Sunshine and Shadows

by Suzi Starke

I do not own any of The Magnificent Seven and only borrow them now and again for fun.

An Old West tale involving Ezra and all seven: How far will faith take you when the chips are down and just how much does it take to believe in yourself?

"Did you really think this would work Mr Tanner?"

The smooth southern tones of Ezra P. Standish broke through the sweltering heat of the afternoon. Seeing that his entreaty had received no acknowledgement he called out, "Mr Tanner?"

Still nothing.


"What?" The tall lean Texan stopped what he was doing abruptly and turned to face his questioner. The tracker's chest was bare and glistening with perspiration. His large blue eyes squinted as trails of salty stinging sweat ran down into them despite the strip of flannel tied around his forehead. His long fair hair was lank and soaked to the colour of wet sand; his face and shoulders were a fiery red and his pale close fitting pants were blotched with sweat and caked dirt.

"I asked if you really thought this was going to work?" his companion repeated.

Breathing hard Vin leaned forward bracing his hands on his knees and struggled to gulp down some of the dry searing desert air.

"It has to work Ez," he said between gasps. "Nothing else has."

"By nothing else I take it you are referring to the tedious oratories we have been subjected to by Mr Sanchez and his newly swelled congregation?"

Vin smiled briefly his lips cracking painfully. Wearily he hobbled to where Ezra was seated in the scant shade of a large overhanging rock which loomed over the patch of sand they were on.

"Josiah's doing what the townsfolk are asking him to do."

"Ah yes." The gambler smiled wolfishly, his gold tooth glinting as he screwed his green eyes tightly against the sun's relentless glare. "Prayer. The last refuge of the desperate."

Vin took a long swallow of the water from his canteen. It was lukewarm and he grimaced as the brackish liquid slid down his throat.

"Nothing sparks a person's faith in the higher plane like a touch of suffering," the gambler finished.

He released a slow heavy sigh. Unlike Vin he was fully clothed right down to his scarlet jacket, soft leather boots and low crowned black hat. A blanket had been spread across the rock that served as his seat offering a little protection from the endless dusty sand and grit for his dark tailored pants but it had settled like flour all over him and Ezra felt hot and gritty and uncomfortable.

Shifting a little he looked down at the curious instrument his friend had asked him to play as accompaniment to their activity that afternoon. It was a flat drum constructed by the means of stretching some kind of paper thin hide over a circular frame. Feathers and shells had been threaded onto leather thongs which bound the hide securely and across the skin itself a simple but exquisite design had been rendered in blues and yellows and deep ochre. It was, Ezra thought, an altogether beautiful thing to have emerged from the depths of Vin's grubby wagon and he had been astonished not only by his friend's request for company but also by the man's instructions that he strike the drum repeatedly in a slow steady rhythm with the flat of his hand.

"How much longer do you intend to expose yourself to the dangers of sunstroke and exhaustion Vin?" he asked his friend. "You know when Nathan see's you..."

Tanner shot him a look that would have felled a buffalo but the gambler had not survived by letting looks deter him.

"You have about as much chance of success as Buck being invited to the League of Decency Dinner."

"You know why this ain't working?" Vin said angrily. "It ain't working because it feeds on belief and I ain't got enough all by myself!"

Standish gave an incredulous splutter of laughter.

"You do not seriously expect me to be a party to this, this, heathen mumbo jumbo do you?"

"You might at least try!" Vin was pulling his shirt back on now his face not quite hiding how painfully it dragged across the tender burned skin of his shoulders. "I learned this from a Kiowa medicine man. He taught me lots of stuff about how the Indians ask their gods for favours."

He pulled on his battered dusty hat and glanced furtively upwards.

"It takes faith to ask favours from the powers up there. Real faith. You gotta believe someone, something, is listening if you expect to get an answer."

Ezra followed his friends glance with his own eyes but said nothing. Standing he placed the drum carefully on the blanket covered rock.

"Mr Tanner. Vin. There are a great many things that I would not hesitate to do should they be asked of me. Indeed," He held up one hand to prevent his companion interrupting. "There are a great many more things that I wish I had never done. But please; please," he stared steadily at Vin. "Do not ask me to believe in some great god of the skies sitting up there listening whilst we scurry around like ants under a magnifying glass begging for rain. Because even for you Vin that is something I do not believe I am capable of." He shook his head once sharply. "No sir."

Turning on his heel he marched away from the tracker. Vin watched silently as he disappeared around the curve of the great rock then sighed as he heard the unmistakeable sound of hoof beats heading back towards the town.

Gathering up the drum and blanket and the turtle shell rattle he had been wielding as he danced the young man followed suit. Strapping all the gear safely to the saddle he mounted the big raw boned black gelding that was waiting listlessly for him and urged the animal into a reluctant canter.

It did not take long to catch up with Ezra. The gambler's chestnut horse was already lathered with patches of sweat which were rapidly drying to salt white patches on it's hide. The animal drooped dispiritedly despite its rider's efforts to pick up the pace and it barely even flicked an ear as the black drew alongside.

"I ain't asking you to believe in that Ezra," Vin said as if their conversation had not been interrupted.

"Then what are you asking of me Vin?" came the quiet rejoinder.

"I'm just asking you to help me out."

"I endeavoured to provide the percussive rhythm you requested."

After a moment to translate for himself Vin continued, "Yeah but you might have at least taken off your shirt instead of sitting there like a, like a..."

"Southern Dandy?" The wicked grin that covered Ezra's face was contagious. "But that is exactly what I am Mr Tanner."

"I was going to say a white man." Vin laughed, his blue eyes looking brighter beneath the brim of his dusty hat.

"And I intend to stay that way too. White, I mean. You are already burned and my skin is nowhere near as inured as yours to this kind of sun."

"You needn't dance with me," the fair haired man assured him. "You can still sit in the shade of the rock. It's just that, if you looked a little more..."


"Willing," Vin corrected with a grin. "It would help me."

They rode for some moments in silence.

"May I enquire as to why exactly you asked me to accompany you in the first place as opposed to, say, Mr Larabee or even Buck?"

Tanner thought carefully before replying.

"Well," he began," seems to me you're right good at keeping time with music and you can play the piano and sing real good too."

It was all he could do to hold in his laughter as the gambler's mouth dropped open in shock.

"I've heard you play in the saloon real late at might when you think there's no-one around to hear. And you sing in the tub at the bath house."

"Well, that is hardly..."

"And when you wore that right pretty dress to Wicks Town."

"I would prefer to draw a veil over that sordid little episode," Ezra growled.

"And anyway," Vin finished hurriedly, "you owed me."

The chestnut flung up its head in surprise as its rider stopped it dead.

"I owed you?" Ezra repeated slowly. A slow flush crept up the former conman's neck and enveloped his face as he recalled the only other occasion when Vin had asked for his help. His colour deepened as he remembered his response. With a squeeze of his legs he sent his mount forward again and said quietly as he passed,

"You are correct Mr Tanner. I believe I do."

"Besides, I knew you wouldn't laugh at me this time. The others might."

Ezra looked sharply at Vin but the tracker's innocent gaze was as wide as that of a new born babe.

"Buck and JD might but I don't believe Chris would. Nor would Nathan or Josiah for that matter."

The Texan unstoppered his canteen and took another long swig of the tepid water before answering.

"Reckon you're right but Nathan and Josiah got enough on their plates right now and Chris ain't exactly on talking terms with higher powers."

Ezra did not respond. In fact he became so withdrawn in thought that the two men did not exchange any more words until the small township shimmered into view.

The punishing heat had caused many of the wooden boards used in its construction to warp and blister; bubbles of paint and pitch swelled angrily as the sun blazed down without mercy from the western sky. Even at this late point of the day it was unbearably hot and at a time of the year when it should have been wet and cool.

No rains had come to feed and nurture the growing crops or to alleviate the oppressive heat of the long summer. Drinking troughs and rain barrels were becoming clogged with filthy green scum and slime and even the most reliable of streams and water holes were becoming little more than hoof churned patches of mud.

The people of the small town were suffering. Illness and disease were beginning to take a hold and fear was now gaining an upper hand. Josiah Sanchez's weather worn church had never witnessed so many people within its patched and battered walls. Voices were raised in prayer two or three times a week now; twice on the previous Sunday! They begged, they hoped for rain but so far none of their prayers had been answered.

The rains were almost six weeks overdue and it had been desperation that had driven Vin Tanner to resurrect the side of himself that was usually kept so carefully hidden. It had been the same desperation that had prompted him to ask the young southern gambler to help him as he performed his rain dance.

As a boy he had spent some time living within a Kiowa tribe and he had been learned a great many of their ways and beliefs. One of the Shaman had taken him under his protection and had taught him many things about the great land they lived in and the buffalo that roamed its vast plains. He had taught him also about the spirits and ancestors who watched over this world and the next but when Vin had returned to the white man's way of living he had stored away all the lessons and even though it became buried the knowledge was always there flickering like a candle at the edges of his consciousness. One of the most valuable things he had learned had been how to tell if a man's spirit was strong and though he would never admit such a thing to the secretive southerner that had been the real reason behind him asking Ezra for his help.

Behind those twinkling eyes and that self satisfied smile lurked a determination and will as strong as his own. If Vin could only persuade the gambler to lend that power to his cause then he was convinced he would be able to call down the rain that the town needed so desperately.

In the livery barn they wiped down their tired horses with the brackish unappetising water which seemed to spread around more mud and dirt than it removed but the creatures still seemed pathetically grateful.

The Alder branches that JD had tied all around the stalls had withered and lost their fly repellent qualities and clouds of the insects buzzed irritably around them. With a grim smile Ezra upended a small glass bottle against his handkerchief and wiped it carefully around the horses eyes and ears before holding it out to Vin so that he might do the same.

"Whew! What in hell is that?" The tracker demanded holding the offending material at arms length.

"Oil of eucalyptus." His friend grinned. "Go ahead but don't get any in his eyes, it will burn. On their hides however it should afford the poor beasts a little respite from these vermin."

As he applied the pungent oil to his animal's face Vin glanced over at his companion.

"Will you come with me again tomorrow?"

Ezra sighed. "Would there really be any point?"

The blue eyed Texan shoved the small bottle back into the other man's grasp.

"Not with that kind of attitude," he snapped.

The young gambler watched his friend stamp angrily from the stable. Securing the top of the eucalyptus bottle he stowed it carefully amongst his grooming tools. A thoughtful expression had settled on his handsome features and he gave his beloved horse only the most absent of pats before taking his own leave and heading over to the dilapidated church on the edge of town.

Even within its dusty confines the building offered little sanctuary from the heat. Its high ceiling had trapped every scrap of rising warmth and was now forcing it all back down again as the thermals of the afternoon intensified. Ezra felt droplets of sweat pop out of his skin as the creaking door swung closed behind him and allowing only the smallest of acknowledgements to his discomfort, he loosened the dark green cravat from his neck and used the limp cotton to swab himself. His sharp green eyes struggled for a moment to adjust themselves to the stuffy gloom and as they did so he made out the prone figure of his friend Josiah Sanchez.

The burly former priest was stretched like a bear in a wooden tub of water which had been dragged into the middle of the floor before the lectern. The tight grey curls of Sanchez's hair were dark with moisture and a ghostly sheen lay on his face. He appeared to be asleep but even as Ezra turned to leave two bright blue eyes snapped open and a smile as white as snow suffused the man's face.

"Brother Ezra," he boomed happily. "What brings you to the Lord's house?"

"It's of no great importance," the younger man began.

"You would not be here if it was of no great importance, son."

With a sound like that of boots being removed from mud Josiah heaved himself from his resting place. To Ezra's great relief his companion had left on his sagging drawers and although they drooped alarmingly in several places he was saved the embarrassment of seeing the preachers privates.

"I had no idea you were otherwise engaged," the southerner began again.

The big man held up a silencing hand and began to pat himself dry with a faded piece of cloth.

"I tell the townsfolk I need peace to ponder my prayers to the almighty at this time of the day." He winked broadly. "It's the only way I can have some degree of privacy right now."

"Then I apologise..."

"No need brother." Josiah sat himself down with a squelch on one of the wooden pews. "Tell me why you're here?"

The gambler fidgeted uncomfortably for several moments turning his hat round and around in his hands as he searched for his opening words.

Josiah's brows rose in surprise. It was a rare thing to see Ezra so lost for words. Finally the young man blurted out,

"Vin says it's my fault he can't make it rain!"

Whatever Josiah had thought to hear, it had not been that. His jaw fell open slightly as he gathered his thoughts but before he could form any kind of reply his companion went on,

"He's been doing rain dances out in the desert. He's burned redder than a Boston lobster and he claims that my lack of belief is what's preventing him from gaining the favours of his rain god."

To the preacher's surprise there was real anguish in the younger man's face when he stopped speaking and turned beseeching eyes towards him.

"Well now, Ezra," he began haltingly. "I'm not quite sure I follow why Vin should be holding you responsible for the drought."

The southerner sat down on one of the facing pews.

"It's not the drought he's blaming me for, it's the fact that I am unable to believe his...his... claptrap paganisms about great gods in the sky who sit around waiting for us to ask favours of them so that they might flout our desires and find some perverse satisfaction in seeing us all suffer! I mean, good Lord! I can find that behaviour simply by spending time with my mother, there is nothing godly in that!"

Astonished by his young friend's outburst Josiah leaned forward and placed one still clammy hand on Ezra's arm.

"Son, son, slow down," he soothed. "Take a breath and start again at the beginning so as I can catch up."

Ezra sighed heavily. "Why bother," he said miserably. "I can't pretend to believe in something I don't, not this time. Vin asked me to help him and I can't."

Straightening back up Josiah said quietly,

"Well now there's more to faith than just belief in some God above."

"There is?" Ezra looked startled. "But I have fooled enough people during my own sorties into the preaching game to see how much power blind faith can exude."

"Exactly." Josiah beamed. "Blind faith. It can move mountains so they say."

"But I don't..."

The big man cut him off. "Faith is the key. It doesn't necessarily have to be in some deity of the heavens though."

Ezra's face wrinkled into a puzzled frown as his companion went on,

Son, when you go into a gunfight what is it that gets you through?"

"Skill, reactions, speed."

"What about when we go in as a team?"

The southerner gave an embarrassed cough.

"Well, that is to say, I know that at least one of our ill assorted party will be watching my back just as I know I will be watching out for all of you. I have to trust that the skill of others is equal to my own."

"Trust? Is that kinda similar to faith? Putting your trust in, say, Chris? Or Nathan?"

Ezra fidgeted uncomfortably.

"I fail to see what bearing this has on my dilemma."

"Ezra. Son." Josiah leaned forward and placed a great damp paw on one scarlet clad shoulder. "When you fight side by side with the rest of us you put your faith in each and every one of us and we put ours in you."


"Not any one of us is any kind of god or deity yet each one of us depends on the others and each of us is silently praying that some kind of luck or chance will allow us to come through unscathed." Not allowing the younger man to interrupt the priest went on quickly. "For me it's any version of the good lord that cares to listen and I've travelled far enough to know that all gods are one god no matter if you call them Jehovah, Vishnu or Thor. Faith is any belief in anything that gets you through."

"The only person I have ever believed in to get me through is myself!"

"Then your god is closer than most." Shark white teeth gleamed in the gloom as Josiah grinned at his young friend. "Talk to him. Ask him to lend a hand with Vin's cause and while you're at it why not ask some of the others to help too."

"Because Vin feels they may mock him."

The preacher looked thoughtful.

"Hmm. Seems to me it's brother Vin who needs convincing of his faith, not you."

The big man stood up and reached for his shirt which was slung over one of the wooden pews. As he pulled it on he said conversationally,

"Did you know that in India they believe there are seven centres of power in the body?"

"Why, no, I..."

"Come brother Ezra let us go see if we can bring together the seven separate parts that make up the whole. My god is not listening to me at the moment so perhaps if we all concentrate on calling to Vin's rain god he might just hear us."

Ezra stood up quickly still uncertain of whether or not the bigger man was taking him seriously.

"But I already told you; I do not believe in any of this mumbo jumbo!"

Josiah slipped an insistent arm around his companions shoulder and began to propel him towards the door.

"And I've already told you, brother, that the only thing you have to believe in is yourself and your friends."

"This is ludicrous!" The gambler shrugged off Josiah's arm angrily. "I refuse to be a party to this idiocy a moment longer. Vin has already pushed himself to the point of exhaustion and no amount of hopping and hollering is going to bring down rains that aren't there!"

Striding away angrily the young southerner headed for his hotel room. Once there he yanked closed the curtains even though it was stiflingly hot and finally pulled off his woolen jacket. Great dark patches of sweat showed through the fine white cotton lawn material of his shirt and, irritated, he pulled that off too before sitting with a thump on the edge of his bed.

Running his hands through the dark waves of his hair Ezra glanced up and saw his own face staring back at him from the mirror opposite. This stranger's face appeared tired and bedraggled not at all like his normal dapper self. Huffing loudly he pointed an accusing finger and said crossly,

"Would it be so very difficult to do what Mr Tanner is asking? Lord knows he doesn't want it to rain for his own selfish reasons! This town is a dust ridden hole at the best of times - must you make it worse?"

He stifled a slightly hysterical giggle as he realised that he was, in fact, conversing with his own reflection and attributed it to the heat of the sun he had endured all day at Vin's behest. Flopping back on the bed Ezra allowed the laughter a little more freedom before sighing heavily and muttering,

"Oh Ezra. What has become of you? Mother would be livid."

The thought was an oddly satisfying one and the conman allowed his green eyes to droop closed as a heavy drowsiness stole over him. In moments he was asleep and he tossed and turned for some time in the turmoil of a nightmare he could not quite escape until, at last, he awoke with a gasp sitting bolt upright and shivering at the cold sweat on his body.

He had been dreaming of Vin and his rain dance. Of his companions joining the young Texan to make up the seven components Josiah had spoken of. In his dream each member of the seven had shimmered with a vibrant hue all of his own yet the shades of colour had danced and mingled amongst them like an undulating rainbow until all that could be seen was a glowing pulsing dome of power. Then in his dream Ezra had looked up to see great dark clouds building in the colourless sky and looming over the small township their bulk pregnant and swollen with cool refreshing moisture. But as the first drops had begun to fall a great hand had reached through the sky and grabbed the clouds away saying in a booming voice oddly reminiscent of Josiah's,

"There are only six present! Without faith there will be no rain and faith can only exist if all seven are believe!"

He had seen the accusing faces of the others as he had come running to make up their number. But it had been too late. The clouds had gone and only sticky sultry grey heat was left to mark their passing. The very sky and rocks of the desert had been leached of their colour and as he watched with horrified eyes Ezra saw his brothers in arms begin to fade and disappear winked out like candle flames by his lack of faith.

Staggering to the dresser Ezra poured out and gulped down a cup of water. His head was pounding, his hands all a tremble and the very air felt thick and clammy as he struggled to breath. Pulling open the curtains in an effort to freshen the room he was just in time to see Josiah and the others mounting up and heading out of town. Vin was not among them and he guessed that they were going to join the tracker in his latest endeavour to call down the elusive rain out at his dancing spot in the desert.

Gathering up his coat and hat Ezra made to follow them. As he darted past the mirror again he paused and stared at the face in the glass.

"This is not easy for me," he whispered at last. "But I am asking you as one sporting man to another; if you have any influence whatsoever on the rainmaking abilities of your fellow...beings," he swallowed hard. "Then make it happen for Vin, for the people of this town and," Ezra hesitated again before blurting out," for me. Because I have a need to believe in you again every bit as badly as Mr Tanner wishes to have rain."

Dashing out into the street Ezra ran as fast as he could to the livery. His horse was the only one of the usual seven inhabitants still there. Throwing on a saddle he mounted up and followed as fast as he could persuade his mount to go in the suffocating heat after the others.

He became aware the insistent heartbeat of the hide drum even before he came across his companions horses and he crept quietly to the edge of the sandy arena to watch what was going on. To his astonishment all six of his companions were stripped to the waist and following Vin as he led them in his jerky hopping dance. Even Chris Larrabbee's dour expression was creased with concentration as he followed the others in a wavering circle ducking and turning as if dodging bullets in some bizarre battle.

At any other time it would have been a sight to move him to hysterical laughter but as he watched Nathan and Buck, JD and Josiah solemnly duplicating the weaving disjointed movements of Chris and Vin, Ezra felt humbled. For whatever reasons, whatever their personal beliefs each of these men had responded to a plea to ride out to the desert in scalding heat simply because one of their own had asked them to help Vin. Ezra squinted up at the pitiless yellow ball in the sky and muttered,

"Very well, I call your hand. If you wish me to dance I shall do so but if you wish me to believe then there had better be rain and plenty of it."

Shucking off his shirt and jacket he tied his green cravat around his forehead in the same style as Josiah and the others then feeling like the biggest fool in creation he slipped quietly unannounced into the flow of the dance and concentrated on picking up the steps.

He could not say how long they danced he only knew that within a very short while he had become engrossed in the hypnotic rhythm of the movements. Without thought the gambler moved and twisted his body revelling in the sweat slicked freedom of his muscles as the rain dance gathered force and began to draw power from each member of the circle.

The sun had been setting even when Ezra had arrived at the clearing but lately there had been no relief from the heat at the end of the day not even with the rising of the moon. At first it did not register that it was becoming harder and harder to see the men around him and it was not until young JD panted out in a voice as cracked and parched as the sand, "Look! Look at the sky!"

All seven men shuddered to a halt their lungs screaming, their bodies heaving with the effort suddenly standing still, to follow the upwardly pointing finger of their youngest member.

Dark brooding clouds were blotting out the pale silver pearl of the moon which could manage no more than a ghostly splash of faint light before it disappeared completely behind the gathering thunderheads. Ezra felt a shiver run down his spine as he and the others stopped to stare.

A splash of something hissed onto his burning tormented skin, then another and another until all at once the sky burst open to unleash a torrent of freezing water that had the gambler's teeth chattering and his lips turning blue by the time he had followed the others back to the horses.

"Glad you could make it son," Josiah bellowed above the downpour as they galloped and slid back towards the town. "What made you change your mind?"

Ezra smiled his eyes gleaming through the sodden strands of his hair.

"I made a deal with someone," he shouted back. "And for once I take great pleasure in being on the side of the humble."

As they approached the town the seven men were astonished to see the inhabitants out in the streets laughing and shrieking with joy as they capered about in the now torrential rain. Horse troughs and barrels were already within inches of overflowing and the air was now as cool and refreshing as it ought to be.

Pulling the black alongside the gambler's chestnut Vin Tanner grinned at Ezra shyly and extended his hand.

"Thanks," he said simply.

"For what?"


Ezra grasped his friends hand and shook it warmly.

"My pleasure," he replied through chattering teeth.

Allowing everyone else to pull ahead he glanced up into the cascading sky. It seemed as though the very heavens had dissolved into the much desired rain and a bubble of joy rose into the young man's throat to burst free as howl of delighted laughter.

"Mother would be appalled," he grinned before kicking his mount into a canter towards the livery stable. "I have found faith!"

Feedback is always welcome

May 2008