DISCLAIMER: I wish they were mine, but "The Magnificent Seven" belong to CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment Group and The Mirisch Corp. This is a work of fanfiction and it is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights

AUTHOR'S NOTE: It’s my first attempt! Don’t be too strict or rude ……please! English is not my mother tongue....

SPECIAL THANKS: I have not enough words to thank my dear friend LAURIE for the BIG help and DIANE too, my VERY patient American English Teacher and close friend ... a most grateful thanks to ROSY!

Where the sun shines continually, they will appear!
They will appear – may you behold them!
They will appear – may you behold them!
The horse nation of the west will appear
A thunder-being nation will appear.
They will appear, behold!
They will appear, behold!

"The Horse Dance"
from Black Elk Speaks
by John Neihardt

"I'll be safe here," muttered Vin Tanner as he collapsed on the floor of the narrow, hidden cave. The rain had soaked him from head to toe, causing him to shiver hard under his tattered shirt, stained with mud and blood.

I'm cold...need a fire..., he thought, lowering his head with great effort. With soggy locks of hair covering his eyes, he cursed between his teeth as he made a weak attempt to sit up against the wall of the cave. A sharp pain along his injured body left him out of breath, forcing him to lie flat on his aching back.

The men who were chasing him were good, probably trained by Indians, so when the tempest had settled, he freed Peso, sliding out of his saddle to make his way through the thick forest to the hidden cave he had discovered about a week ago during a patrol up in the woods.

Chris is gonna me.... I'm four days late... Shutting his heavy eyes, he could see in his mind the tall gunfighter near the stables in Four Corners, pacing around with his usual stride, looking at the gloomy sky. Vin imagined he could smell the smoke of Chris' cheroot. He smiled at the image, but suddenly the pain startled him again like an icy blade, and he passed out with a low, anguished moan.

When he regained consciousness, the rain was falling harder and the thunder echoed in the hills. Vin then heard a well-known noise; a horse approaching the entrance. In the flash of a lightning strike, he could see a powerful frame, the long mane waving in the wind.

"Peso?" said Vin in a low whisper

The horse snorted, then turned a little. His head was all black, with shining, bloodshot eyes that met Vin's: a wild horse. Vin froze looking at him.

Reckon he's gonna kill me.... I've stolen his shelter and I can't fight him back. I can’t win, the young man thought desperately. He tried to stand, but an overwhelming tide of pain scattered across his lean body. Vin gasped, the blood oozing freely from the wounds, and darkness claimed him again.

His bared teeth glistening in the dim light, the wild horse faltered near the sandy brown head laying on the ground, nuzzling at the bloody chest of the fallen man. A wisp of wind entered the cave as a grey mist engulfed the mighty shape....

And he was gone.

Wind and rain whipped through the hills with a roar, followed by a strange silence. The storm was fading away.

+ + + + + + +

"Chris, come on in. What are ya doin’ out there in the rain?" hollered a very happy Buck Wilmington.

"I have to find Vin. He's four days late."

"Aw hell, Chris..., he can take care of himself. He's a full grown man, not some kid, and the best damn tracker I've ever laid eyes on too." Buck smiled broadly and slapped his old friend on the back. "C'mon and have a drink with me. I'm buying. I want to make a toast to a sweet brunette who just came in from San Francisco. Have you seen her?" The ladies' man shivered excitedly. "O-o-o-o-o.....I'm burning up...thinking about that pretty gal!"

"Leave me alone, Buck," Chris Larabee grumbled when he felt his friend's arm on his shoulder, trying to guide him to the saloon. "I can feel it...something's wrong."

"What are ya goin’ to do then?"

"I'm gonna find him."

"It rainin’ hard, maybe he found some shelter for the night, or maybe he met some friends, or...."

"...A bounty hunter?" Chris finished tersely. "Get away from me, Buck!"

"Calm yerself down, Chris. We best be makin’ some plans at least and get the others."

Two green eyes glared at the ladies' man. "I'm going’ after him." With a last nod, Chris turned and walked towards the livery.

Buck shook his head, approaching the batwing doors, and entered the saloon. Eyeing JD Dunne and Josiah Sanchez in the corner of the building, he joined them.

"What's wrong Brother?" Josiah asked, seeing the look of concern on Buck's face. "Where's Chris?"

"That stubborn ….pigheaded man's gone after Vin, Preacher. Pour me out a drink, it done made my throat sore tryin’ to talk some sense into him, but I guess there is no use speakin’ to him when he's this riled up."

Meanwhile Ezra Standish had made his way to his friends, a stunned look on his face. "Gentlemen, do you see that man at my table?" he asked, nodding towards a huge, unkempt fellow sitting at the poker table. "He was in Purgatorio last week and Cletus Fowler was there hiring guns. Also with him was a beautiful, dark haired lady."

"Ella?" JD cried out.

"That has to be her, no doubt about it," Buck agreed.

"I’m going find out some other details...with some help of course," the gambler smirked, grabbing a bottle from the shelf. "Very special reserve, you see," he added with a knowing smile.

Half an hour later he sat down with his friends, his efforts rewarded. "They made camp, over at the old mine. Twelve men and the woman."

"We'll meet at the barn, boys. Chris is goin’ need some help!" Buck stated, rising abruptly from his seat.

+ + + + + + +

Vin re-opened his eyes, feeling the coldness of his damp clothes and the intense pain gripping his weakening body. Thick mists swirled around the cave with a strange, bluish light appearing ahead. Many voices whispered and called to him from the heart of the light. Without warning, a dazzling brilliance enveloped the young tracker. It was then he saw the horse reappear, but this time it was not an animal standing before him.

A black mane grew from the head of a human figure who came towards Vin, two snakes curled around his shoulders, his body painted all black with blue lightning stripes down his arms and legs.

"Do you fear me, Boy?" demanded the figure. "I am your destiny."

"Why should I fear you?" replied Vin sharply. "You're just a man." Burning eyes bored into him.

"I tell you I am your destiny and you betray me?"

"You're insane!" Vin gasped as he tried to stand up, but found he couldn't move. Something held him transfixed, the figure moving closer.

"Insane?" the man whispered. " a wild horse. You cannot escape."

Strong fingers clutched at Vin's ragged shoulders and he struggled to tear himself free, but he was too weak.

"Look at me!" commanded the apparition fiercely.

Try as he might, Vin could not avoid the powerful eyes. They seemed to grow larger until they became merged, becoming a black and bottomless lake into which he was falling. The lake melted away, replaced by a jumble of images that appeared before him. He saw his mother's pale features on her death bed..., an old Indian, his face covered in blood..., a man in black robes offering him a rifle..., six men standing beside him.... Then suddenly he was back in the cave, sobbing for breath like a hunted animal in pain and in a panic from something he did not understand.

Vin reached for the little leather bag hung around his neck. "Go away! Evil Spirit go away!" The brutal features softened, the sharp glare turned into a green and caring one.

"Vin, wake up. It's me, Chris."

The tracker felt a reassuring hand on his feverish forehead, a strong arm encircling his shivering shoulders.

"Chris? How did you find this place?" Vin asked hoarsely.

"I'm not a tracker, but my memory works."

"We have to get outta o’ here...there was a horse...he's dangerous," Vin moaned softly, trying to get up again.

"Don't move," Chris ordered, pinning the thrashing man to the ground with his weight .

"That man...with a mane. damn!...he was right here.... Where is he?" the tracker's blurred vision scanned the cave.

"Take it easy," Chris soothed. "It was a nightmare, probably caused by your fever. C'mon, let me help you." He lifted the slim body in the cradle of his arms and lowered his burden carefully on his bedroll. Dizzy from blood loss and exhaustion, the younger man lay quietly, mastering his breathing.

Chris quickly stripped his friend from the damp remains of his shirt, checking for injuries. Vin had been burned and cut, his face and exposed, blackened chest were bloody and raw in places, but nothing seemed to be broken. The gunfighter started to clean him up with a wet cloth, taking great care. Vin tried vainly to rise, but Chris gently pushed him back down.

Clasping Chris' forearm, looked intently at him, Vin said, "That damn.. woman is still alive...."

"What the hell are you talkin’ about?"

"Ella," the tracker replied. "Her men captured me after I failed to shoot her. I was such a fool... The bastards took me...." Vin licked at his dry lips before trying to continue. "I remember there was smoke...thick smoke, voices talking...and blood...."

"Stay put, Pard," Chris said, attempting to still Vin's agitated movements. "You're hurt."

"Hell, Chris, we gotta go! You're in danger, she's after you." Pausing, Vin closed his eyes as another pulse of pain lanced through his whole body. He had to tell his friend .It was important, even if it was painfully clear that he was struggling hard to remain conscious.

"You already lost enough blood, Vin, lie still," Chris pleaded, anxiety giving a harsh edge to his voice "Don't worry about her, just close your eyes and rest. I'll take good care of you." The gunslinger placed his arm around his friend's shoulders to support him. In the faint light he could see Vin's face was gaunt and his eyes glittered with fever.

"Don’t need no fussin’. We have to leave," persisted Vin,."She'll kill you." With slender, outstretched fingers he clawed the air hopelessly, seconds later falling limp into Chris' arms.

Shaking his head sadly, Chris lowered the unconscious man to the floor and tucked a blanket around him. After making a fire from twigs and pieces of wood he found in and around the cave, Chris went to a nearby stream for some fresh water.

The cave fell silent, until a noise awoke Vin. It was only a faint rustle from somewhere in the darkness, but it caused him to look up alertly, listening for something further. There beside him was the strange figure, glowing like a ghostly apparition as he walked from the inner part of the cave. But this time he appeared as a man, a tall, strong warrior with a fierce, black glare.

"Who are you?" Vin asked.

"When the Horse possesses me, I am the Horse," the man answered. "Look at me, Boy. I was sent to you by someone who called me, and I rose from the undiscovered border of time. I am the Horse, the strength, the power of the tribe, and you belong to us. Dark forces are fighting against you."

"You're no spirit, ain't no ghost neither..., get away from me!" Vin cried as he searched for his gun. "Go away or I'll shoot you."

The warrior smiled at him. "Trust me, for your sake and your life." His eyes had a strange but gentle look. "I care what happens to you. You are the chosen one, born of the wind. Inside you dwells the spirit of the wolf. We need you and we will protect you."

"What the hell do you want from me?" Vin shouted as he stared hard at the man. Soon his vision blurred and he felt himself flying high above the earth. The clouds parted and he saw a black horse standing against the sky. With a flash the vision passed and for a moment he was in an open prairie, the wind blowing in his hair. In front of him was his Indian grandfather, and Vin approached, holding out an old rifle to him.

"I failed, Father, and I'm ashamed of it. I have to give you back your rifle for I'm not worthy of it," he whispered, tears filling his eyes.

The old Indian raised his hand in the air, rejecting the offer. "I gave it long ago to a defiant blue-eyed warrior, and it will be yours forever along with the gifts in it...your sight, and your skills. She has stolen your confidence, your valor . This dark woman is pure evil, my Son, it is not your fault. Listen to me...the Horse is with you, six hearts beat with yours, six strong hands are holding your soul, and you'll have all you’ve lost back. You will have your vengeance”

Vin opened his eyes to find he was back in the cave, with Chris bent down near his side.

"How do you feel ?" asked Chris

"I'm fine."

"Of course. You're always fine, aren't you?" the gunfighter mocked as he stood up. "I'll fix us some supper." He moved several steps away from Vin, collecting supplies and more firewood. A slight movement just outside the cave caught his attention. "What?" Chris muttered, approaching the opening. A gun held squarely to his chest was the abrupt answer.

"Drop the gun, Larabee!" the familiar voice commanded.

Three other men came up behind their leader, rushing over to subdue Chris. They bound his hands behind his back before blindfolding the irate gunfighter. He could hear Vin hissing in pain as they turned their attention to the fallen man.

"Leave him alone!"

"Shut up, Larabee, or I'll shoot your little friend right now," Cletus Fowler growled. "You were a fool to come looking for your friend. You knew what would happen to you if I found you again!"

"How'd the hell you escape that fire, Fowler?" Chris demanded, his mind going back to the barn fire he thought sure had killed the hired gun.

The cold hearted man only smiled. "Take them to the horses."

Unseen hands shoved Chris to one of the waiting horses. Behind him he could hear Vin struggling and being overpowered. Both friends were quickly placed up on horses..

"Let's hurry! Our sweet Lady is waiting," laughed Fowler.

+ + + + + + +

The sun had risen for another day when the group of men finally stopped. Roughly lifting Chris off the horse, the men led him through a doorway, and then down a flight of stairs. He could feel and smell the dampness in the air. Without warning, he was released and he fell dazed and battered to the stone floor. Still bound and blindfolded, he could only hear the door close, sounds of clanging metal telling him the door was barred and locked. Footsteps faded into the distance, and all was quiet in the prison except Vin's shallow breathing.

"Vin? Are you with me, Vin? Vin!" Chris shouted, a rising panic building in his chest. The only answer was the tracker's muffled breathing. Frantically working at the ropes at his wrists, Chris was able to maneuver the knots free, and immediately removed his blindfold. Thankfully the ropes had not been secured tightly, probably because his captors knew he couldn't escape the prison.

Adjusting his eyes to the dim light coming from a tiny, barred window, Chris could see his best friend hanging from shackles that were attached to a ring in the ceiling. The gunfighter stood up and undid the blindfold covering Vin's eyes.

Vin was conscious, rivulets of sweat running from his unruly locks. He looked at his friend with large, remorseful eyes. "Damn ..I warned you, Cowboy," he said, the slow drawl more pronounced in his weakened state.

"Don't you even try to tell me you're fine now," Chris replied in an attempt at humor.

"Reckon...I...won't," murmured Vin with a faint hint of a smile.

Studying the manacles at Vin's wrists, Chris shook his head in defeat. "There's no way to get them off you, Vin. I'm sorry...."

"You don't...," Vin's voice faltered "Water...please...."

Chris was grateful someone had left a canteen behind, and he helped the younger man to drink, wincing at the painful intake of air when the tracker tried to shift his body. "How'd the hell did you get messed up with this bunch?"

"I met up with an old friend last week in Eagle Bend, and he was tellin’ me ‘bout this woman and a group of thugs she had just hired. From his description, I knew it had to be Ella, so I went to Purgatorio to see if it was." Vin stopped his tale, trying to calm his labored breathing before continuing. "I had her in my sights, Chris... and was aiming my gun straight for her heart, when Peso lost his footing. I was on this slippery road that was off a large group of rocks. Fell into the river below, and her men found me and took me to their camp near the old mine."

"How long?"

"Don't remember much...'cept it was always dark, and they had me tied up the whole time. The beatings started after the first day, when they came to feed me." The young man's pale face became flushed at the next memory. "Ella was always there...watching me...touching me...shamelessly...." Vin lowered his gaze, her invading hands on his helpless flesh roaring back into his thoughts. His mouth trembled in anger and shame at her audacious fondling.

"Unworthy bitch!" Chris muttered through clenched teeth. The icy, green glare softened when he focused back on Vin's face. "How did you escape them?"

"Because of a fire." Vin took a few sips of water that Chris offered him. The cool liquid eased his constricted throat and he finished his tale. "There was a little shack near the mine and they took me there to be punished on Ella's orders. It was stormin’ bad and a lightning strike started a fire. Course they all go runnin’ off and leave me behind, but I was able to make my escape...."

Abruptly the door burst open, announcing the arrival of Ella Gaines and her henchmen. The cold-blooded murderess sauntered up to her chained prisoner, her eyes raking over his body lustfully. The hired thugs busied themselves with holding Chris immobile.

"Well, well," Ella said with brisk cheerfulness, "here's my handsome wild man!" She approached her captive and slowly wiped the sweat off Vin's bare chest with a dainty handkerchief.

Vin looked hard at her, recoiling from her touch. "Get your filthy hands off me," he growled.

Ella hit the tracker across the face, her face calm and without rancor

"Stop hurtin’him, Ella!" cried Chris. "It's me you want!"

"Sometimes I'm not so sure of that, my love," the femme fatale taunted with a smile. Her expert hands moved upon Vin's square jaw, holding his chin in place while she kissed him.

The young tracker stiffened and blushed, trying to avoid the contact, but one of the men grabbed him by his long hair in back, and forced his head up. Ella caressed the fine features, her fingers lingering on the soft lips. She gave a small sigh before removing her hands.

"You are so adorable with your sweet blushes, but for Chris' sake, you must die. I'm sure you agree with me. He is, after all, your closest friend, isn't he? With you around, I won't be able to make a choice."

"Bitch! Leave him alone!" Chris hollered, twisting in the larger men's grips.

Ella laughed out loud. "See Tanner? Chris is going to be jealous of you, so you have to die." She turned to her men and ordered, "Take them to the barn."

+ + + + + + +

The two captives were led to the nearby livery. Chris was tied to a fence post at the entrance while Vin was dragged into the middle of the corral. Even though he was barely able to stand, he stared defiantly at the men who were tying his wrists in front of him.

This caused Ella to smile and she pointed to some of her men. "Bring the black devil out here!" She turned her gaze to Chris. "I'm going to let your friend leave, and go to the place he belongs...the prairie."

"Damnit you bitch!" Chris yelled "You do anything to him …”

Ella threw her head back and laughed loudly. "Chris, I love you so fired up. Ttonight our passion will be an exquisite one, I’m sure.” She cuddled up to the gunman, her hands raking over his body. "We’ll get rid of that little savage and you will be mine and only mine"

"Never!" growled Chris. "I’ll rip you to pieces with my bare hands. Leave him be, dammit!" He fought the bonds at his wrists but the huge man near him hit him hard, and he hissed in pain .

"I’m going to do it, Chris, your desires are orders to me … look "

Four men struggled to bring a wild, black stallion. The magnificent horse's nostrils flared as he snorted and bucked in battle.

"We found him up in the hills after the storm. He's beautiful, don't you think so?" Ella explained to Chris, ignoring the threats the gunman aimed her way. "A little dangerous, but perfect for my goal. I'll tie the end of the rope holding your friend's hands to the horse, and I set them both free. Your friend will be in death."

Chris cursed under his breath, the blood chilling in his veins at the sight. He was helpless to stop Ella from murdering someone else he dared care about . His eyes searched out his friend's,Vin’s blue pools stared back at him as on that first day in the dusty street of Four Corner, telling him that no matter what happened next, there was no blame or regret.

The young, proud tracker did not flinch and did not utter a sound . He held his curly head up, the setting of his slender shoulders spoke of strength and challenge, and Chris saw his lips move silently, forming a name …. his name.

After Vin gave a small nod Chris was unable to see clearly the lean figure before him. His eyes were blurred by tears.

The mighty horse fought against the ropes and the men who held them, breaking free of their grasp. Turning, the animal looked Vin straight in the eyes before its thundering hooves advanced in Ella's direction. The woman could only scream in terror as the wild horse trampled over her body, galloping away with the wind tugging hard at his black mane.

Fowler leaned over the prone woman lying in the dirt, searching desperately for a pulse. "She's dead," he groaned, and reached for his gun. He aimed it at Chris' head. "This is your fault, Larabee!" he yelled.

With a blood curdling whoop, Vin launched himself at the man, taking Fowler off balance, and crashing him to the ground. The effort was too much for Vin's weakened body, and he fell into an unconscious heap.

Managing to rise, Fowler pointed the barrel of his gun at the fallen man's chest.

"Vin!" screamed Chris in horror , watching his friend. He tried frantically to free himself.

A shot echoed in the air, and the killer looked down at his bloody chest in shock before falling dead.

"Howdy Boys," Buck's mocking voice boomed. "Drop your guns real nice." Ella's men looked around them in dismay as four more riders approached.

"Hurry up! Untie me!" Chris demanded of his friend, anxious to get to Vin.

Nathan rushed to Vin's unmoving body, reaching for the exposed throat. He gave a large sigh of relief. "He's alive!"

Chris bolted towards his friend and hugged the wounded body tightly against him. "You are safe now ..Brother,” he whispered.

In the distance over the hills, the black stallion was standing in the full light of the sun, looking down at the six men gathered protectively around their rescued friend.

A horse nation all over the universe
Neighing, they come!
Prancing,they come!
May you behold them”

"The Horse Dance"
from Black Elk Speaks
- John Neihardt


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