Main Characters: Young Ezra, All Seven
Type of Story: Gen Fic
Universe: Alternate Civil War
Summary: Two slaves survive the destruction of the South.
Disclaimers: This is fan fiction. No profit involved. It is 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. This is part of a series in an AU called After The Peace'.
Author's Note: This one is for all the ones (that includes Twyla Jane) who like my stories. Keep the feed back coming.
Webmaster Note: This is a work in progress, to be continued.
The carriage rocked back and forth on the road to Rock Ridge. It bounced over the rough terrain jostling the three passengers inside. The two on top would periodically grab the side rails to hold on. Three horses were on lead ropes trailing the back of the coach. Four riders were at different points around the swaying stagecoach. Josiah Sanchez had taken over as the shotgun so the soldier appointed to that post could join his troop to go back to the fort. The driver kept up a running conversation only occasionally stopping to spit the juice from his tobacco chaw over the side. The driver had worked for the Judge for four years now and was glad to impart all he knew. It got lonely up top when you would drive all day, so he was making up for lost time. Josiah patiently listened to the talkative man interjecting questions and comments whenever he could.
Nathan and Ezra were riding inside with Judge Orrin Travis. Chris and Vin were riding point for the stage while Buck with JD was bringing up the rear. The group had left the ambush site earlier after preparations were made. Chris had negotiated with the Judge for a dollar a day as their pay while also providing room and board on the road. Ezra, of course, had protested the mere pittance and again offered to parley on their behalf. Several nos echoed while JD asked what did pittance mean? After the bedrolls, extra gear, saddles where stored on top, they were on the way to Rock Ridge. Nathans medicines and a few blankets were kept close to him inside the stagecoach. Two water canteens with a saddle bag of food were at hand also.
Ezra had grown bored after traveling for three hours. He would rather be riding on his horse, Brandy, then sitting in this stuffy carriage. But the others had insisted that he ride inside with Nathan and the Judge. He had studied the older man as they traveled. His little mind had quickly put together that the man was well off if he could afford to pay for their services. He anticipated earning some money himself when he offered to play cards with Judge Travis to past away the time. Nathan had put a stop to that when he said not for money. The expression of shock on the face of Travis nearly caused Ezra to lose his self control but he managed not to laugh. The esteemed judge had studied him after that for awhile. Ezra ignored it. But now he was bored, bored, bored. He didnt even have a book to read as they were out on top with Josiah. Turning to his guardian, Ezra asked, Do you think will stop soon, Mr. Jackson?
Looking outside, Nathan replied, Yeah, it getting dark. Im sure well camp soon. Why?
No reason. Just curious. Could I impose on you for a favor? inquired Ezra.
What favor? questioned a leery Nathan. You had to watch out when doing favors for Ezra or getting them from him.
Would you help me to remember to get my book when we travel again?
Your book? You like to read? inquired Judge Travis as he looked at the small boy. He didnt know what to think of this child. He seemed so proper in speech yet had asked him to play cards. The reaction of the black man, Nathan Jackson, had the Judge wondering about the boy. Now he had an opening to ask some questions. It was not uncommon for children to be orphaned or abandoned at this time. The war had made many changes in families. He wondered if Nathan had been the boys guardian slave and still had the job.
Yes, whenever I can. My library is not that big yet, but Im working on expanding it. The problem is that now, literature is very expensive. The paper you know. replied Ezra. Maybe they could talk about books. Being that youre a judge, sir, do you have an extensive selection?
At home I have, besides my law books, several classics and books of poems. Have you every read any Shakespearian works? inquired Judge Travis.
Only one, it was the play Much Ado about Nothing. Mother gave it to me to teach me about subterfuges. I found it a little confusion in the areas of love. I cant understand why the couples did the things they did. It made no sense to me, but Maude said that wasnt the important parts to consider. Have you read many? replied Ezra. He loved books. Maybe he and the Judge could while away the time in discussion.
Nathan just shook is head as the boy entered into a lively conversation about books with Judge Travis. For the next hour he listened as they debated Shelly versus Keats poetry among other things.
Judge Travis had one of the most intellectual stimulating conversations he had in a long time. The amazing thing was it came from a nine year old boy. His curiosity piqued he turned to ask the black man, Mr. Jackson, how long have you gentlemen known each other?
Nathan had been listening to his young friends conversation. Ezra and me for about nine...ten months? he replied as he looked to his ward for conformation. Receiving a nod, he continued, The others almost a month now.
The Judge wanted to ask more but the stage was slowing as they pulled next to a small creek. He would see if he could learn more about this strange group after camp was set up. Horses were unhitched and unsaddled then watered and fed. Wood was gathered as bedrolls were set up for the night. Everyone pitched in to prepare supper except for Vin and Chris who walked the perimeter that was set up around the camp checking the land. Soon all were gathered to eat. Judge Travis scrutinized the interactions of these men and one boy. You could almost see the pairings right off. The silent Vin and Chris, the talkative pair of Buck and JD then there was Nathan and Josiah whom seemed to listen before either commended on any subject. You would at first think the child was outside the group until you notice the little side glances that were given checking upon the boys welfare. The way the child chattered between each group, the twinkle in each mans eyes at the wit of the child. Thats when you saw that each group revolved around the small boy. Amazing thought the Judge. He couldnt help but think that was one lucky child. It made him miss his own son who had died a year ago. He longed to see his grandson. Hopefully, he could go visit him after this business was over.
Chris was enjoying his meal as he watched his crew with a quiet Vin by his side. He chuckled as Buck regaled them with another of his many stories on the ladies he had known. Judge Travis and his driver were listening in rapt attention as Buck once again escaped out the window before the husband got home.
Buck, said JD as he shook his head, youre so full of it. If half of what you tell is true, you should have half the husbands of the country after you.
Well, so I should. That is if the little darlings would ever tell who I was. winked the Ladies Man at Ezra. Ezra didnt understand why Buck took half the chances he did but he like the man anyway. He found himself liking all his new friends even though they wouldnt let him get a better salary for this job.
Chris suddenly asked, Judge, why would someone want to stop you from holding this trial? Surely the town would want to protect their families from such killers?
The Judge looked around as everyone waited for his answer. Its not the townspeople so much as the cattle ranchers. One in particular named Stewart James. I suspect that those attackers today were men he hired.
What interest would the man have in keeping these killers from going to trial? It doesnt make sense. stated JD.
It does if the people killed were settlers staking claim on what some would consider open range or range they wanted. replied Travis. See, the range was opened to the public about six months ago with the government giving 120 acres to anyone who wanted it. Ranchers were ready to gobble up as much as they could by hiring men to stake claims for them. What they didnt figure on was that the settlers were just as eager. They didnt succeed in getting as much as they wanted. Several of the ranchers have offered a dollar an acre to these settlers for their land. Majority of them have refused. The last month has seen several families ran off but nobody came forward, except for this last family. From the preliminary reports, Mr. Wachs, a German immigrant refused to sell or leave. They were murder. These men would have gotten away with it but they started bragging to the wrong people. The townspeople are afraid and rightly so with all the hired guns. But the murder has caused an uproar, so the Sheriff captured these men holding them for trial.
So the possibility is that the ranchers, mainly Stewart James, have hired these men to kill you so that the trial would not happen? Doesnt he realize that killing a territorial judge would pull the army in? It seems that would cause him more problems than just letting justice take its course. summarized Josiah.
Judge Travis, Yes it would be more prudent to let justice prevail. But it seems one of the men going to standing trial is his nephew. Lucas James I believe is his name. He was the one who couldnt keep his mouth shut.
Still, to kill a judge to save a bad seed in the family seems risky. spoke Vin. He must love him a lot.
A snort sounded from the driver as he said, Way I hear it, the old man cant stand him. But he made a promise to his dead sister to take care of the boy. James takes his promises seriously.
Where did you hear that from Timmons? inquired the Judge as he looked at his driver.
You forget Judge, the soldiers know this territory well and the people in it. The soldier boy riding with me gave me this tidbit plus that this Stewart James has hired himself quite a few gunslingers.
Ezra was sitting quietly listening to the conversation. He would not let the others know it be he was afraid for them...for himself. Ezra had lost a lot already in his life and he didnt think he could stand it if he lost his guardian or any of his new friends. His mind had now gone back to the ambush early that day. He could still see the wounded and dead but now his friends were replacing those lying there in the dirt. His stomach clinched and he lost his appetite. He put his plate down beside him as he got up keeping his blank face in place. Turning to Nathan he said, Ill be back, as he pointed to the woods indicating a supposedly intention.
Nathan nodded his head as he gave his attention again to the conversation going on. Vin though knew something was wrong. His eagle eye had seen the pallor of the boy as the others talked. He waited a few minutes before he quietly left to find Ezra. A little way into the woods, Vin found the boy hunched over losing his supper. He silently waited until Ezra was finished before he appeared behind him asking, Ez, you alright?
Ezra caught his breath as he spun around at the sudden appearance of Vin. Mr. Tanner, please dont do that! Its not nice to sneak up on a person like that. You nearly scared me to death. gasped the boy as he tried to calm his frantically beating heart. He wondered how much Vin had really seen then realized probably everything. Im fine, lied Ezra as he assumed his bland expression.
Vin studied the child. He knew the boy was lying but why? Maybe we should get Nathan to look you over?
NO! I mean no, that wont be necessary. Ezra saw the dubious look on Vins face and knew he wouldnt give up. The tracker was like that when it concerned his friends. He worried over something just like a dog on a bone. Sighing Ezra decided to confide in Vin. Promise not to tell? Anyone?
Vin knew Ezra well enough to be cautious in his promises. Ezra held promises real sacred. Nathan had told him on the trail once that if you got the boy to give you his word, he would never break it. It was getting him to give it to you that were the hard part. So he knew he had to be careful in this area. He studied Ezra for a moment before he replied, As long as you aint really sick, Ez. Other wise, I wont be doing you any favors by not saying something.
Im not sick, quietly replied Ezra. I just got to thinking about this morning, the situation and...and what might happen. I...I, well, I thought about losing yall and it... Ezra trailed off hanging his head. How do you explain to adults your fears without sounding foolish? He just couldnt bring himself to tell of his weakness. Mother had always said not to show any weakness.
Vin looked at Ezra a moment. He was usually very perceptive but he couldnt think why, then it dawned on him. The boy had said this morning and the situation. Vin knew the child had a vivid imagination. He now realized what had happened. Ezra had pictured something horrible about losing his group, something so bad that he threw up his supper. Vin could imagine some terrible pictures himself and he didnt like it. How could a group that had met just about a month ago be so close that the thought of losing one could crush the others? Maybe Josiah was right when he said two weeks ago that they were destined to be together. He saw Ezra with his head still hanging down and knew he had to do something. Taking Ezra by the hand, he moved them a little ways away until he found a bolder to sit on. Placing the boy in front of him, he tipped the boy head up until he was looking him in the eye. Vin said, I think I know what youre trying to say, Ez. I dont have a real good answer except to say what my ma use to read out of the Bible to me. I cant quote it verse for verse but it was something like live for today and let tomorrow take care of itself. Something about we had enough worries trying to get through today without taking on tomorrows troubles. No one knows what the future may hold for us. Why heck, just look at us now. If you had told me a month ago I would be riding with this bunch, I would have said you were crazy. Guess what Im trying to say is dont borrow trouble kid. Its going to find us soon enough. You understand?
Ezra had been listening to Vin as he spoke. He realized he was letting his fears control him. He replied, I understand, Vin and thank you for explaining it. Ill try not to borrow trouble as you so aptly put it. You know you have a way with words, my friend.
Now if yall could just finish my name instead of cutting it short like that, it would greatly improve our communications.
I dont know Ez. It seems to save a lot of time just cutting it down. teased Vin as he hugged the boy to him. Besides, I guess we kind of got use to it. Be hard to change.
Relishing in the safety the brief embrace brought, Ezra returned the hug. His mother never hugged him except when it was required for a con. These men were different. They were constantly checking up on him or his welfare. Oh he saw theyre side glances passed his way. He doubt he could get very far before someone would come looking for him. Like now, Vin had come to make sure he was okay. Mother would leave him for days, weeks on his own. She had never asked about his health or what he was thinking. Yes, these men were different.
Guess we better get back before the others come looking for us. You feeling better? asked Vin as he stood up. He took Ezra hand as they headed back toward camp.
Yes, thank you Mr. Tanner. Im better now. replied Ezra.
As they headed back, Vin checked the area. He suddenly stopped, exclaiming, Look Ez! A shooting star! Quick, make a wish!
Ezra head jerked up as he followed Vins finger pointing in the sky. He followed the trail of the star as it flamed across the night sky. Vin saw the wonder in the boys face as he watched the star. Did you make a wish?
Yes, Mr. Tanner. I did. Do you want to know what it was?
NO! You dont be telling what you wished for. It wont come true if you do.
Than by all means, I wont tell you or anyone else. I want this wish to come true. said Ezra as they continued toward camp. He really needed this wish to come true.
Three days later saw the stagecoach and its escort arriving in Rock Ridge in the middle of the day. The coach pulled up in front of the only respectable hotel in the town. Stepping down from the coach, Judge Orrin Travis surveyed the area. The others had stepped off their mounts keeping a vigil. The last couple of days had them cautious when that had been another attempt on the Judges life. One more ambush had the men checking out everything. Chris and Vin had moved to stand by the Judge as Nathan and Ezra climbed from the coach. Turning to Josiah, JD, Buck and Timmons, Chris ordered, Take the horses and stage to the blacksmiths. Bed them down then come back to the hotel. Well take the luggage and get the rooms. Well take a moment to get settle in then meet down here for lunch.
Nodding in agreement the others set off for the livery. Forty-five minutes later, everyone was in the dining room. Three tables were pushed together to accommodate the group. Chris, Buck, JD and Vin kept their backs toward the wall facing the doorway into the dinning room and the window that looked out onto the street. Josiah, Ezra in the middle and Nathan sat on the opposite side of them. Judge Travis sat at the head facing the window while Timmons sat with his back toward the window.
Ezra could feel the tension in the air. It had started the minute they drove into town. People on the sidewalk stopped and stared for a moment before hurrying theyre children and themselves away. He could see them whispering before scurrying inside their houses. He didnt have a good feeling about this at all. He was jumpy which made him lose his appetite. When the food came it was all he could do to force himself to eat half of his plate. He picked and moved food around to look like he had eaten more.
Nathan let him get by with it knowing what Ezra was doing. The child had grown quiet as they entered town. He had not said five words since they checked into their room. They had taken a whole second floor leaving only one room empty. Chris had talked the Judge into the precaution stating that it was easier to control the whole floor instead of a partial one. Nathan was sharing a room with Ezra, Chris was with Vin, Buck and JD had a room while Josiah was sharing with Timmons. The Judge had a room to himself. Chris made sure that it was between his and Bucks rooms while Josiah was opposite. Nathan and Ezra had the room closest to the back stairs. They all tried to keep the conversation going hoping the boy would join in. It didnt work. After finishing their meal, they sat discussing the strategy on handling guard duty inside and outside the trial.
We need to get our bearings in the town. Set up a schedule and vary our rotations to and from the courthouse, hotel, jail, etc. started Chris as they drank theyre coffee. When the server said there was dessert, Nathan let Ezra have a piece of pecan pie even though he didnt eat all of his meal. The boy was thin enough without depriving him of this dessert knowing the child loved pie. Vin and JD had started on their own pieces of pie as Vin winked at Ezra causing the boy to grin. The tension eased as the boy ate his pie with a glass of milk.
I need to check in with the Sheriff to let him know Im here. stated the Judge.
Heck, I think he already knows. The whole blooming town knows by now, said Buck as he signaled the waitress for a refill. The girl brought the pot over refilling everyones cup with fresh coffee.
Got to agree with you there, Buck. This may cause some complications, said Vin as he got the waitress attention. Miss? May I have another pie?
How so, Vin? asked JD as he finished his pie. Me too Miss, please.
Would the boy like another piece? inquired the girl as she brought the pie over. Cutting the slices for the others, she waited for an answer.
Nathan looked at the child thinking that it would be too much sugar but before he could say anything, Ezra replied, No, thank you. Though the pie is excellent, one piece is enough. My compliments to the cook for such a wonderful repast.
The girl blinked before she said, Uh...thank you. Ill pass the message along. She left for the kitchen with a bewildered look on her face.
Show off, chuckled Josiah as he shook his head. Nathan looked surprised at his ward.
What? questioned Ezra as he finished his milk.
You didnt want another piece? replied Nathan.
Now, Mr. Jackson, you know I love pie. I would have gladly had another piece but I knew you were about to object. So I decided to forestall another lecture on eating the right foods. Besides, Im quiet full, he said as he placed his napkin on the table. He sat back in his chair to survey the others with a twinkle in his eyes.
Chris actually had a smirk on his face as some of the others laughed. This was the most animation the child had shown since they had come into town. Nathan was just happy to have Ezra acting almost like his sarcastic self. He kept a straight face as he replied, Maybe I should give you a lecture on respecting your elders.
Displaying an innocent expression on his face, Ezra said, Oh, I thought I was acting with respect, Mr. Jackson. I didnt want you ELDER gentlemen to STRAIN yourself so I answered for myself. I know how TIRED you get from over exertion. JD and Vin excluded of course.
Mouths dropped opened as both of the younger ones busted out laughing while Ezra gave a cheeky grin. An exclamation of Hey, Im not that old came from Buck as Timmons teased back, Better watch it youngster before one of these tired elders decide to show you how tired they really are. Timmons really liked the boy. He was a bundle of contradictions from other children. More grown up than a child ought to be.
Ezra just grinned back knowing he was safe. He hadnt said anything that wasnt true. Judge Travis signaled the waitress for his bill. As he paid for it, he said, We better get started before some of us elders fall asleep listening to the prattle of the younger generation.
That got a hoot out of the others as they stood up to leave. Ezra had made his own plan to help the others. Everything they did excluded him from assisting them in anything concerning this job. They just didnt understand that he had certain advantages that he could use for being so young. Oh, he knew to be careful. Still, they would object if they knew what he was planning. He didnt want to but he was going to have to sneak around his friends to help them. Knowing this as they walked out of the hotel restaurant, Ezra asked, May I go visit Brandy at the livery? I havent got to spend time with him much today. He showed Nathan the lump of sugar in his hand, Besides I have a treat for him.
Nathan looked at Chris for his permission. Receiving a nod of approval, he said, Okay. Well be over at the jail. Come by when youre finished or well come get you if youre not back before we leave.
I also want to go visit several of the stores, Mr. Jackson. I dont know how long Ill be. It depends on if I can find what I require. Maybe it would be better if I met you in our room. If your not there, Im sure I can find you. assured Ezra as he walked by Nathan as they headed for the jail.
I dont know about that Ezra. Its not safe for any of us to be wondering around on our own. argued Nathan as the group crossed the road to the jail. Stopping outside the jail, he looked down at his charge.
Nathan, I shall be perfectly alright. They are not worried about me. Im just a little boy. I serve no purpose as a guard or anything to do with this job. I am no threat to them. countered Ezra. If Nathan or any of the others had any inkling on what he had planned, they would have handcuffed him to their side. Of course he could have picked the cuffs in less than 30 seconds, but that was neither here nor there. Ezra hoped they never realized that he was not any good with knots.
Nathan thought about it for a minute. Ezra had made some good points but he was still unsure. The only time the child had been out of his sight was in large towns (and he didnt know what the boy had gotten into) or when he was with one of the others. The others waited patiently while he made up his mind. He looked around town noting the two or three stores in the center of town. He looked at Chris who was frowning. Finally, Chris said, I dont see any harm, Nate.
There, Mr. Jackson. What more assurance do you need? asked Ezra. He was anxious to be on his way.
Alright, well meet you at the hotel. Dont be late, Nathan raised his voice as the boy ran toward the stable. Watching, he suddenly shouted, Hey, wait! What are you looking to buy? Ezra?
But Ezra only turned around to wave and smile as he kept running to the livery not answering his question. Vin watched the child as he disappeared into the stable. He quietly said, Got a feeling you should have asked that question before you let him get away, Nate.
Judge Travis looked confused as he said, What trouble could the little boy get into?
Nathans eyes got big as he answered, Yall remember me telling you about St. Louis?
Silence reigned for a full minute. The Judge again asked, What about St. Louis? I dont understand your concern?
Oh, Lordy. mumbled Buck as JD spoke, Maybe one of us should go with him?
And have him believe we dont trust him? That would go over real big. You know the boy has trust problems. stated Josiah. No, well just have to wait and see what hes up to.
You really think hes up to something? asked a concerned and worried Nathan. He looked across the street at the livery stable.
Hes a boy isnt he? said Chris as he too looked to where the child had disappeared inside the building. Chris sighed, Lets go on and see the Sheriff. Ezra will be alright for a little while.
Ezra had visited his horse for a little bit like he said, but he went out the back way to explore the town. One thing he had learned in his short life was to know your surroundings and every escape route possible. Then he went to the stores to browse and listen. After a while, keeping tabs on his time, he headed for the saloon. Sometime later, about supper time, he headed for the hotel via the backdoor of the saloon through the alley to the stable. One more pat for Brandy then he made his way to his room. There he found Nathan waiting for him.
Where you been, Ezra? I was about ready to send the posse out for you.
Oh, I went to some stores and then explored a little. Nathan didnt have to know everything.
Ezra didnt want to have to explain in their room and then have to repeat himself over dinner. Is it time to go down to eat? Im hungry.
Taken off guard, Nathan answered, Yes. We were just waiting for you to get back. What do you mean you went exploring? Ezra, you shouldnt go off without one of us with you. Its kind of dangerous, especially after the meeting we had with the Sheriff.
Walking toward the door as a knock sounded, questions poured for Ezra, Oh, yes. How did the meeting go? Did you get to see the miscreants? When will the trial be?
Opening the door, Ezra stood aside for Buck to come in. Seeing the boy, Buck turned to loudly announce, No need. Hes here in his room. Walking inside he asked, Where you been Ez? We were beginning to worry.
A little shock but pleased by the concern, he didnt get a chance to answer as Nathan said, Exploring. He said he went exploring.
The others were gathering outside the room. Chris frowned as he looked at the child. I thought you were going to the store.
Ezra felt that an inquisition was about to happen. Heading it off, he replied, I did go to the stores. I went to Browns and then to Mannys but they didnt have much. They certainly didnt have what I was looking for. I decided to see what else there was. I found a small church, a barber shop, the stage office, a bakery, a dress maker, the land office, a laundry and four saloons. Did you know they have a bath house with the barber shop? Mr. Jackson, I would like to have a real bath, please. I checked with the hotel and they will send up hot water when we require it. I also found that there are several ways to enter this little burg.
Mouths were hanging open, as Ezra finished his speech. Chris eyes narrowed as he demanded, You found all this out? What else did you FIND out? Where exactly did you go?
Realizing by the tone of Chris the he was walking on shaky ground, Ezra decided to deflect the questioning for a little while. He asked, Can I answer that a little later? Im really hungry. I promise to tell you what I found out after we eat.
Chris was not about to let this go. That is until he looked into the pleading green eyes of one small child. Damn! He had that puppy dog look down pat. Ezra hardly ever said he was hungry thought Chris. Knowing he wouldnt get anything from the boy at the moment and he had promise to tell, Chris decided to bide his time. Alright, well discuss this after we eat. But you will tell me everything, Ezra.
Tilting his head to one side, Ezra studied his friend. Grinning, he replied, Will see. Oh, one more thing.
He waited until he had everyones attention before he said in a serious tone, It would be advisable that you didnt discuss any of your plans out in public. Not even in the dinning room or the Sheriffs office. Walking through the others to go out the door, he continued with Dont trust anyone in this town.
The others stood silently shocked as Ezra walked down the hallway. A few feet from the stairs he turned and said, Im really hungry. Can we eat now?
The others had no choice but the following the boy as he headed down stairs.