DISCLAIMER: The following is an original work of fan fiction based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended. No profit is being made - enjoy!!
"You shoot a cannon pretty well, Pard."
"Dreadful. I was tryin' to hit Anderson."
Ghosts Of The Confederacy:
The Night Before The Morning After
Eleanor Tremayne, Ezquire
Buck coughed, wincing against the pain sitting up caused in his stitched and bandaged chest. He waved off Nathan's attempt to push him back down onto his bed, joining Vin and Chris in watching Ezra brush down his horse.
"How's the kid?" he asked.
"Cried himself to sleep," Chris answered around the cigarillo in his mouth.
"What's he got to cry about?"
"Thinks you're dead. Figured I'd let you tell him you're not."
"Well now, I do appreciate that, Chris," Buck grinned.
"Thought you might."
"Where's Ezra goin'? Nathan asked, wondering why the hell he gave a damn.
"Don't reckon he'd like us askin'," Vin said.
"I wanna know where the hell he went," Buck wheezed.
"Gold mine," Nathan answered.
"You sure?" Buck demanded.
"Rain said he got the kids to tell him where it is."
"That son of a bitch..."
"She also said the mine's not far - just on the other side of the ridge. Five, ten minutes, if'n you take the straight way."
"Take a lot longer if you go around," Josiah's weary voice suggested from the cot behind Wilmington.
"Why go the long way? Ain't nobody to see him sneakin' away to rob these people," Buck puzzled, gratefully accepting the bottle of whiskey Josiah handed him.
"See a lot more of what might be comin' at ya," Josiah's voice rumbled. "Have a lot more time to argue with yourself."
Buck snorted, instantly regretting it.
"Human nature," Josiah mused aloud. "Just when you think you're beginning to understand what drives your fellow man, the Almighty sends along someone to knock your pretensions out from under you."
Buck looked a question at Sanchez.
Josiah grinned. "Judas hung himself rather than face his betrayal."
Chris shifted his weight, glancing at Vin.
Buck shook his head. "Hell, I still can't figure out why he told the truth about hangin' us out to dry with Anderson. He coulda said anything - or nothin'."
"Southern gentlemen don't lie," an Irish voice rasped from the far side of Nathan's aid shelter. Francis Corcoran grinned as he watched the pack of five men draw instinctively together against an outsider. "They'll shoot you dead for lookin' at 'em the wrong way, but they don't lie." He studied the gambler's red-jacketed back, grief tightening his haggard face. "And, God help you, they do get under your skin."
"Ezra ain't no gentleman," Nathan said. "He's a damn cheat."
"Any bigger of a cheat than men who were glad to take advantage of a drunk city slicker who thought he could shoot?" Vin softly countered.
"Maybe they figured they were teachin' him a lesson," Nathan grinned.
"Maybe Ezra figured he was teachin' them one about judgin' people on appearances."
Nathan grudgingly nodded, acknowledging the tracker's point. Buck offered him the bottle, and Jackson accepted the liquor and the sentiment behind it with a smile.
Splendidly indifferent to the conversation happening behind him, Ezra finished smoothing down the blanket over his horse's back and bent over to pick up his saddle. He managed to swing it just above shoulder height before its weight teamed up with gravity and his aching left shoulder to make him reconsider the attempt. He dropped the saddle back to the ground with a groan, breathing hard as he cradled his shoulder in his right hand.
"Damn it, I told him to take it easy with that arm!" Nathan swore.
"What happened?" Larabee wanted to know, fingers tapping along his holster.
"Dislocated his shoulder in the first attack," Nathan answered. "Damn fool thought he'd bruised it."
Corcoran laughed, grabbing at his bandaged side to support it. After a moment of consideration, Nathan handed him the whiskey.
Larabee's eyes narrowed as he watched Ezra. Tossing the stub of his cigarillo into the dirt, he strode to where the gambler stood carefully flexing his left shoulder.
"Mister Larabee," Ezra greeted the gunslinger cordially, as if he were looking forward to a pleasant conversation.
Easily picking up the saddle, Chris laid it on the back of Ezra's suspicious horse.
"Easy, boy," Ezra soothed, patting the bay's arching neck to settle him down. The horse accepted the comfort with a puff of breath and a nuzzle that tipped the gambler's hat down over his eyes.
"Why'd you come back?" Chris asked bluntly, his gaze locking on Ezra's face as his fingers fastened the buckle of the saddle girth.
Straightening his hat, Ezra met the challenge in the gunslinger's pale eyes with a bland smile. "You owe me five dollars."
Chris nodded, once, slowly. "Where you goin'?"
"It's my watch," Ezra smiled, almost daring the gunslinger to say something. Chris stepped back as the gambler swung into the saddle, half-amused and half-angry. He and Vin would ride out in the morning to make sure none of Anderson's men had the spirit left to hold a grudge. Until then, he'd kept the sentry rotation - and it was time for Ezra to relieve the villager on duty.
Tipping his hat to Chris, Standish kicked his horse into a fast walk. He tipped his hat again as he passed by the others. "Gentlemen," he called out with a wave.
Corcoran tilted his head at Chris as the gunslinger returned to his silent men. "How long have you boyos been ridin' with him?"
"'Three, four days," Larabee answered.
The big Irishman shook his head, tossing the whiskey bottle to Chris who caught it with a slosh. "Here. You're gonna need it a hell of a lot more than I do." Still shaking his head, he lay back down on the bed his former enemies had given him, his arm over his eyes and his laughter ringing off the surrounding rocks.
"What's he know we don't?" Buck asked no one in particular.
"Not sure I want to know," Nathan admitted, remembering some things about Southern gentlemen he would much rather ignore. "But what I do know is that Eban would still be alive if he hadn't run off."
"Maybe," Josiah said. "Or maybe Ezra would have been the first one of us to die."
"He saved Rain," Chris pointed out.
"Not so sure of that," Nathan disagreed, looking pointedly at Chris's bandaged hand.
"Then he saved Chris," Vin amended. "I can't say what would have happened if he hadn't left, but I know who'd be dead if he hadn't come back."
"So that justifies what he did - makes the consequences of him runnin' off no big deal?"
"I ain't sayin' that," Vin bristled.
"Neither," Josiah pointed out, with one of his unexpected, booming laughs, "is Brother Standish."
"If I'd been him, I'd've been expectin' Chris to shoot me," Buck confessed.
"He was," Chris grinned, handing Buck the whiskey before striding off into the night. Vin traded a look with Buck and followed the gunslinger.
Nathan nudged Wilmington with an index finger, and the big man lay down with an involuntary sigh of relief.
"What's troubling you, Nathan?" Josiah asked.
"Just wonderin' if he's gonna be here in the mornin'."
"Will you be disappointed if he is?"
"Not sure," Nathan admitted.
"Don't worry," Buck said drowsily. "If he ain't, Chris'll find him... and then he'll kill 'im."
"You," Ezra told the little shadow sneaking up behind him, "are supposed to be in bed."
"I woke up," Jacob explained, accepting Ezra's invitation to sit in the shelter of his aching left arm. Standish shifted his position to tuck the boy more securely next to him - and to keep the Remington his right hand held in his lap clear of any potential obstruction.
"You'll worry your mother," Ezra said severely.
"She knows where I am," the child answered sleepily, head nodding into the gambler's chest.
"Then she's a fool," Ezra murmured, when he was certain Jacob could no longer hear him. "And so are you... as I am sure you would agree, sir."
Tastanahi smiled as he walked out of the shadows to sit on a rock across from Ezra. "I have known many men in my life," the old man said. "But I have never known a man like you."
"Oh, I'm sure you have," Ezra grinned. "I'm the man who killed your son, remember?"
"Yes. You are also the man who saved my grandson's life - as well as my own."
Standish laughed. "Entirely by coincidence, I assure you."
"What did you come back to try and save, Ezra Standish?"
"Not you." Ezra lightly kissed the crown of Jacob's heavy head. "Certainly not him. Better for him to have died before he's smart enough to recognize betrayal and manipulation."
"I think he is wise enough to understand what his heart knows."
"Wise fools end up dead very quickly."
"Men like your friends?"
"Friends?" Ezra repeated with a chuckle.
"Then the men you ride with are not your friends?"
"I choose my 'friends' with care. A whiskey-swillin' hired killer, an unwashed, ignorant mute, an over-grown, simple-minded satyr, a boy so wet behind the ears it threatens to drown us all, a homicidal hermit with a death wish, and a man who looks at me and desires retribution for every sin committed against his people.... Why would I evah want to call them my friends?" Shaking his head, Ezra looked up to the stars. "Why, indeed..."
"You tell me, Coyote."
"I don't remember there bein' coyotes in Florida."
"My parents lived with the buffalo, before the white man came to kill us. I am Seminole now, but the stories of my Grandfathers are not."
Ezra considered the old man thoughtfully, debating something within himself. "That mine..." he said abruptly. "It's dangerous."
Hidden in the rocks behind Ezra, Vin Tanner leaned in close to Chris Larabee. Under the cover of Tastanahi's hearty laughter, the tracker whispered, "Think I'm the whiskey-swillin' killer?"
"Think you're the unwashed mute," Chris whispered back. He hadn't bargained for this kind of eavesdropping when they'd come up here to make sure Ezra stayed put. Vin nodded, spitting his opinion into the dirt as Tastanahi fell silent above them.
"My... irony... was unintentional, I assure you," they heard Ezra apologize. "I meant that the mine shaft is dangerous. Today's bombardment further weakened its structural integrity. It is a death-trap waitin' to be triggered by the curiosity of your children."
"It is a white man's disease, this digging in the earth. We do not have the knowledge to cure it."
"But you do have the means. A little black powdah, a fuse, a match - and your problem is out of sight... though not out of mind. I am afraid that even with a mountain on top of it, the lure of lost gold will prove irresistible." Ezra shifted Jacob again, trying to ease the strain on his shoulder. "You do have title to this land? Not that it will matter, of course.... You and your people will be killed for what might lie under your pathetic little huts. Today was merely a delayin' of the inevitable."
"My Grandfathers taught me that what you call gold is the blood of our ancestors. It is sacred - a gift the spirits give in our rivers and streams. It would be disrespectful - dangerous - to seek it out. When I see what white men will do for it, I know my Grandfathers were right." Tastanahi frowned at Ezra. "Tell me, Coyote - what is gold to you?"
Ezra favored the old man with his best crocodile smile, his gold fang glittering in the moonlight. "Life itself," he answered. Jacob shifted against him, muttering in his sleep. "Hush, child," he soothed, quieting him gently.
"But you tell me gold is death - my death, the death of the boy in your arms."
"Lack of gold will be your deaths, sir. It will not be mine."
"I do not understand you," Tastanahi sighed sadly.
"Like hell you don't," Ezra growled through his smile. "Gold is power - power to protect those you cherish against those who would take them from you. It is food for the starvin', clothes for the naked, medicine for the sick. Gold - is seven men willin' to kill for you."
'Coyote knows how to bite,' Tastanahi thought ruefully.
"Listen," the old man said, raising a hand as he looked to the horizon. "Your brothers are singing for you."
Ezra raised an eyebrow in distaste as the night wind carried the howling of a coyote pack to the ridge they sat upon.
"Or perhaps they are singing to the ghosts who follow you. We all walk with our ghosts, Ezra Standish, but you - you march with an army."
"Perhaps they are Erinyes," Ezra suggested, his tongue dancing along his lower lip. "Led in their concert by my own lovely Alecto, dressed in her ragged coat of blue and gray..."
In their covert, Vin once again looked at Chris for an explanation. Once again, all Larabee could do was shrug.
"What are you plannin' on doin' with the cannon?" Ezra suddenly asked, the conversation once again making them feel like they were chasing a greased pig.
"It is a useful weapon," Tastanahi said.
"Do you know how to fire it?"
"It is a gun - it will need bullets."
"In other words," Ezra stated with some impatience, "you don't."
"What you have is a piece of horse artillery ordnance, quite possibly fifty or sixty years old," Ezra said, snapping the words out like he was on a parade ground. "It is a bronze, smoothbore blackpowder muzzle-loader that fires one 6 pound shot per round, ball or canister. To load it, you must stand in front of it while taking fire. It is best used against infantry on the battlefield, as mobility is its primary asset. You must clean it between rounds, or it might take it into its head to explode. To aim it properly requires knowledge of the mathematics of trajectory and the rudiments of meteorology. And should some bastard suggest its performance would be improved by riflin' its bore, gut-shoot him."
"Will you teach us to use it?"
Tastanahi sighed again.
"As my mother nevah says, you get what you pay for," Ezra said. "Philanthropy is not one of my vices."
Tastanahi considered Coyote's words. "I will let you destroy the mine, if you teach us to use the cannon," he offered.
"Deal," Ezra agreed instantly, tilting Jacob further onto his shoulder to take his Remington into his left hand before extending his right to shake on it.
Ezra heard his relief coming at the same time Chris and Vin did. Larabee waited until the gambler's horse reached the outskirts of the village, the sleeping Jacob balanced between his chest and saddle horn, before speaking.
"I dunno, Vin - he's got damn good ears for an artilleryman."
"Coyote luck," the tracker suggested, scrambling down the back way like a man who had somewhere he wanted to be.
"Where we goin'?" Chris asked.
"Got a question for Josiah."
Josiah woke up slowly, gathering his wits together through a haze of pain and whiskey. Turning his head toward the insistent finger poking his arm, he found himself facing the intent gaze of Vin Tanner. Chris Larabee crouched beside him, looking a little uncomfortable.
"Got a question for ya," Vin said. "What's a satyr?"
A broad grin spread across Josiah's face. "Buck."
Chris hid under the brim of his hat as he laughed.
"That's what I figured," Vin nodded. "What're Eri - Erinyes?"
"Furies..." Sanchez yawned. "Three immortal sisters who avenge the wronged dead." Closing his eyes, Josiah recited, "'We claim to be just and upright.... No wrath from us will come stealthily to the one who holds out clean hands, and he will go through life unharmed; but whoever sins and hides his blood-stained hands, as avengers of bloodshed we appear against him to the end, presenting ourselves as upright witnesses for the dead...'"
Vin struggled through the quote, until a gentle snore from Josiah made the tracker poke him awake again.
"Who's Alecto?" Vin demanded.
"The grief maker..." Josiah yawned. "She adores war, and can set brothers of one mind at each other's throats as she divides a home with hatred..." Josiah's words trailed off into a mumble and another snore.
"Ask a stupid question..." Chris muttered, looking at a troubled Vin.
"Get an answer you don't want'a hear," Tanner finished.
From behind them, they heard the rasp of Corcoran's laugh. "You boyos ready for that whiskey now?"
Francis leaned his head against the willow lazy-back the shy, round-faced Indian woman had provided for him when she'd brought him his breakfast. In another day or two, he'd be well enough to ride. He'd decided that when the time came to leave, he'd toss a bullet in the air and follow where it pointed.
His eye caught the movement of a shadow and he turned toward it. An elven-featured child was approaching, his dark eyes filled with purpose.
"You're supposed to come with me, Mister," the sprite told him.
"An' why's that, laddie?" He hadn't thought the village leaders would have trusted him enough to send a child as their messenger.
"Ezra wants you," answered the little boy, tugging at his red-trimmed sleeve.
With a grunt that was mostly groan, the Irishman struggled to his feet and followed the child up the path that led to the bluff over-looking the village and the valley beyond. He had to work to keep up with the trotting boy on the steep incline that ended in a wooden lean-to double-doored shed. They were attracting attention, Corcoran noted, wondering what the adults were going to do about his seeming interest in their offspring.
The boy slipped through a crack in the double doors of the shed that Francis was barely able to squeeze himself through. Sunlight poured through a window without glass, its shutters lying open against the rough planking of the wall. On the left side of the shed, his cannon sat gleaming on its repaired caisson.
On the right side of the shed, an admiring throng of the village's children watched Ezra Standish shave. A silver mirror hung from a nail on the shed's wall and one of the older girls waited patiently for the basin of water in her hands to be called for. Francis saw the Southerner's reflection catch sight of him.
"Good mornin', Sergeant," the reflection said, addressing him by the rank on his uniform. "An errand well run, Jacob."
Corcoran's young guide beamed, taking pride of place in the group surrounding Standish.
"Y'wanted t'see me, sir?" Francis asked, annoyed at himself at his knee-jerk response to the immaculate younger man.
"Yes," Standish drawled, nodding to the girl to lift the basin as he washed shaving soap and dead bristles off the edge of his silver and ivory handled razor. "Where's home, Sergeant?"
"It was Belfast an' the British Army, sir," Corcoran answered. "Then it was a blacksmith's shop in Tennessee an' a wife I lost to the smallpox. Then it was the Confederate Army - an' then it was Colonel Anderson."
"So you're in no great hurry to vacate the premises, then?"
"I think these people will be glad to see my back."
"Be that as it may..." Ezra paused for a moment as he negotiated the curve of his chin with the sharp blade. "I have a business proposition for you, Sergeant. I have made a deal with the denizens of this little community to teach them how to use that piece of ordnance behind us, in return for which I will receive a very - precious compensation."
Francis smiled. "Y'do seem to know your way around a field piece, sir. I doubt she's looked that good since Nelson was alive."
Standish chuckled. "She might indeed be that venerable," he agreed, pointing at the towel a solemn boy of perhaps three held with fierce concentration. The toddler handed it up to him with an even more serious frown, getting his hair tousled approvingly for his effort.
Wiping his face free of water and soap, Standish cleaned his razor one last time in the basin before drying it on the towel.
"Was she your gun?" the Southerner asked as he turned toward Francis, the ends of the towel laid over his shoulders held in his hands.
"She was, sir. She saw good service, my Matilda."
"That much is evident. Which brings me to my point - my time is valuable, and yours is uncommitted. You are familiar with that cannon and its idiosyncrasies, as well as the strategic and tactical considerations peculiar to this village. I want to hire you to teach these people how to use it properly and to their best advantage."
"They may not like that, sir."
Standish grinned, a gold-capped canine flashing in the bright sun. "I said I'd teach 'em how to use it - how I'd do that was not specified in the fine print of the contract."
Corcoran found himself grinning back at Standish as the younger man handed the towel back to its keeper and began rolling down his sleeves and buttoning up his shirt. 'Don't!?' he warned himself. 'Stay away from this man, Francis, or you'll wind up beside him, ridin' through hell again.'
"All right," the Irishman agreed. "I'll do it."
"Excellent!" Standish said, slipping into the waistcoat a doe-eyed little girl handed to him with a smile that rivaled the brightness of the desert. An older girl standing beside her and possessing the same melting eyes handed his tie to him and Standish turned back to the mirror to arrange it properly around his neck.
No child had been allowed anywhere near the gentleman's personal armory, Francis noted as Standish buckled on his gunbelt and its big Remington and the chest holster that carried his Colt Conversion. His derringer sleeve rig went on last, and he adjusted it carefully, popping the lethal little gun into his hand a few times to make sure of its speed and position.
When he was satisfied his weapons were in order, Standish nodded to one of the older boys who reverently held up his brushed but still dusty red jacket. Francis looked down at the red cuffs on his uniform that had told the Southerner the Irishman was an artilleryman, and wondered if his choice in favorite jackets had been deliberate.
"Now then," Standish said, turning back to the Irishman as his hand dipped into his waistcoat pocket to produce a fold of bills that made Corcoran's eyes pop. Deft fingers peeled off enough money to buy a small farm stake, or a comfortable boat ride back to Dublin harbor.
"This should be adequate compensation. I'll make sure the Chief has sufficient funds to buy powder and shot for practice rounds."
"Thank you..." Francis had to blink down a lump that had unexpectedly risen in his throat. Straightening his chin, he held out his hand. "I won't let you down, sir."
The expression on Standish's face turned politely neutral as he regarded the hand in front of him. It was eerily familiar to Corcoran, and the Irishman knew some great internal battle was going on behind those unreadable green eyes.
After a few moments, Ezra took the Sergeant's hand. "I know you won't, son," he told the Irishman softly as he shook it, slapping him on the shoulder with his free hand.
Then a man who might have been in swaddling clothes the first time Francis had fired a shot in anger dismissed Corcoran to address the children. "Are we ready?" Standish asked them.
Shining faces grinned 'yes!' back at him.
"Good!" the Southerner said. He picked up one of the two last caskets of black powder from where they rested behind the cannon, hoisting it up on his right shoulder as he left the shed. The hodge-podge of children miraculously formed themselves into a crooked line to follow the gambler out the door, the oldest and tallest at the back, the youngest and littlest at the front.
"Gentlemen," he heard Standish say to someone outside the lean-to and Francis opened the door to see what audience they'd attracted. The old man who led the village stood next to a frowning Buck Wilmington, both watching Standish as his little guide Jacob ran to catch up to the Southerner, handing him his hat as he jogged along on his left. As they went along, Standish's arm came to rest around the boy's shoulder.
"Where's he goin'?" Wilmington growled.
"To blow up the mine," the chief answered, unperturbed as he studied Corcoran. A coyote gift, indeed, Tastanahi thought.
"What --! Why the hell's he takin' the kids?" Buck spluttered, thinking that maybe he should stop Ezra, no matter how calm the old man looked.
"So he'll know where they are," Tastanahi explained. After a moment, Buck grudgingly nodded his understanding, thinking better of spitting. He'd already tried that once this morning and discovered it to be a bad idea.
"Damn," Corcoran sighed. "Sure an' you've got y're work cut out for you, Bucko."
"I know how to handle an officer and a gentleman," Buck grinned, looking down into the valley to watch a slender, black-clad figure walk across the settlement.
"I believe that," Francis nodded. "I do - but he's the bloody Squire to boot, and that's a combination that can kill a man if he isn't careful."
Sadness clouded Wilmington's eyes as Chris dropped down on his haunches to talk to Nathan and Rain.
"I know," Buck said softly.
Names chosen and/or guessed at:
Eban - Rain's father (English name)
Francis Corcoran - Daragh O'Malley's Captain
Imala - the Chief's (dead) son
Jacob - Ezra's little protégé
Oceola - Chief's grandson, Imala's son
Tastanahi - the Chief
Notes: There seemed to be a choice of last names for Francis, so I picked Corcoran. Ezra's little protégé appears to have been nameless in both script and aired episode, so I picked Jacob for him. A quick look at Seminole naming practices confirms that it is entirely possible that Jacob could have been one of the names used for a male child in his circumstances. The rest of the information is as accurate as I can make it - should further research indicate I've made any horribly egregious errors, I'll come back and fix them.
'We claim to be just and upright. No wrath from us will come stealthily to the one who holds out clean hands, and he will go through life unharmed; but whoever sins and hides his blood-stained hands, as avengers of bloodshed we appear against him to the end, presenting ourselves as upright witnesses for the dead.'
From 'The Eumenides', by Aeschylus.
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