Charade- a game in which a chosen word or phrase to be guessed is acted out in pantomime, syllable by syllable or as a whole also a pretense, farce or a sham
This is an answer to Jean's August Challenge. : Answering the August Magnifiction Challenge "write a story of 2,500 to 3,500 words titled "Charades." The setting is the Old West and the last words/line of the fic must be spoken by Ezra and will be: "So shines a good deed in a weary world." This is to be a dramatic fic, not comedy." 8/26/01 Tweeked a bit 11/22/01
He was riding through another onslaught of unrelenting precipitation that blanketed the land around him. It was a hard call as to who was more upset Chaucer or his master. Ezra Standish both of them loathed inclement weather. The rain hadn't stopped in days and it was the third early morning patrol he had that week. He had to stop irritating Mr. Larabee. He was stir crazy, because the foul weather kept potential marks away and even incidents in the town had dwindled no one wanted to be out in this. A brief break in the clouds had spurred him to check to out lying areas. Something he hadn't planned on doing but the need for a break in routine urged him on.
He had ridden along a hillside for another ten minutes in the rain when he saw the stricken wagon stuck in an old creek bed a hundred feet below. The vehicle was up to its axles in the mud, a man and his young son were trying to free the bogged down wheels by pushing as the rain slick beasts heaved from the front, the team driven by the man's young daughter. Standish rode in their direction. A rugged man looked up in his direction and didn't at all seem pleased by his arrival. The lawman closed the distance and was almost at their side as the man turned in his direction.
"Mister don't need no help from yore kind''
"Don't need some fancy peacock to help me an' mine out''
The man hadn't finished uttering the words when the wagon's hitch unexpectedly snapped sending the straining beasts flying up the bank with the unfortunate child tangled in the reins being unmercifully dragged behind through the mire. Standish astride his mount made a mad dash after the girl. Capturing the bridle of one frantic animal, only to have it balk sending Chaucer tumbling to the ground the gambler was airborne for a brief instant before he too fell to the earth only to be rolled over bodily by his prized steed .He felt bones snap in his right wrist as he raised his arms ineffectively to protect himself from flailing legs and hooves, unable to avoid them as they connected to his head and grazed off his Adam's apple. The assault on his body stopped as quickly as it started. A little bewildered yet thankful that the wagon team had stopped and his equine companion seemed unharmed he sat dazed covered in the sludge vaguely aware that the man and his son were running in his direction while he watched the girl slowly struggled to her feet before he slumped back unconscious.
Ezra woke sometime later still lying on the ground, Chaucer nervously nudging his face 'the girl' he tried to sit up abruptly but a wave of pain sent him back into oblivion. The team of horses and the family were long gone by the time his conscious mind awoke again to the pain the coursed through his body.
When would he learn? The gambler lay there desperately trying to regain his bearings as the velvety muzzle nuzzled against his aching head. As he attempted to tell Chaucer to cease a bolt of excruciating pain ripped through his throat stole his breath away, the words remained unspoken as bewildered man lay there blinking away the encroaching blackness that threatened to overcome him once again willed himself slowing his breathing, to remain calm and after a moment his vision cleared. Taking careful stock of his injuries, he found besides the agony in his throat, the obvious concussion, one broken and one bruised arm he probably had a few bruised ribs as well. The only thing that remained was how to get up and back home to his friends they would help him. His addled mind wandered 'home' that was not in the extensive Standish vocabulary. When had Four Corners become his home? Or why had his six fellow peacekeepers become his friends? It was easier to go along with these men than against them. When had the charade become authentic? The realization sunk in, he was more lawman than fancy peacock some how that truth had slipped by him as he remained long past his required thirty days willing to risk life and limb for his compatriots.
Ezra was beginning to shiver and realized as he rapidly blinked away the droplets of water that he had to get up. Slowly he rolled over on his left side eventually onto his knees, using Chaucer's muscular frame to balance against as he stood on shaky legs. The entire progression upward he was careful not to utter a sound. Once upright he leaned heavily into his mount as a wave of dizziness and nausea washed over him. Oh lord he couldn't vomit now that would kill him. 'No, No, No' he willed his stomach to settle taking slow shallow breaths until the feeling was mentally leached away. Now the problem of getting onto Chaucer wasn't going to be solved, as easily, the badly bruised or cracked ribs and broken arm were the problem. Holding tight to the saddle he carefully turned around trying to survey the land for anything at all that maybe of assistance. A large toppled tree brought a solution to mind. Releasing the death grip on the leather cantle he once again leaned into his equine mount that remained rooted in place as Ezra gently supported the damaged wrist while securing it with in his shirt. That done he grabbed onto Chaucer's saddle again awkwardly leading the beast towards the fallen tree where after a brief struggle he managed to seat himself then waited for the world to stop spinning before encouraging Chaucer in the correct direction towards Four Corners.
The unrelenting rain had continued for days making for the cold, wet, muddy world that Ezra loathed. Both he and his mount were chilled to the core and coated with a layer of mud as they rode back from their early morning patrol. Rising at such an hour was ludicrous on the average day. The morning had already gone far beyond preposterous well into bizarre. The gambler was thankful that his faithful Chaucer had not been injured beyond a few cuts and scrapes. Ezra hadn't faired so well his broken arm throbbed in tempo with the headache that gripped his skull. He would have laughed, but didn't want to bring on another searing pain through his throat, a small smile graced his countenance instead because he wasn't sure it was morning anymore, damn' the deceptive gray skies overhead he thought it could very well be later in the day. Wondering when pretense had changed to fact, farce became reality and when a smiling facade became friendship. The giddy thoughts skittered through his brain as a befuddled Standish urged his exhausted unenthused mount home
Lightening illuminated the darkened skies as a heavy deluge of rain poured down onto Four Corners, a quiet Vin was standing just outside the doors of the saloon intently watching the roads into town, waiting for the southerner to return. A worried Chris stepped out the door and stood next to him scanning the street for any sign of their friend. The harsh weather had failed to let up preventing an immediate search for Ezra he was long overdue he should have returned the early the morning before, where the hell was he? Hopefully he had found a dry place and holed up until the rain let up, but he had a feeling that wasn't the case. There would have been a time Larabee would have firmly believed that the man had run out on them, but not now. Now he was worried. He looked over at Vin "Well?" Vin shrugged. When was it going to clear?
''Nother day' in the morning we kin look fer him''
It was nightfall before a solitary horse slowly wandered into the rain sodden town under its own guidance. The rider slumped over in the saddle barely clinging on. Chris had the night watch and was outside the jail in the dim light smoking a cheroot when he noticed the wretched creature wander aimlessly into town. Ezra? Before the realization hit him, the gambler had fallen from his tenuous perch atop his horse into the muddy street below. The dark gunslinger sprinted through the downpour to the limp form's side.
Chris didn't get a response the water running over his face fell off in sheets onto the injured man as he gently rolled him over anxiously feeling for a pulse. He found a weak and rapid one as he touched the cool wet skin on Ezra's neck. He could barely make out Ezra features in the faintly lit street. The dark clad gunslinger heard familiar footsteps approaching along the boardwalk, Vin. He turned to see the longhaired tracker look briefly at him before he rushed off in the direction of Nathan's clinic. Larabee knelt in the mud listening as the torrents of rain fell from above still able to hear the southerner's raspy breathing despite the sudden din. A soggy J.D. Dunne rushed up across the street sliding a little and splashing as he traversed the mire.
"Chris, I saw Vin run past, Ezra? Is he okay?"
"Don't know, J.D. could you take Chaucer over to the livery make sure he's okay."
Dunne although reluctant to leave his friend was off slowly leading the weary horse away as Vin and Nathan rounded the corner. The healer rushed to prone man running his hands over him checking for injuries.
"Bring him up to the clinic can't see here, have ta get him outta of the rain, careful though he's gotta busted arm an' maybe some cracked ribs."
Chris lifted Ezra in his arms and Vin steadied him as he slowly carried the injured man towards Nate's place with the healer walking alongside trying to get a better look at his patient but the low light prevented any further insight.
The door open flew open as the trio brought in their muddied friend, Larabee straining as he covered the last few steps to the bed. Helped by Vin and Nate they lay Standish gently atop the covers so that Nathan could examine the unconscious man. Vin set about stoking up the fire in the potbelly stove trying to warm the southerner while Chris lit all the lanterns he could find. Nathan was startled by the darkening bruise across the man's throat concerned that the gambler's throat might continue to swell he propped the man high up in the bed to ease his breathing before he continued treating the gasping man. Ezra's chilled body began to shake as Nathan with some assistance from the others stripped the gambler of his filthy saturated clothing. They gently cleaned him and toweled him dry before draping a light sheet over him. The healer quickly set the bones of the right wrist, wrapping and splinting the damaged limb as well as tightly binding the cracked ribs before he continued with the rest of th examination. The neck injury concerned him as much as the concussion and he would need stitches right above his right eye well inside the hairline. Chris helped hold the man's head still as Nate scrubbed the bloody gouge and carefully stitched it closed winding clothe strips to act as a clean bandage before layering several blankets over the unconscious man. As the healer stood up and stretched, the tracker took his place at Ezra's side lightly gripping the cool hand while Larabee turned to Jackson wanting the truth.
"I dunno Chris he's in a bad way, that swelling in his throat got me worried. Can't tell if his trouble breathing is from that or he's got fluid in the lungs."
The weary healer trudged across the room to mix up some herbs for a poultice to lie across Ezra's neck hoping to reduce the swelling. Chris stood up and went to tell the others what had happened. Seeing a wet J.D. on the stairs followed by an equally drenched Buck and Josiah stopped him before he even closed the door.
"Whoa slow down."
The dark leader waved them all into the room where they instantly quieted upon seeing their pale friend propped up in the clinic's bed.
"You know what happened?"
The mustached ladies man asked as he stared at Vin leaning close to Ezra a limp hand tightly held in his own whispering quietly his fallen friend. J.D. had told the others but not before leaving the worn out Chaucer in livery in the capable hands of one of the stable boys who took great care in getting the weary creature cleaned up and settled into his stall.
"Nope, no idea. Rode in and collapsed in the middle of the street without a word."
They settled in for the long haul waiting for their friend to rouse.
A slight fever replaced the chill to the southerner's skin before the sun had risen on the new day. Ezra woke in pain as he weakly coughed sending a searing pain through him as he lay there shallowly breathing through the pain. A single tear ran down his face as remained deathly still afraid to move for fear that a renewed bout of agonizing pain would return.
His eyes fluttered opened after he heard Nathan's quiet voice his vision was slightly blurred. The clinic he knew he was in the clinic.
"Don't try talking..."
The southerner just looked at him. His eyes screamed Ah know!
"You in pain?"
Nathan received the indignant look again.
"I know you think it's a stupid question, but I have to know, okay?"
The healer rewarded with a long slow blink.
"I take that was yes."
Another long slow blink came forth.
One long blink followed by a short one.
"Arm hurt?" "Ribs?"
Another long blink followed by a short one.
Ezra closed his eyes longer than before.
The silent yes was confirmed by a weak grip on the healer's arm.
"Okay Ezra I'm going to get something for the pain, you understand?"
Another long blink and Nathan went over to the table to mix up an herbal remedy. The healer quickly returned.
"Ezra you going have to try and drink this''
The gambler lay there rapidly blinking his eyes.
"Can you try? If it's bad I'll stop''
A long blink, he was desperate to ease the pain. Nathan sat down on the bed and eased him into a sitting position lending support by letting Ezra lean against him. The southerner did his utmost to relax, allowing the healer to administer the bitter brew unable to stop the painful reflex that ended with him sputtering almost choking on the remedy but it went down his swollen throat. His vision started to swim but he forced himself to calm down, after a moment the pain eased a little. By this time the others were awake silently watching their friend struggle to remain conscious.
"Now for a little water Ezra I promise this will go down better''
Nate didn't have to move a worried Larabee who couldn't break eye contact with the pain filled green eyes thrust a cup of cool water into the healer's hand. The dark gunslinger quickly gripped Ezra's hand with one of his own.
"All right ' here we go''
Nathan was right water had gone down better and the fevered Ezra was quickly settled back on the pillows. The seven's leader stared at him concern clearly showing across his face.
"What happened out there Ezra?"
"Chris he can't talk right now that throat of his is too painful to drink let alone talk''
But Ezra understood the importance and weakly shook off Chris' hold to motion for a writing implement quickly rewarded with a pencil and paper he awkwardly relayed the tale.
Ezra was relieved as he sank back into the bed that they had finally understood his pantomime. He explained as best as he could what had happened to others through his horrendous left handed writings and limited motioning. Simply stating the folks that he had stopped to help refused to accompany him back to town, although he did not mention to the boys that they had actually abandoned him. A fact that was completely understandable in his eyes after all why would they trust a 'fancy peacock' those were the man's exact words, like himself. But the family still needed help so he did his best to relay this to his friends along with their approximate location. The attempt exhausted him. Within moments no longer able to hold his eyes open he was sleeping deeply without any more assistance from the healer's noxious brew.
At some point later he woke to find a solitary Nathan watching over him.
"The others went to find the wagon and as long as you're awake we can get some more tea down ya' maybe then you kin have some beef broth''
The healer was graced with a disgusted look from his patient followed by a nervous look while Ezra's shaky hand went up towards his throat only to be intercepted by Nathan.
"It's badly swollen not busted up cause you can swallow, swelling should go down in a few days so until then don't try talking."
A lone tear of relief that Nathan chose to ignore accompanied a long blink.
"How about that tea?"
How much time had passed by Ezra wasn't sure but he woke to find Mr. Larabee sitting in the rocking chair next to him, he recognized the quiet words of Cervantes.
"Fortune," said Don Quixote to his squire, as soon as he had seen them, "is arranging matters for us better than we could have hoped."
Chris looked up. Setting the book aside when he saw Ezra was awake and went over to his side.
"Ezra you had us worried you been asleep for over three days''
The gambler held up three shaky fingers when a realization hit him.
"Yes three days. Don't worry yer horse is fine''
Ezra tried to speak breathing rapidly through the sudden discomfort.
"We found that family. The little girl is just bruised other than that she's fine... Ezra why didn't you tell us they left you there? The father of those children felt guilty and when he went back for you, you were long gone. He tried to follow your trail back to town. Kept saying he was wrong about you."
The man in black understood he wasn't about to get an explanation even if Ezra could speak, when would Ezra understand his worth to the town, to the people, to his six friends. That he wasn't the superficial conman he portrayed but a good caring man. Hopefully someday but he wasn't going tell how he roared at the unfortunate farmer who had left Ezra behind based on a first impression, especially since it had taken him a long time to understand the caring soul beyond Ezra's charade and let the subject go.
"I'm going to get Nate he's eating breakfast. You okay until I get back?"
A brief nod from Ezra was all it took before Chris was off to get the healer.
A hoarse whisper came from the clinic's sole occupant just as the door closed.
"So shines a good deed in a weary world."