressure to the wound.

“You have no choice Vin, there are too many men. If we both attempt to ride together we both will die. This way I shall hold them here and cover you.”

The intensity of the trackers eyes cannot be seen with the descending dusk, but the gambler feels them. His own eyes mirror those of the tracker.

“Please Vin, the quicker you reach our compatriots, the better our chances for survival.”

“Ezra...” The tracker can hear his own pleading voice.

“You know I am right my friend,” answers the gambler.

“Damn, alright, you cover me, I’ll be back Ezra.” A pause, “you make sure your still here.”

“I have no desire to be leaving at the moment Mr. Tanner.” A sly smile, playing on the gamblers lips, belies the worry event in his eyes.

The tracker nods in understanding, grabs the reins of his horse and the gambler begins a rain of gunfire distracting the gunmen from noticing the trackers quick escape.

Ezra manages to hit two of the assailants, but the gamblers opponents still out number him. He feels the pain in the back of his right side. Vin wasn’t the only one shot as they dismounted. But, Ezra was able to mask the pain from his countenance assuring the tracker to depart. At the moment he cannot worry about the wound, he continues to fire dispersing his small arsenal. His Remington is empty as is his colt; he heads for his rifle still in the saddle. As he reaches it, another array of gunfire is heard, and another bullet pierces the gambler. A shoulder wound, ‘aw hell,’ the gambler curses in silence. He still manages to pull the rifle and head for cover. Ezra returns fire once again, the effort soon ends, but Vin has a head start and to the gambler that’s enough.

One of the assailants manages to come from behind the gambler, grabs and disarms him.

“Mr. Gardner, I got him.” He shouts all gunfire ceases. The rest of the men make their way towards the gambler.

“Where’s Tanner?” He asks the man holding Ezra.

“Gone sir must have left while this one covered him.”

“Shit,” the man eyes the gambler none too happy; hits him knocking Ezra to the ground. A kick to the ribs, he lifts him again, “you just cost me $500 Mister.”

“Glad to be of service, sir.” This earns the gambler another kick. Gardner strengthens himself looking out into the obscurity.

“What now sir?” Asks the man who disarmed the gambler.

“Tanner no doubt will bring the others,” he looks at the gambler still clutching his sides. Gardner looks over his right shoulder. “Throw him over the ravine, make it hard for his friends to find him. We’ll get Tanner later.”

“Why don’t we just shoot him?” A look from his boss tells him not to question his motives. With the help of two others they carry Ezra and toss him over the embankment. He rolls down and grunts as he hits the bottom face down.

*******

Vin mounted his horse and rode out hearing the gunfire he dare not look back. If he did he knew he wouldn’t be able to leave the gambler. Tanner rode his horse hard the animal wasn’t winded due to the slow pace they had been riding. So, the ride into town actually took less then an hour. As he reached Four Corners Vin reins his horse in front of the saloon knowing the others would be inside.

He grabs his shoulder as he dismounts his horse, ‘damn that hurt,’ as he gasp. Vin quickly enters the saloon he smiles as he sees Chris Larabee sitting drinking beer with the others while playing a hand of poker.

Nathan looks as Vin enters and notices right off, the blood oozing from the trackers shoulder. He was up and at his friend’s side before the others met the trackers eyes.

“What happen Vin where’s Ezra?” The healer asks; Chris and the others were up and at the trackers side as well.

“We were ambush about an hours ride from here. Ezra covered me while I came for help. He’s still out there, you have to go get him.” The intensity in his eyes, Nathan knew was due to the fever he could feel emanate from his body, but the sound in his voice was for the gambler still unaccounted for.

Chris knew exactly from which direction they would be coming from; no words were needed other than, “lets ride.” Nathan stayed behind and ushered the protesting tracker to the dreaded clinic.

Luckily there were four available horses in front of the saloon, it would have taken longer to saddle their own and time was of the essence. As they rode out of town, Vin and Nathan said a silent prayer for their gambling friend.

*******

A short while later they reached the alcove, which would be perfect place for an ambush. The men dismounted ready for any more gunplay. Chris surveyed the area. Darkness was all around them, no moon to help. “Ezra...” a pause and then again. “EZRA!” Still nothing. “Look around, we have to find him.” Everyone was alert; apprehension took residence in their hearts.

While at the bottom of the ravine, Ezra managed to open his eyes, hearing a familiar voice. A smile playing on his lips, ‘Vin made it,’ he thought. He tried to call out, but the lost of blood and the short but painful beating prevented that notion. He trembled; the cold night was sapping his strength. With final stubbornness born of years of defiance, Ezra managed to push himself over onto his back. He called out, but what should have been a shout merely came out as a whisper. He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment.

“Chris,” it was a little louder, which brought the dark clad gunslinger to a halt. He listened, but no sound. The leader waited and was sure he heard something come from his left. He ran towards the edge of the ravine and looked around. Then he noticed white illuminated in the dimness.

“Over here,” he shouted as he raced down the embankment. He reached the gambler, Ezra had his eyes close not sure if anyone heard him; a touch on his neck brought his eyes open. “Hey, Ezra.” Larabee was not one big on words.

Bringing a laugh to the gambler, “well Mr. Larabee, it is good to see you.” A slight pause, “Mr. Tanner arrived in one piece?”

“Yeah, how are you feeling?”

“Terrible.” He closes his eyes for a moment, trying to draw strength from his friends.

“Where you hit.” He could see the blood from his shoulder, just then Josiah, Buck and JD arrive and wait for the gamblers response.

“My shoulder has a burning sensation, my back however is killing me. I believe the bullet still resides itself...” a chill suddenly passes through his body bringing a short gasp from the gambler. “I feel... rather cold as well.”

Chris looked up the ravine; it was a long way up. They would have to drag the gambler up, but Nathan always made sure the wounds were to be kept as clean as possible to avoid any infection. Josiah seemed to read his friends thought.

“Chris I can carry Ezra over my shoulder?”

“It sounds good Josiah, but you could loose your footing and the fall won’t due Ezra any good.” Chris replied.

Just then the con man was trying to lift him self up. “Gentlemen, I think I can make the climb without burdening you too much.” Chris had to smile at the gamblers tenacity. With Josiah’s help they managed to lift the con man, they could feel the fever coming from his body. Ezra leaned heavily into Larabee.

“Chris I got an idea,” replied Buck. “I’ll throw a rope down put it around you and Ezra and the rest of us will haul you up.”

“Sounds good Buck, JD you stay with me and help with the rope, then when we’re secure you head on up and help.” Buck and Josiah race up the embankment and pulled three lariats tying them securely. The ex-preacher threw the rope over the edge and the kid caught it. He made a knot and placed it around both men, Ezra was losing consciousness, Chris notice, “come on Ez stay with me, we’re almost out.” The gambler nodded and JD headed up the hill and, “okay, we’re ready.”

All three men began to pull their two friends, Ezra maintain conscious thought as Chris held him tight around his waist while one hand held onto the rope. As they made their way up Chris could hear the gambler breathing hard and small gasps escaping.

As they reach the top Josiah pulled the rope off his two friends; Buck grab the gambler before he keeled over and Chris grasp the other side as well. Chris mounted his horse and with Buck and Josiah’s help both lifted the now unconscious Ezra up to their leader. The rest mounted their horses and all started back to town.

*******

The four peacekeepers headed straight for Nathan’s clinic. Once their Josiah dismounted and with Buck’s help both men carried the unconscious gambler to the clinic. JD, following right behind them. As Chris dismounted his horse his right side was soak with Ezra’s blood, he hoped they weren’t too late. He followed his friends as they entered Nathan’s room.

“Nathan, where you want him,” Buck called out.

Nathan had already tended to Vin’s injuries, both men looked at their injured friend. Vin stood while Nathan directed them to his bed.

Josiah answered Nathan’s worried look, “he has a bullet lodge on his right back side and a shoulder wound on his left. He’s lost a lot of blood, he already has a fever.” They laid him on his stomach, the healer wash his hands, had instruments already boiling just in case, and proceeded to tend to his gambling friend with the ex-preachers help. The other men stood back.

Chris notices the trackers expression, guilt written on his countenance. He reach over to his friend pulling him away from the sick bed and giving the others room to work in. The worry look was etched on all their faces. Vin was feeling a bit nauseous, so Chris took him outside to get some fresh air.

“Chris how bad is he, I shouldn’t have left him.” He berated himself.

“Now Vin you had no choice, if you’ve both try to leave you would have been gun down, and the same thing would have happen if you both stay. You needed help,” the worry on the trackers face, would not leave him despite Chris’ assurance. “You know how mule headed Ezra can be, he’ll pull through.”

Vin managed to smile at that, “I hope you’re right.” Chris saw the tracker shiver.

“Come on let’s get you a room.” Vin was too tired to argue so, with a bit of prodding Chris got him a room above the saloon. The others stayed with Ezra and Chris wasn’t sure who their attackers were so, he stayed with Vin. He figured that if they were bounty hunters they’d try again.

*******

By the next morning, Vin’s fever had gone down. JD brought over some more herbs for the tracker, when he woke Chris gave him the fowl concoctions. Vin slept until late afternoon, feeling a lot better.

“Hey, cowboy.” Chris was looking out the window, when he heard the tracker greet him.

“You know one of these days I’m going to have to shoot you for calling me cowboy.”

With a chuckle and then somber look, “how’s Ezra?”

“Nathan got the bullet out and his shoulder tended too, but he has a very high fever. Nathan thinks he might be in a coma. He didn’t make any movement or sounds.”

“Is he going to make it?” A plea for a positive response.

“Nathan’s hopeful, all we can do is wait.” He walked over and felt the trackers forehead. “How you feeling?” Trying to change the subject.

“I feel better.” Worry and guilt taking hold of his heart.

“Vin, it wasn’t your fault.” He nodded his head trying to believe he’s friends words.

“Can I go see him?”

“Sure, it’ll give Nathan a chance to look you over too.” Chris helped the tracker and once his footing was grounded they both headed towards the clinic.

*******

Inside the clinic, Nathan the resident healer looks over his patient. Although, when the southerner and he first met they were not too keen on one another. Both being raised in the south and their lives held in different stations made them adversaries on the outside. But as time went the similarities on the inside is what eventually bonded the two men. Although, different in color, their upbringing were in many ways very similar.

Ezra often left in the care of others was considered an intruder to these people. Someone to place in service rather than treated as family. He was born free, but often suffered the cruelty of unforgiving guardians. Nathan who was born into slavery; often beaten, but not by family, he came from a loving home. The cruelty came from the masters who held him as property; rather then treat him as another individual.

The past transgression be stow on these men changed to a future of friendship and loyalty.

They like the rest became part of a new family a family of brothers willing to protect and even die for one another. The friendship and loyalty bonded all these men towards a feeling that could not be voice from anyone of them; simply felt and accepted without question. A town brought them together; friendship tied them as family.

Nathan watched over his friend as he would a family member who needed him. His worry would only end when the cardsharp open his eyes.

A knock at the door brought him out of his reverie and two more friends entered concern etched on their countenance.

“How’s Ezra?” The tracker spoke as he entered.

“He still has a pretty high fever,” replied the healer wiping away the perspiration. “I manage to clean both wounds, the one on his back, was pretty infected and still has mucus, which is probably keeping him in a coma.”

“Is there anything we can do to help?”

“All we can do is wait.” The dark healer made his way over to the distraught tracker checking his wound. “How are you feeling?”

“Better.” His shoulder was healing nicely but his heart was still feeling guilty for leaving the gambler behind.

After two days Ezra’s fever started coming down. The wound to his back was now clear, but he was still not showing any signs of life. Nathan began to worry that the conniving con man would not wake up.

*******

Outside of town Jim Gardner and his men waited for an opportunity to capture the tracker and bring him to Tascosa. They would get $500 from the law and an additional $1000 from a private party. He knew it would not be easy to get the tracker with Larabee still in town. So, they would wait until such time as the gunslinger would head out of town.

They were about to be rewarded. Late afternoon, a rider came in asking for help. Seems one of the farmers had trouble with some hired hands that were not too happy with being let go. Buck, JD and Chris rode out of town. Nathan and Josiah stayed to watch Ezra and Vin didn’t want to leave he’s fallen friend.

“Now Vin, I want you getting some rest,” the healer was growing concern at the trackers morose attitude. They all notice Vin wasn’t eating much or getting enough sleep, every chance he got was spent looking after Ezra.

“I’m okay Nathan,” was the ex-bounty hunter reply.

“No your not,” leading the tracker towards the door, “you and I are getting something to eat and you my friend are going to get a couple of hours of sleep. Josiah can watch Ezra for a while.” He looked reluctantly at the healer and then the ex-preacher and realized he was out numbered. “Okay, but only a couple of hours.”

“After you get something to eat first.” The healer admonish, which Vin just sigh but followed.

Josiah looked at his sleeping friend. He thought Ezra just didn’t want to wake up, he hated mornings, if anything he’d probably wait until night before he’d get up.

He laughed outright shaking his head.

Downstairs in the saloon, the bar tender brought over some breakfast for the two men.

“Thanks,” Nathan replied as both men began to eat, while the tracker just picks his food.

*******

Josiah after a few minutes decided to stretch and take a moment to go relive the tension in his bladder. He looked at the gambler and he seems to be in a restful slumber so he left.

*******

After Nathan and Vin finally finished breakfast, “okay, now you’re getting some rest.” Vin knew he wouldn’t win against the healer and did feel a bit tired. Just as he got up to make his way to the bat wing doors, several men entered guns at the ready. Both men saw them, Nathan placed himself in front of the tracker, neither one was wearing their guns. Vin’s shoulder was still sore and Nathan only wore his when on the trail.

The leader, a fairly tall man husky build, not exactly Josiah’s build but close to it, approached both men. “Good morning gentlemen.” Smiling at them.

“What can we do for you?” Nathan asked.

“Well you can move aside and let us have Mr. Tanner their.” Looking at the dark skin man. “All we want is Tanner, and no one needs to get hurt.”

Vin gave them a cold stare, not quite in Larabee’s category but close to it. He realize these must be the same men that had ambush him and Ezra a few days ago. He felt nothing but anger towards these men.

“Who might you be and what’s this all about?” The tracker kept a steady voice hoping to stall them and wait for Chris and the others return, he knew with Ezra and him still recuperating he wouldn’t stay out long. He walked closer to the bar, knowing their was a shotgun under the counter. Hoping the bar tender would throw it to him.

“Names Jim Gardner, we’re here to take you in.” There were nine men looking forward to the reward they’d receive.

“The bounty’s only for $500 how you planning to share between all of you?” The tracker still stalling.

“That’s our business Tanner, now let’s go peaceful like, after all the bounty’s dead or alive. The choice is yours.” Gardner hedge.

*******

Ezra woke with a start, his first thought, ‘Vin was in trouble’. His eyes wide open, he sat up took a moment to compose himself then stood. He surveyed his surroundings and found what he was looking for. Nathan always kept a rifle in the clinic incase of an emergency. In a growing town like Four Corners one had to be prepared for any contingency. Taking the weapon he made his way to the saloon. He felt two friends in mortal danger.

*******

Josiah had no idea two of his friends were in trouble he was about to make his way back up to the clinic when he heard a gunshot.

*******

Vin edge himself closer to the counter, while Nathan had both his hands up ready to pull a knife from his back.

Gardner and three of his men saw what he was trying to do and halt the ex-bounty hunter with a stare, “I don’t think so, Mr. Tanner.” They moved as one getting between the counter and the tracker. Just then a shot rang out and the chandelier in the saloon fell on top of the other five men, catching them and knocking them out. Gardner turn to look at the smiling face of the gambler, he swore realizing he should have listen to his man and shot him dead. “Well I’m surprise to see you’re still alive.”

Nathan and Vin were shock to see him up, they notice all he was wearing was his pinstripe pants his suspenders both still hung on his sides, no shoes or shirt and a dishevel appearance. Hardly a threat until he spoke.

“Thank you Mr. Gardner, now do us all a favor and drop your weapons.” His tone was lace with a cold threat behind his southern accent.

Just then Josiah entered the saloon unnoticed through the side. He looked at the situation and was surprise at what he saw. ‘How the heck did he get here,’ he thought. The giant man pulled his gun ready to lend support to his friend.

“There are four of us against you, I think the odds are in our favor.” Ezra smiled at that he was about to give a repartee response when another voice entered the satire.

“You better make that two against four,” replied the ex-preacher.

Gardner looked over his shoulder and saw the giant man then notice the bar keep behind the counter, “make that three.” Who now held the shotgun in hand?

“Well sir, the next move belongs to you.” The other three quickly dropped their guns, the money may have been good, but you couldn’t spend it, if you were dead. That left Gardner, as he too drops his weapon.

Vin and Nathan quickly took their guns. Once secure Josiah came forward the bar keeper still holding the shotgun, giving them cover. The preacher and tracker hauled their prisoners to the jail while Nathan went over to the gambler.

Once led out the saloon, Ezra managed to relax. He looked at the healer coming towards him and laid his weapon down on the table and held onto the chair for support.

“Ezra?” The concern in his voice evident.

“Aw hell Nathan, I feel terrible.” He collapses into the healer’s arms.

Shaking his head at how the devil he managed to get to the saloon. Nathan lifted the unconscious card shark over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and made his way out the door. He turns to the barkeeper. “You okay?”

“I’ll be find Mr. Jackson, you see to Mr. Standish.” He existed the saloon, headed to the clinic. Just then Chris, Buck and JD were returning when they notice Nathan carrying the gambler.

“What happen?” JD asked.

“Had a little trouble,” he paused looking at the saloon. “There are five men under the chandelier need locking up, Vin and Josiah have taken four others to the jail. I’m taking this stubborn hero back up to the clinic.” Buck laugh and Chris smiled. All three dismounted and headed into the saloon seeing Seth the bar tender covering the five unconscious assailants.

“We’ll take it from here Seth.” Tipping his hat all three lifted the chandelier as Vin and Josiah return to help them haul the rest of the men.

*******

After securing their prisoners all five ran up to the clinic to check on the hero.

“How’s he doing Nathan?” The ex-preacher asked.

“I should ask you, why’d you let him come down?”

“I didn’t,” Josiah replied. “He was sound asleep when I went downstairs to the privy.” He looked at the healer.

“Well how the hell did he know we were in trouble?” Asked the astonish tracker.

Chris step forward, “how’s he doing Nathan?” Silencing everyone.

“Well his fevers gone and out of his coma, he’s not unconscious but in a deep sleep. So, I think he’s doing just find.” They looked at the con man he was just full of surprises.

*******

The next morning the gambler woke on his own, Nathan had managed to rouse him a couple times to drink water.

Now he was trying to focus as he was feeling the need to relive himself. He heard voices calling his name following them he blink a couple times and saw the dark healer in his line of vision. “Nathan,” he paused a moment. “I need to use the facilities.” Bringing a smile to the healer.

“I have a bucket ready.” Knowing what the gambler would say.

“Please Mr. Jackson, I am quite capable of using the facilities.” Bringing laughter to the others and Ezra focus on his surrounding friends. He tried to get up but was push back down by Josiah.

“I don’t think you have the strength to reach the facilities in time Ezra. You best listen to Nathan and use the bucket.” The gambler eyed the preacher then the bucket.

“Aw hell.” They all laughed relieved to hear their friends voice once again.

THE END

Comments are welcome.





Email: liliseven@hotmail.com