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TITLE: Legends Born: Ashes and Dust -- Josiah Sanchez


AUTHOR: Joan Curtin


SPOILERS: To the Pilot Episode.

DISCLAIMER: Sadly, I can't claim financial or creative rights to the characters of the Magnificent Seven. Those belong to the writers and producers of the series. ** Denotes dialog from the series.

FEEDBACK: Please. Joan Curtin

Note: I suppose you might consider this an alternate universe since it is my version of the events that took place before the Pilot episode. I'm sure there are other stories which I haven't read, dealing with the same subject, and logic dictates that some cross-over of ideas is inevitable. However, I have not knowingly used any other author's ideas. If there is some coincidental resemblence, it is because great minds think alike, and not conscious plagiarism.

I have also taken liberties with some of the circumstances in the Pilot to provide an opportunity for Fate to bring these seven men together in Four Corners.

Feedback is welcome. And I'd love to read other versions of this idea, so feel free to contact me with URL's.

As always, a thanks to my Beta-readers, particularly Sue N. And a tip of the hat to Sue Bartholomew, for providing the cowardly sheriff with a name. Mel and Elizabeth, thanks for the encouragement.




Legends Born

Ashes and Dust: Josiah Sanchez


No one knew how old the mission was. It had been standing in the New Mexico desert longer than anyone could remember. Generations of Indians and Mexican settlers had lived and died in its shadows. But not even the oldest of the old could remember a time when it hadn't been a ruin. The only wall still standing was the front face of the small chapel. The rest of the walls were mere outlines of tumbled stones: the adobe had crumbled under the relentless conditions -- the scouring wind that drove the sand before it and ate away all substance, the years of baking sunlight, and winters of hard frost, the rains that fell and washed away bit by bit, every defining feature. That the front wall had stayed intact at all was something of a miracle. And it was that miracle that had drawn Josiah Sanchez to the mission.

He sometimes felt that his faith was like that old mission: worn down and in ruins, but waiting to be rebuilt. He figured if he could rebuild those old walls, perhaps his faith would be resurrected as well.

So he came to this place to do penance, to find peace, to restore order to his chaotic soul. Somedays, he felt he had accomplished his goals. Somedays, it just seemed that no matter how many stones he moved, those walls were never growing any higher. And somedays, it just didn't seem worth the effort. It seemed like the whole world was narrowed down to dust and ashes, and the alkaline taste of the desert in his mouth. And the heat. Lord, the heat! Hell couldn't be much hotter.

Sanchez dropped the stone he was hauling on the pile of rubble and wiped the sweat from his brow with a meaty forearm. The desert sun beat down on him, and the noonday heat was shimmering off the desert floor in waves as palpable as water. Sweat streamed into his eyes, and Josiah gave up. Killing himself would serve no useful purpose in this world, and he figured Death would find him soon enough without him courting it. He dug his canteen out of a shadowy recess and drank deeply. The sun was beating down fit to dazzle his eyes, black spots were circling overhead, and Josiah thought that perhaps he had been working too long in the heat. He blinked away the sweat, and looked again. The spots continued to circle. Circle. Not spots, buzzards, maybe. Or crows.

Lord God, Josiah hated crows. Seemed they was always the harbingers of death. Something or someone was dying out in the waste. Josiah slung his canteen over his shoulder. If there was a life out there, he hoped he would be able to save it, maybe earn some grace back for his misdeeds.

He fetched his horse from the shade of a mesquite tree and started to follow the crows. They led him maybe a mile from the mission. There, he could see a dark shape huddled on the pale skree of the desert floor, and a smaller shape lying a ways away. Looked like a man.

Josiah goaded his horse into a trot. As he drew near, the smaller hump stirred, as if he had heard Josiah's approach. A dark head lifted up, and Josiah dismounted and hurried over. He knelt beside the man and raised him up enough so he could drink.

"Take it slow, mister. Know ya want to drink deep, but that ain't gonna stay down."

The man nodded and took a few swallows. "Thanks. Reckon you saved my life." He struggled to sit up, and since he seemed strong enough, Josiah let him. "My horse?" he asked.

"Dead." Josiah nodded towards the corpse. "Sorry. You get lost out here, Mr. -- ?"

"Jackson. Nathan Jackson." Still sitting next to each other, they shook hands.

"Josiah Sanchez."

"I's tryin' to get to the nearest town when Boaz put his leg in a hole. Thought it wasn't too bad, but seemed t'take the heart outta him. The heat done him in, and near did it fo' me if you hadn't come along."

Josiah looked up at the sun. "Do us both in, if we don't get outta the sun." He stood and offered his hand. Jackson stood up, and Josiah grinned. The Negro was taller and nearly as broad as Josiah -- a formidable figure of a man. "There's shelter 'bout a mile from here. Horse c'n only carry one man our size. You ride, I'll lead."

Jackson saw the reason, even though he would have argued he was fine. When they had reached the mission ruin, he admitted that if he had walked in that heat, as depleted as he was, he would never have made it.

Sanchez produced another canteen from a niche in the rocks, and he and Jackson settled into the shade. When they had recovered from their brief journey, Josiah shared out his lunch of jerky and dried fruits.

"Won't cool down for a few hours yet," Josiah observed. "Four Corners is about an hour's ride -- that's the closest you'll come to a town around here."

"You live here?"

Josiah laughed. "Don't live much of anywhere. I go where the Lord tells me."

Jackson considered that. "Preacher man?" His gaze lit on the serviceable weapon strapped to Josiah's hip.

Again, that wry laugh. "Sometimes. Sometimes I'm a carpenter, sometimes the Lord calls me to paths I don't rightly understand. He sends me a sign, and I follow his lead."

Jackson nodded as if he understood. "I reckon I know how that is. I'm a wanderin' man myself." He smiled; a wide, white smile in his dark face. "You think the Lord jes' sent me a sign?"

Josiah grinned. "I never second guess the Lord. Could be th'answer is in Four Corners." He looked up at the sky. "Soon as the sun gets lower, take my horse. When you get another of your own, you bring him back."

"You trust me for that?"

Bright blue eyes sparkled into Nathan's. Sanchez' hand went to the carved cross at his neck. "I got friends in high places," the hand drifted to his gun. "And in low." His laughter rumbled out.

There was no malice, no threat in those words, just wry, sardonic humor, and Nathan found himself laughing right along with this strange mix of preacher man and gunslinger. There weren't many who he had considered friends in his life, but he felt this man could be one of them.

He gave Sanchez a considering look. "Is there a doctor in Four Corners?"

Josiah snorted. "If you're sick, you'd better by-pass the town and head twenty miles to Eagle Bend. That's the nearest doctor in these parts. And he's seventy if he's a day. You looking for a doctor?" he asked.

"Not me! But I's heading to California. Heard they need doctors out there --" He held up his hand, anticipating Josiah's question. "No, I ain't no doctor, but I c'n heal folks. Was a stretcher bearer in the Union Army. Worked with some mighty fine surgeons. And the rest I learned from an old woman healer on the plantation where I's a slave -- knew more cures 'n most doctors. They need a doc in Four Corners?"

Josiah laughed again, then nodded. "Town's pretty small, but there's folk tryin' to make something of it. Reckon they'd be lookin' for someone like you. And if not, the town's wild enough to keep you busy with bullet wounds and broken bones."

"Sounds like my kinda town." Nathan suddenly yawned, heat and weariness catching up with him. Josiah nodded.

"You get some rest. I'll wake you when it's safe to leave."

"I'm mighty grateful to you, brother Sanchez." The healer slid down on his spine, closed his eyes, and dozed.

Josiah thought of what he had told Nathan Jackson. That the Lord gave man signs which didn't always make sense at first sight but once heeded, could change a life forever. He thought of the crows that had always been a sign of death, and thought that this time, maybe they had been a sign of life.


Jackson moved on in the early evening. Two days later, he returned to the mission, with Josiah's horse on a lead rein.

Josiah paused in his labors. "Brother Jackson. Welcome back."

"You surprised?"

"No." He took the reins from Jackson. "Thank you. Join me for a drink?"

"Don't mind if I do." Jackson dismounted. He looked around at the mission. Didn't seem that much had changed. But Sanchez was still pilin' up those stones. He followed Sanchez into the shade of the facade. "Cain't say yo'making real progress, here, Josiah."

Josiah settled and handed a cup of cool water to the healer. "Now that's a man of the world talkin'." He waved a large, languid hand over his domain. "The Lord don't work on our time, in our world. Y'see, Nathan. These rocks n' stones, they ain't just rocks and stones. They are the multitude of my sins. And the ashes and dust ... they're just waiting for the Lord to bring 'em back to life ... sorta like my soul."

Nathan drank and shook his head. "Preacher, that's a mite too spiritual for me. I reckon I see my salvation in helpin' others, not in movin' a bunch a' stones from one place to another. I done enough a' that in my life. Don't see's it made me any better fo' it."

Josiah sighed. "I spent most of my life so far, tryin' to find the way God would like me to serve him with justice and truth. I studied for the priesthood -- found out I was all right with poverty and was willing to learn obedience, but that celibacy --" he chuckled. "I do love a beautiful woman. Walked away from one once, though, t'look for truth."

"What about justice?" Nathan asked. "God show you the way t'that?" His voice was bitter with the years he had spent as a slave.

"I studied Cherokee law. Found it more fair than the white man's. And sometimes, Brother Nathan. Justice wears a gun." He shook his head. "Don't like it, but I reckon you know it's the way out here."

Nathan had seen it. He couldn't say that he liked it. But he understood it. He drained the cup. "I should be headin' back."

"You settled in Four Corners?" Josiah asked.

"I found a place for my clinic. Near Watson's hardware store. If I c'n git folks t'trust me."

"Trust takes time. They're good folks."

"My skin's not the same's theirs, Josiah. They ain't lookin' beyond that."

"They will, Brother. They will."

Nathan gave the Preacher a long look. "There's a church in town -- run down and pretty much abandoned. Miz Travis tole me that the minister they hired lit out after two months. Said there wasn't a soul worth savin' in that Gomorrah of a town." He chuckled. "Made Miz Travis real angry."

"I got my church," Josiah said.

Nathan stood up. "Y'ain't got no congregation," he laughed. "Think on it, my friend." He held out his hand, and Josiah took it with a grin.

"I'll think on it."

He watched the big healer mount up and ride back to Four Corners. When Jackson was out of sight, he turned back to his labors, but his heart was not in them, and it was too damn hot. He sank down into the shade and thought about what Nathan had said.

He was a preacher without a congregation. A priest without a parish. A shepherd without sheep. Heavin' around a bunch of rocks might be savin' his soul, but it wasn't savin' others, and that was what a Man of God was called to do. He looked up at the sky. "Lord," he prayed. "Send me a sign."

Nothing, not even a crow. God wasn't talking to him today. Josiah sighed heavily. He could wait. Not too long, but he could wait.


Days passed. The sun still beat down, the stars still shone, and God remained silent. Josiah worked in the early mornings and late into the evenings. Eventually he cleared the rubble from what remained of the nave of the chapel.

Josiah climbed the height of a rock formation above the desert floor and looked down at his handiwork. He thought he'd feel some sort of accomplishment; instead, all he saw was a hollow shell. He'd moved the stones, but had left empty dust in their place. He sank down to his knees and closed his eyes. "Lord, send me a sign," he prayed.

Silence, broken only by the rustling of mesquite boughs in the sere wind.

Despairing, Josiah stood wearily. A flicker of movement on the horizon caught his eye. He shaded his vision from the sun's glare. A rider, coming his way, but still in the distance. Josiah climbed down from his vantage point and waited.

The set of the shapeless rider became familiar. Nathan Jackson. Josiah smiled and stood, waiting for Jackson to rein in. He dismounted a bit stiffly, and held out his hand. "J'siah."

Josiah frowned. "Your throat botherin' you, brother?"

Nathan gave a short, hoarse bark of laughter. "Not as much as it might've." He pulled down the bandanna knotted loosely around his neck, revealing a collar of bruised, raw flesh. "Bunch a' drunk cowboys took a fancy t'lynchin' me."

"Lynchin'? Lord, why?"

"Their trail boss died in my clinic. The man was poisoned with gangrene. I tried, but couldn't save him. An' they tried to string me up."

A terrible darkness descended on Josiah's face, and Nathan realized for the first time that the holy man held the wrath of God in his heart. "I'll get my gun."

"Wait! Josiah -- you cain't kill 'em --"

"Like hell I can't!"

"They's dead."

Josiah stopped mid-step and turned slowly. The fire was fading in his blue eyes, but his face was stony-hard. "How?"

Nathan laughed, this time deep in his chest. "Musta been the hand of the Lord, Josiah, that's all I kin figger. These two fellas, only one I knew, came t'save me. I's strung up, dangling like a jerk-necked chicken, and Vin Tanner -- the man I knowed -- took this Winchester rifle and shot me down, clean as ya ever saw. Him and a shootist, Chris Larabee --"

Josiah's eyes widened. "Chris Larabee! Brother -- I've heard tell the man could scare the devil. He killed those men?" Nathan nodded, and Josiah crossed himself. "Rest in peace."

Nathan tried to speak and couldn't. Josiah got his canteen and handed it to the healer. "You didn't come all the way just to tell me this story," he suggested.

When Nathan had recovered his voice, he whispered. "We need your help, Josiah. Me, Tanner an' Larabee."

Josiah sighed. "Tell me."

Nathan told him the story of the Seminole chief, his helpless village, the renegade Confederates who were threatening to wipe them off the face of the earth, to dispossess them. "You'll help us, Josiah?" Nathan asked, expecting the answer to be an easy one.

Josiah looked up at the empty sky. He groaned, gave a shake of his head. "I don't think so, brother." He bent and picked up another stone.

Nathan grabbed his arm, staying him. "Josiah, how can you turn yo'back on these folks?"

"You're asking me to kill." He pulled away from Nathan's hold. Walked over to a pile and set it down. "I'm doin' a lifetime of penance, brother. I don't need more sins to weigh me down."

"I've heard'em talk in town about you, J'siah. Heard you kilt a lot of men."


"A lot more folks is gonna die, without yo'help."

"And maybe a few more will live."

Nathan stood with his hands on his hips and shook his head. He heard horses coming, and knew it was Tanner, Larabee, and Larabee's friend, Buck, come t'see how he was gettin' on. He stepped outside the square of stones.

The three men drew to a halt. Nathan shook his head. **"He says he's not comin'. He says that's his penance."

Larabee spat in the dust. **"For what?"

**"He won't say. Word is he kilt a lot of men." Nathan looked back at the chapel, as if he expected Josiah to emerge. "He's a hard man to persuade."

Vin Tanner cocked his head at Larabee. **"Could be useful in a fight."

Larabee just sat at ease on his big black horse and held his own counsel. Josiah chose that moment to step through the ruined archway. He glanced up at Larabee briefly. Saw the hardness of the man, the lethal stillness, the snake-lean black figure. Satanas. Took in the slight man on the blaze-faced gelding next to Larabee, and sensed a different danger all together. Blue-eyed, buckskin clad, sharp and fast as an Archangel's sword. Between them, those two men carried life and death -- perhaps his life and death. He picked up a few stones and didn't say a word.

Nathan was talking again. **"The Seminoles are the dispossessed of the earth, Josiah. Ain't savin' lives th'same as savin' souls?"

Those stones weighed as heavy as his sins. **"Seems to me a man ought to put his own house in order first."

The blue-eyed man spoke for the first time. **"We can promise you a hell of a fight." As if that would make damnation worthwhile.

Josiah gave him a resigned, humorous glance. **"Hell? I already been there." He carried his burden of stones through the chapel door.

Nathan gave Josiah one last, despairing glance, then mounted his horse. **"Sorry."

Larabee drew in on his cheroot, and turned his horse. Vin wasn't about to give up so easy. **"Think he'll change his mind?" he asked Nathan.

The healer shrugged. **"Maybe, if we ride by tomorrow."

"We'll ride by tomorrow," Chris said. Time was slipping away, and he had four men. He didn't plan on dying just yet. He looked over at Tanner. His green eyes glinted. "Don't see how any man could resist that 'hell of a fight,' you promised."

Buck grinned. "Hell, Chris. It sounded good t'me."

Jackson shot Buck a look. "Well, you ain't the Preacher Man. Maybe we all'd better start prayin' fo' God t'send Josiah a sign, 'cause that's what he's watchin' for."

"What kind of sign?" Tanner asked.

"Reckon that's between the Lord and Josiah Sanchez," Nathan shrugged. He kneed his horse forward and the four men rode back to Four Corners, hoping to find another soul to join their band of fallen angels.


Josiah watched the four figures shimmer in the bent light rising from the desert. If he hadn't seen them up close, spoken to them, he would have thought they were a mirage. They vanished into a quivering lake of silver water ... a cruel trick of the light. Funny thing was, he felt their leaving; felt more alone than ever.

He went back to his task, working until the sweat streamed down his body and his muscles grew weak. His hands were bruised and scored, and he felt heat rising from his skin like an inferno. His heart pounded, and he dropped to his knees. He was killing himself, and he wasn't so sure it that it wasn't what the Lord had intended for him.

He closed his burning eyes. His body was so depleted, he couldn't produce tears; just pain stabbing like a hot poker. He heard something; a fluttering, a scratching, a soft, raspy caw. Crows. He opened his eyes. A big black crow had landed on the rocks and was starting at him with beady, predatory eyes. Josiah hated crows. He snatched up his hat and waved in. "Get outta here! I ain't no carrion for you to feed on!" He staggered towards the bird, sweeping his arms wide. The crow cawed once, then rose, wings beating, and vanished.

Josiah dropped to all fours. Weak, weary, hurt, he crawled into the small shade afforded by the facade of the chapel, and lay there until he no longer felt as if he were about to burst into flames. He dragged out his canteen and drank deeply. Then darkness overwhelmed him and he knew no more.


Dawn came stealing across the desert, fragile light growing stronger; the chill of the night slowly warming. The first pale rays reached across the huddle of Josiah's body, touched his eyelids. The big man jerked awake, threw his hands over his eyes, and groaned.

Every joint in his body ached from cold and the physical abuse he had punished himself with the day before. He stood up, swaying on unsteady legs. He was so dry he didn't have any piss. He picked up his canteen. Empty. He staggered over to the crevice in the rocks where he kept his spare water canteens. He'd buried them deep to keep them from the temptation of the flesh, but he wasn't fool enough to deny he needed them now. He pulled out two, drank one of them down, and poured the other over his face and hair.

The light was strong now. The morning sounds of the desert were all around him. He said his morning prayers -- hoped the Lord was in a listening mood. He heard a caw, and shivered. The crow was back, along with three others. Looked like that damned gunslinger Chris Larabee. Sleek and black, with those same hard, predatory eyes. Josiah threw his head back and laughed out loud. His sign. He was comfortable enough with the ways of the Lord not to argue with Him.

He saddled up his horse and waited. He figured they would come.

They did. About an hour after first light. He watched them. Five men. They'd found another soul to lead to death or perdition. He could see them clearly: Chris Larabee, in his black plumage, and lookin' like he didn't know what sweat was. The blue-eyed man, slouching easy in his saddle, not expending an ounce more energy than he had to. Canny, that one, with the quiet watchfulness of the Indian. The long-legged cowboy with the laughing eyes, who'd kill as soon as look at you if you riled him. Nathan. And a fella wearing a curly-brimmed hat, ruffled shirt and the fancy jacket of a riverboat gambler. Not the sort of man who gave a damn about altruism, and Josiah wondered what kind of hold Larabee had over him to induce him to join this company.

Josiah's horse nuzzled his shoulder, and he gave the beast a kiss on the blaze, like a benediction. He set his hat on his head, announcing his intentions to ride. Nathan seemed surprised. **"Why'd you change your mind?" he asked.

**"Crows," Josiah said enigmatically.

Nathan looked around. "What crows?"

**"A sign."

Nathan gave him a hard look, like he'd been out in the sun too long. **"What does that mean?"

**"Death." He set his foot in the stirrup and swung his leg over the saddle.


**"Probably mine."

The gambler laughed softly, amused by the dialog. **"Well, well. A sense of humor. I look forward to many lively conversations." He tipped his hat to Josiah, and the preacher just gave him a wry look and returned the gesture.

Nathan still seemed confused. **"What about all this?" His gaze roamed around the chapel and the piles of rocks and rubble.

Josiah lifted one broad shoulder. ** "Oh. These stones'll still be here ... if I get back."

He seemed at peace with that. He looked around at the company of men. The blue-eyed man's mouth twisted into a comprehending smile. He held out his hand. **"We could use another good man."

Josiah laughed. **"Not so good. But I can fight." He took the offered hand.

"Vin Tanner."

"Josiah Sanchez." He looked into those blue eyes. "You spend much time with the People?" he asked, and was rewarded with a startled look.

"Some," Tanner admitted.

"Thought so."

"How?" he asked curiously, wondering how this strange Preacher man knew that.

"You were the only one didn't look at me like I was mad when I talked about the crows. You nodded, like you understood signs."

"Reckon I do." He gazed thoughtfully at Chris Larabee's black-clad back. "Some things jist seem t'be the right thing t'do."

"Amen, brother. Amen." Josiah's heart lightened. Why, when he was most likely riding to his death, he didn't know. But he was willing to put his trust in God, and his life in the hands of these men. It was better than burying his soul in ashes and dust.


Continued in: 'Aces High: Ezra Standish'