by SoDak7

Jerking awake, Ezra awoke to the sound of Chris’s voice calling to him. Had he actually fallen asleep here on the ground? Did he hear the man say the word horse? Turning around to look at where he thought Chris was, he saw a black form holding onto another black form. He did say horse!

"Said I found us a horse," the gunslinger repeated, as he came over to help the gambler to his feet. Noticing the swollen and squinting eyes he figured the man probably couldn’t see much of anything at all, which was a good thing because he didn’t want to hear him whining and giving smart comments about the horse. Helping Ezra over to the porch of the house, he figured they could mount the animal from that height advantage since neither one of them was in any condition to just jump up on it‘s back.

When Larabee steered him onto the porch of the house he slowly walked by the ’horse’ they would be riding and he couldn’t help but wonder at the creature before him. He knew his eyesight wasn’t the best and it was getting worse as time wore on, but for heaven’s sake, the animal looked older than Noah’s ark! It looked like all it needed was one of those straw hats with the ears cut out on it’s head and…what was that?

"Excuse me Mr. Larabee, but are you quite sure this is a horse? It looks to be…," and he stretched his neck closer and squinted "…chewing a cud?"

"Just get on the damn horse Ezra," the gunslinger growled, gingerly getting onto it’s back. "Come on," he said, holding his hand out to the almost sightless man.

Putting Vin’s boots in the crook of his left elbow he was about to give a hand to Chris when he got sight of the horse’s back, or what could be perceived as a back. It was more like a bowl actually, sort of a dip in the middle, a swayback, was the appropriate moniker.

"Come on, let’s go."

"Mr. Larabee, you can’t possibly expect me to ride on that thing behind you, I mean…it looks as though a pachyderm has sat on it."

"You’d better be sittin’ on it, or it’s leavin’ without you," the man in black spat back at him.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want to ride but he knew if he got aboard behind the man, and given the shape of the creature’s back, he’d be well, he’d be…close…unnaturally close and that bothered him just a little bit. Well, not that he minded being…

"You comin? Or you walkin?" Chris asked again, bringing him out of his thoughts.

"Perhaps I should ride in the front. That way…"

"Ezra, how many fingers can you see?" Chris asked, as he held up one finger.

Craning his neck and squinting at the hand, he was about to answer when the gunslinger hissed out his name.

"Alright. I’m riding," he said, as he gave his right hand to Larabee and together they managed to get him aboard and, as he predicted, he slid forward until he was sitting almost on top of the man. Holding the boots in one arm, he pulled the pistol out of the front of his waistband, which was most uncomfortable at that moment, and held it in his other hand, which left nothing for which to hang on to.

"Ezra, what the hell are ya doin’ back there? Sit still will ya. Damn it to hell anyway. We need to get goin‘."

"Yes, well, I agree. It’s just that between Mr. Tanner’s boots and the pistol I don’t seem to have an extra hand to…" and that’s all the further he got as Chris half turned and took the pistol and the boots from him. He watched as Larabee jammed the pistol, barrel down, in one boot and he then heard the irate man tell him to give him his left arm and when he did, he felt the boot being pushed onto that arm and then the instruction was given again only for the other arm and the boot with the pistol inside was jammed onto his right hand and arm. Then he sat in silence as Larabee grabbed both booted arms and wrapped them around his own waist and then kicked the ‘horse’ and off they went…at a snail’s pace, but they were moving and it beat walking on their own, well, at least, he was pretty sure it did. All he could think of was that he hoped no one saw him in this manner. The indignity of it all. It just wasn’t appropriate for a man of his standing. Oh, he could just cry, he thought, as he leaned against the gunslinger and felt himself mercifully drift off.

+ + + + + + +

Awaken suddenly by the stillness of the horse, his name being called and an elbow to his chest, his instincts kicked in, the right hand came up, the trigger finger tighten and he fired off a shot…only to feel Vin’s boot go flying from his arm, landing god knew where as he and Larabee sat atop their nonplussed, cud-chewing steed.

Not a word came from the man in front of him, and that scared him more than anything he’d ever been up against. Hell, maybe he’d just shot the man for all he knew. Letting his head thunk against Larabee’s back he was, in fact, prepared to die.

+ + + + + + +

Reaching the place where Vin had told them the water was, he’d stopped the horse and tried to get Ezra awake so that they could dismount. Knowing the man had fallen asleep on him, he called his name and when that failed to wake him, he gently prodded him with his elbow, but not in a hundred years was he prepared for what happened next. He’d seen the gambler’s right arm come up and was going to grab it when the gun inside the boot was fired. He watched as a hole was blown in the sole of Vin’s boot and it went sailing though the air landing about 25 feet from them. He was so damn mad he could have spit nails but when he felt the man’s head hit his back and heard him mumble something about never being able to do what was asked of him right, he instead, tempered his temper and decided to hold his tongue. Whatever it was that Ezra felt he had to do, he now felt as though he had botched the whole thing. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly he decided first things first and the first thing was to get them off the horse and get some water.

As they sat near the watering hole each man was lost in his own thoughts; Chris worrying about Vin, hoping his best friend had made it to town and was safe, realizing that once again the Texan had put his own life in danger to save others and Ezra worrying about his letting Vin down, once again. He was going to hate facing the man, knowing he’d failed in keeping his promise to him.

Larabee had brought the damaged boot over to him and as he sat running his fingers over the ruined sole, he could "feel" the gunslinger’s eyes on him.

"Spose you are wondering why I should be so obstinate about getting Vin’s boots back to him?" he asked.

"Yer business, I reckon. Don’t have to explain."

"I feel as though I owe you some explanation, after all that’s happened and...or could have happened," he said, with an attempt at a smirk.

"Your choice," came the curt reply.

"You see," he continued softly, "there was a time when Mr…when Vin came and asked a favor of me. It was of a personal nature and I…well, I made a mockery of what he wished me to do for him." Waving a hand in the air, he said, "the fact that I was inebriated at the time really isn’t an excuse, I should have never talked to him nor made fun of him the way that I did and in the morning when I recalled what had happened, I felt terrible."

Now, being the betting man that he was and the fact he could read people so well, he’d put his life savings on the table knowing instinctively that right now he was on the receiving end of a Larabee’s glare and no doubt the gunslinger’s hands were probably curled into fists. "Believe me, Mr. Larabee when I say that the anger you are directing at me this very moment can never match the loathing I felt for myself, knowing what I had done. And never, not once, since then has Vin ever asked me to do anything for him again--at least not until earlier when he asked me to bring his boots back to him. So you see, Mr. Larabee, it is of the utmost importance to me to do this right…for him…to redeem myself if you will. And now? Now, it seems I have failed him once again. What kind of an idiot shoots a hole in someone’s empty boot, for god’s sake?"

Feeling a presence near him, he squinted at the blob that was in front of him kneeling down to face him.

"Yer right on both counts Ezra. I don’t think much of you right now and you are an idiot."

Even though he was expecting some sort of a reprimand the statement issued nearly stole the breath from him. He had failed miserably. Both with Vin and now with Larabee, who more than likely wanted to rearrange his face, just too bad, he thought with a sick feeling, that there wasn’t much left to rearrange.

Seeing the discolored face pale under the attack of what he‘d said, Chris tried to soften his stance some. Hell, the man was hurting enough, he didn’t need to add more insult to injury. And it seemed as though Vin must have forgiven the conman a long time ago because he’d never sensed a difference between the two men whenever he’d seen them together. But Vin was more forgiving than he was, he knew that for a fact. It’s just that now wasn’t the time nor the place to beat each other up more than they were already. Damn, but it was like Vin was in his head telling him to just let it alone and so he listened and did what the voice said.

Taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly he said, "Look Ezra, it’s water under the bridge. If Vin knew how you were beatin’ yourself up over all of this and almost dyin’ for them damn boots, I think he’d be angrier at you for that, don’t you think? He ain’t dumb, he knows a pair of boots ain’t worth…"

His head snapping up at that statement and fire coming from the slits of green eyes, Ezra hissed out, "I never said he was dumb, Mr. Larabee, and I take umbrage at that statement!" Then settling down, he added, "it’s just that I…I wanted to do this thing right for him, that’s all. I never said he was dumb."

"You have done right by him Ezra," Chris said to him softly, knowing the man had tried to do the right thing, almost burning up in a fire to keep his promise to Vin. Shaking his head slightly, Larabee said, "you know, Shoemacher can fix that boot up just like new and knowing Vin, he’ll wear it like a badge when he realizes what you went through to bring it back alive." He couldn’t help himself, a chuckle snuck out with that last statement and looking at the conman, he saw a grin begin to surface as well.

"Perhaps you are right, Mr. Larabee and all is not lost. Our Mr. Tanner does have some interesting tastes and ideas and you may be correct in assuming that he’d wear it as a badge. I can only hope so."

"Good, now that's settled, let’s get a move on. We need to get through the pass and on our way to Kojay’s."

"Right you are Mr. Larabee. Just guide me over to Elphie and…"


"Well yes, I thought the name befitting an animal that looked like an elephant sat on it and so…"

"Let’s go Ezra, yer makin’ my head hurt," he said, as he helped the gambler to his feet and together they got settled back on 'Elphie.'

"I do hope Vin is by now ensconced in the safe haven of our comrades. You do think he’s alright don’t you, Mr. Larabee?"

"Never a doubt in my mind, " came the quiet reply. We‘re almost there Vin. We’ll all be together again soon.

+ + + + + + +

Rising to his feet from a squatting position and squinting off in the distance, JD called to his companions, "Hey fellas, come take a look at this."

Walking over to where the young sheriff stood, Buck, Nathan and Josiah looked out from atop the hill down to where the young man was pointing.

"What does that look like to you?" he asked.

"Looks like a person," Buck said.

"Running." added Nathan

"Lord, have mercy. I think it’s Vin," exclaimed Josiah.

"Look!" JD shouted. "There’s some men after him."

"Let’s go people," Buck said, as the three men raced to their horses and mounted up.

+ + + + + + +

Damn, but he had almost made it. The fight with the Cherokee had taken precious time away from him and now he was running for his life with the three outlaw men gaining. Running flat out with his shirt flapping at his waist, he headed for a wooded area. If he could only get in there, maybe he’d have a chance. A slim one, but still a chance. He heard shots being fired and assumed now they were close enough to take aim at him. All of a sudden his right leg buckled and he went down hard. Trying to get up, he couldn’t catch his breath, and stumbled back to the ground. He tried again, but the pain in his chest was too much and he fell to his knees. Dammit Tanner get up, get up! he berated himself. For Chris, for Ezra, got to move! Trying once again to get to his feet, he found himself surrounded by horses and men. Pulling the Cherokee’s bowie knife, he gave a growl and lunged at the first man that came at him.

"JD! Get back!" Buck yelled at the kid, who had quickly dismounted to get to his friend. They’d all seen Vin hit the dirt and try valiantly again and again to get up, finally coming to stand but with a wicked looking knife in his hand, which at the moment he was using to defend himself from his own friends.

"Easy Vin, it’s just us," Buck said softly, hands held in the air and using his big body to push JD out of the way. "We’re here to help. Vin? Vin, look at me. It’s Buck Vin, look at me!"

Josiah and Nathan had wisely kept to their mounts not wanting to cause the Texan any more turmoil. But one by one now they began to talk to him, letting him hear their voices and trying to talk him down from his aggressive state. He was definitely in a fight mode, thinking only of survival, his mind tuning everything else out.

Finally his vision clearing and with the sounds of his friend’s voices calling to him, he dropped his knife arm and went to his knees again. Catching him before he hit the ground, Josiah grabbed him and let him down easy.

"How bad is it Nathan?" Buck asked anxiously, as they all gathered around their fallen friend.

"Don’t look too bed, most cuts are superficial, but he’s got some deep bruising on his ribs which ain’t helping’ the breathin’ any," he said, as he removed the shirt that was wrapped around the waist. Maybe one wound needs some stitchin’ but that’d be all."

"Why’d he go down like that?" JD asked. "Did he get shot?"

" He did hit the ground mighty hard. See any bullet wounds or blood?" Josiah asked, as he held Vin’s head in his lap.

"Nope, no bullet wounds, but let me see here," Nathan said, as his expert hands roamed the injured man’s body. Touching a spot on his right lower back drew a low moan from the ex-bounty hunter. The healer opened Vin’s pants a little and had Josiah turn him on his side. There they all could see the deep purple bruise on his back that no doubt had caused him to collapse. "Just couldn’t take the poundin’ any more I ’spect and it knocked him down."

"Better than a bullet," Buck mused, knowing they were all thinking the same thing.

"What do you think happened to Chris and Ezra?" asked JD.

"We’ll find out when he comes around I’m sure," said Josiah. "But for now, we’d better make him comfortable. Poor man has given his all."

"Yeah, ain’t lookin’ forward to seein’ what’s inside them moccasins either," said Nathan. "I just have a feelin’…"

"Why ya think he ain’t got his own boots on and how’d he get the moccasins and knife? Do ya…?"

"JD!" Buck exclaimed, near the end of his rope. "Quit with the questions will ya? "We’ll know the answers when he wakes up. Now how about you and I go check out them dead men and see if we can figure out who they are huh?" He had to get the kid away from Nathan and Josiah before one of them lost their temper tryin’ to answer all his questions. Besides, then the two men could take care of their friend and he and JD would have something to occupy their time till Tanner woke up.

"I hope he wakes up soon Buck so we know what happened to Chris and Ezra."

"Me too kid, me too."

+ + + + + + +

Returning to where Vin lay resting, Buck informed the other two that the men they’d shot and killed were brothers to the man they had in jail. That raised a lot of speculation as to why Vin was running in the direction of Four Corners--maybe to get help, maybe to warn them, maybe just to try and get to safety. But for whatever reason the men were glad they were out on the trail looking for their late comrades. They had all decided that after the close call with almost losing Chris at Jericho, no more were they going to wait days before looking for a delayed parner, unless a wire had come in specifically stating they were going to be late. Now, if a man was two days late in returning, some or all would go looking. If it seemed foolish meeting their friend just coming into town, so be it. They weren’t going to take any more chances like before. They all meant too much to each other to take it all for granted anymore and that’s precisely the reason they’d been out on the road this morning and to a man, they were very glad they were. Vin would have never made it--oh, he would have put up a damn good fight, maybe even taking one or two down, but eventually they’d a just shot him or tortured him.

As they all sat around with their thoughts, Vin slowly became aware that he was laying down on a blanket and that he was feeling somewhat better. Glancing around with just his eyes he saw his friends all sitting around quietly--no doubt waiting for him to wake up. Trying to do just that, he blinked a few more times and then tried to sit up. Damn, but he was sore. He knew he must have made a noise because suddenly all four men came at him.

"Easy Vin, just take it easy," Nathan said to him. "Here have some water. Drink it slow now."

After taking his drink, the tracker tried to get up again only to have three sets of hands push him back down.

"Hav’ta get ta Chris and Ez. Tole ’em I’d come fer ’em…we’d come fer ’em."

Well, at least with that statement, the peacekeepers knew the other two men were alive.

"Vin, give yourself just a few more minutes. We…"

"Ain’t got a few more minutes, need to get them now. Let’s go, we’re wastin’ daylight," he said, as he squinted up into the sky, checking on the sun’s location. Putting out his hands, his friends helped him to his feet, which were swollen and tender, he could hardly stand on them. "Damn."

"I know Vin. Yer feet are a mess, don’t know how ya got so far on them like they is.

"How far you reckon you’ve come son?"

"A few miles. Other side of the ridge," he said, as he jerked his head to the small mountain to the west.

The men all glanced at one another. A few miles?

"Over on the other side of that mountain," Buck said, using his hand as an indicator.

"Yep. Old farm there. Kept us in a barn. There’s three more outlaws watchin’ ’em. They might still be there, but if not, then they’s headed to Kojay’s. So we need to check that old homestead first," Vin said, as he made a few tentative steps toward the horses.

Once again the men glanced to one another, shook their heads in amazement and got ready to leave. They were surely blessed the day a man named Tanner said "reckon I could stay" to Judge Orrin Travis and thereby sealing a pact of seven extraordinary men keeping peace within a wilderness territory.

"You are sure somethin’ Vin, comin’ all this way on foot," JD marveled, as he watched Vin climb aboard Josiah’s big gelding.

"I’s a ‘wonderment’," the ex-bounty hunter stated, as Josiah mounted behind him.

"That you are Vin, that you are," Josiah said to the grinning man, turning his horse to the west, while the rest looked to each other and mouthed the word ‘wonderment’, giving shakes of heads and shrugges of shoulders. Had to be an Ezra thing they all figured. Had to be.

+ + + + + + +

It was late afternoon by the time they’d reached the old farmstead. Seeing that the old barn was burnt to the ground and two charred bodies found, made the men nervous, skeptical and very quiet. But it was Vin’s optimism and diligence that kept their minds on track, the man’s profound belief in knowing Chris was alive, buoyed their spirits. When the Texan found boot tracks that he knew were the gunslinger’s and hoof prints of one horse with two riders headed toward Twin Rock, the place he’d told the men to head, then there was no doubt in their minds that the two men were still alive. Vin’s stamina had them all in awe, his mind only on retrieving his friends, they once again mounted their horses and followed his lead.

Nathan kept an eye on the tracker, but found no fever or ill effects of what he’d been through. He was sure the man would sleep a good couple of days when this was all over and he’d have to stay off his feet in order for them to heal, but to look at him now, other than the bruises that showed and the bandages his feet were wrapped in, he looked almost normal. It just amazed him what Vin could go through and then bounce back. The tracker had told him one other time when he’d been hurt and had recovered in record time that he’d send his mind off to a favorite place, where it was calm and there was no pain and then make himself believe that’s where he was and it just seemed to help him he’d said. The mind was a powerful tool Nathan knew, and if no one believed it, all they had to do was look at Tanner. He was living proof.

They found the watering hole that their two friends had stopped at and by looking at the tracks, Vin found both men were still upright and able. But judging by the scuffle marks where they’d mounted their horse, he could tell it took them a few times until they got aboard. No doubt the injured men were going on empty just as he was but they were headed straight to where they were suppose to be. He was sure that by now they were already welcomed into Kojay’s camp and were being well taken care of.

Mounting up again, the peacekeepers headed through the pass and on to the Indian camp.

+ + + + + + +

Refusing to be kept indoors, Chris and Ezra sat outside, keeping an eye out on the horizon for their friend or friends, whichever. Larabee was getting anxious thinking that Vin should have been there by now if everything had gone alright. Kojay had sent out a couple of scouts along with Chanu, his son, looking for either friend or foe, his spirits telling him that things were in balance and as they should be. But getting the two visitors to believe in his spirits was another thing. The man named Chris seemed to understand and acknowledge what he was saying but the other was a mystery to him. There was something about the auroa surrounding the man that could be conceived as being sinister, although he didn’t come off that way. He was a puzzlement that was for sure.

When his scouting braves had brought the two men in earlier, he had recognized them right away as men from the settlement who had helped them though a difficult time a while back and although both were in need of medicines they had refused to stay inside his lodges, telling him that Vin Tanner was coming for them and possibly the rest of their friends also. So he and the medicine man had cleaned them up taking care of their wounds and kept cold water and rags handy for the one man’s swollen eyes. Even though the mystery man couldn’t see a thing through his two blackened eyes he was not going to be denied sitting outside and keeping viligence along with the man who dressed in black. And so they sat and waited, one man taking a rest while the other kept watch, so to speak, the blackened eyed man listening intently to all sounds, the other seeming to trust his non-seeing friend to alert him to the coming of their friends.

Chanu had wished to ride right away to find his friend when he'd heard it was Vin Tanner that was in trouble and he'd let him go but told him to take a couple other braves along just in case the outlaws were following his friend or causing him harm. It had been a couple of hours now and still there was no sign of them.

The children were entertaining themselves with the animal the men had ridden in on. The injured peacekeepers had been oblivious to the hoots and snickering the braves had done after they dismounted the animal and the Indians got a good look at the back of the horse up close. However, right now, there were five children clinging to it’s back all pushed together in the center dip, the creature seeming not to care, but enjoying all the attention. Interesting that these men should arrive on such an animal. He was sure there was a story behind it just as he was sure there was one behind the mystery man and his obsession with a pair of boots, one of which was almost ruined, having a big hole in the bottom of it. Perhaps he’d be there when the tales were spun, he hoped so, for although he counted these men among his friends, the white men had some strange ways about them.

+ + + + + + +

A few miles past the pass, the peacekeepers met up with Chanu and some braves, the chief’s son filling them in on what had happened earlier in the day when their two friends had been found riding toward their encampment. There were snickers coming from the two braves with Chanu and Vin picked up the words ’horse’ and ’boots’ but had no idea what they were laughing at and at this point he didn’t care. He just wanted to be with his friends and have this day finally end.

Following behind the Indians, Josiah mouthed a silent thank you to his God as he felt his companion relax for the first time in hours. He too, felt some of the tension ease away and was anxious to get back together with his friends and he knew they all had the same sentiments. Once again the fates had kept the men alive and seven strong.

+ + + + + + +

Arriving at Kojay’s camp just before sundown, the men were reunited. There was laughter, the shaking of hands, pats on the back and a general all around feeling of camaraderie that had been missed for a few days and feared would never happen again.

Ezra had presented Vin with his boots, telling him he’d kept his promise to bring them for him and had nearly expired in doing so, relating the story of the burning barn and how he had to find them in the darkened, smokey, fire encased building and he hoped the Texan appreciated all he’d gone through to bring them with him.

"I do ’preciate all ya went through Ez, but they’s one here that’s got a big hole in it. How’m I ’spose to wear that?"

"Ah yes, well, there was an…ah…unfortunate accident, wouldn’t you say Mr. Larabee?" he said, looking in the general vicinity where he knew the man to be.

"It was an accident Vin, trust me," the man in black said, giving his best friend a wide grin and a look that said he’d tell him all about it later.

"I believe Mr. Shoemacher will be able to repair the damage and I insist that you allow me to pay for the expenditure," Ezra continued, after Chris’ confirmation.

Vin was about to protest but seeing a slight "no" head movement from Larabee, he thought better of it.

"Reckon if it’ll make ya happy Ez, then that’ll be fine by me."

"Good, then that’s settled," the gambler said, breathing a sigh of relief in the fact that the tracker was not angry with him and would allow him to do this atonement. The thought pleased him immensely and for some reason he felt as though a huge weight had been lifted finally, from not only his shoulders but from his soul as well. It was a refreshing feeling and he found himself smiling even if he couldn’t see the expressions on his friends faces.

More stories were passed back and forth; how Ezra got his other black eye, how they escaped from the burning building, how Vin had managed to run all that way without footwear, how he had to take out the Cherokee tracker and how he had found, or rather how the others had found him. Some of the Indian braves who understood English joined in to hear the stories and spoke of the bravery of these white men.

After the stories and laughter died down, the men were getting ready to lay down when Chanu came walking toward their group leading, of all things, ‘Elphie‘. He couldn’t help himself, he just had to hear the story of this sorry looking horse that no respectable Indian would be caught dead with.

What started off as snickers became chuckles and then became downright eye wiping, waist bending, breath stealing laughter as the men looked over what Ezra affectionately called "Elphie" for the obvious reasons he stated. They just couldn’t believe their fearless leader had sat atop something so pathetic as this and had actually gotten to where he was going.

"Oh…stud," Buck said, wiping at his eyes. "I wish I’d a been here to see you ride this steed. Hope she didn’t give you two boys a hard time."

"I can’t wait to get her back to town," JD said, as he ran his hand down her bowl-like back. "Nobody is gonna believe this."

"She is not going to town," Ezra stated, emphatically.

"She’s not? But why?" JD voiced the question everyone wanted to ask.

"I will not have her made fun of and be the laughing stock, no pun intended, of the whole livery. Besides, the children of this encampment seem to have taken a profound liking to her so I believe it in her best interests to remain here with these people," Ezra finished his statement with a sniff of dignity. "However, I do realize that Mr. Larabee has as much say in this as I do, so perhaps he has an opinion on the subject. Mr. Larabee?" Ezra called, looking for a black blob that would be Chris.

"Whatever you want, Ezra, sounds fine ta me," the gunslinger said, as he got up and limped a little ways away from the men and sat down on a boulder, looking out onto the vast land before him. Hearing someone approach, he glanced to his left and watched as his best friend gingerly sat down on the ground next to him, leaning his head back against the boulder and closing his eyes.

"You alright Vin?" he asked softly, taking the cheroot from his lips.

"Reckon so. Jest a mite tired."

"That might be the understatement of the year right about now. How them feet of yours feelin’?"

"Like they ran twenty miles of hard road. Ain’t in shape like I used ta be."

"Ain’t none of us like we used ta be," Chris said, as he rolled the cheroot around in his fingertips, pondering on that thought.

"Ain’t that the truth." Vin agreed.

Then squinting up at Larabee, Vin asked, "Ezra really almost die tryin’ to save my boots?"

"Yeah, he did Vin. Fool wouldn’t come out till he had them both. Could have shot him myself for that stunt."

"Dang fool thing ta do, don’t make no sense, not it bein’ Ezra and all."

"Said he owed ya. Said he made a promise and he was gonna keep it. Said he needed ta redeem himself from somethin' that happened before between the two of you. Know anythin' about that?" Chris asked, looking down at the Texan.

"Don’t rightly know cowboy," Vin answered, shrugging his shoulder, "but reckon maybe I should find out. Sure couldn’t have been somethin' as bad as almost dyin' tryin' to save a pair of ol’ boots. We get back ta town and he starts pourin’ out that fancy liquor of his, I’ll get ta the bottom of it," he said, with a cocky grin.

Chris laughed and said, "Now, that’s somethin’ I don’t wanna miss. What say we go back and get some rest? Be daylight fore we know it." Standing up, he offered his good hand to the tracker and helped him stand, steadied him and then the two headed back to their friends.

Watching as the two men made their way slowly back to the group and running a glance over the rest of the men Josiah shook his head, gave a word of thanks and decided that indeed, it was good to be seven strong again.


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