By: Angela B
Title: The Kill Pen 0/2
Disclaimer: Don't own them and never will.
Note: Thanks to NT for betaing this for me.
Note: The term `kill pen' will be explained in story.        
Note: This is an answer to the Mag7 challenge.  Write a story in which one (or more) of the guy's horses disappears. (If using an AU in which horses do not exist; you can substitute the mode of transportation).
Archive: Whoever wants it, I guess.
Univ.: OW

The Kill Pen

Ezra was dead tired as he rode in from his turn on patrol. The sky was just beginning to lighten to the point where you could actually make out silhouettes against the horizon. As he dismounted Chaucer and led him into the livery stables, the sound of running feet and angry yelling drew his attention to the doorway. Before he could do more than pop his derringer out of its rig, Ezra felt a powerful blow to the back of his head. The last sounds he heard before losing consciousness were gunshots and Chaucer's whinny.

Relieving Chris, JD had taken over at the jailhouse only a short time earlier. Normally, no one would be needed to stay all night in the jailhouse, but their prisoner was no ordinary outlaw. James Turnall was widely known in that part of the country. Known for his cattle rustling, horse thieving and the dangerous group of men that rode with him. More than that, though, the man was known for his temper. The man had a shorter fuse than the feared Chris Larabee and killing didn't bother him in the slightest. The outlaw gave him the creeps-with the way the man just sat there on his bunk and stared at him, like he knew some inner secret JD didn't. Little did he know he was about to find out how right he was. Settling into the creaky chair after checking on the sleeping prisoner JD heard a soft knocking on the door and someone calling out his name.

Unlocking the door the young sheriff suddenly found himself knocked backwards onto the floor as five men made their way quietly into the jail. JD watched in shocked silence as his prisoner was released from his cell. Completely expecting the next sound he heard to be a bullet ending his life he jumped when Tunrall's voice whispered in his ear, "Lucky for you we don't kill children."

Chris had just finished making a short round around the town and had entered the boardinghouse when the hairs on the back off his neck began tingling. Stopping and listening he suddenly heard JD yelling for help. The leader ran back to the door and out into the street. Catching a glimpse of some of the outlaws riding away, Chris began yelling for his men as he headed for the livery. It was only then, with his attention focused on getting to a horse that he noticed a man running in the same direction. He fired his weapon and watched as the man stumbled and then got back up. As he arrived at the door, the rider came galloping out on a horse, knocking him down. Chris jumped to his feet and ran in the doors only to stumble over a figure lying on the ground. One quick glance at the black riding jacket told him exactly who lay unmoving before him.

He would never recall screaming out the healer's name, but Nathan would never forget it for the rest of his life. The strangled, panicked sound emanating from a man he deeply respected told Nathan all he had to know, someone was down and Chris cared who it was. Reaching the livery in a matters of moments, five regulators surrounded their leader as he gave a brief description of what had taken place. After confirming that Ezra had only been knocked unconscious and was not dead, Nathan and Josiah carried the limp body back to the clinic while the others saddled up. Their prisoner had picked the wrong jail to escape from this time. Depositing his sleeping friend on the cot, Josiah wished him and the healer well as he left the clinic. On the street below, his horse stood saddled as the remaining four waited for his exit. Chris, unnecessarily, ordered Vin to find Turnall's tracks. The formidable leader silently swearing to chase the man into hell if necessary, but one way or another the outlaw and his gang would be returning to Four Corners.


The tracker quickly picked up Turnall's boot tracks leading from the jail cell and was able to discern which horse he mounted. Picking up the horse track's he set out at a quick pace. One part of his mind worrying about his unconscious friend while the rest of mind focused on finding the culprit who started this war. Though no one in the small group said anything, they all knew that severe blows to the head could result in damage far exceeding what a bullet could inflict. The brain wasn't something that could be repaired or operated on, at least not around these parts. They all said silent prayers for their friend, the gambler.

Daylight had finally spread its fingers out, encompassing the wide-open range. The soft hues of pinks had turned to bright, hot yellow. It would be a scorcher, but none of the men concentrated on the heat or the ensuing discomfort it would bring. All, but the easterner, JD, had long ago learned to ignore what would be obvious and ride on. Vin kept his eyes on the tracks and slowly got a mental image of where the outlaws were headed. Pulling his horse to a stop, Vin waited for the others to gather around before speaking.

"Look's like they're headed for Devil's Pass," Vin said assuredly.

The others had learned to trust the young man's assessments early on. Even though Vin was only a couple of years older than JD, the man possessed the wisdom of a man who had lived a long life and seen too much.  JD was never sure how come the man who was only a few years older than he had gained so much respect and knowledge, but he expected it had to do with the life the tracker had led.  Sometimes, the young easterner thought about this. What made a man the way he was and how did he come to be whom he was? Would he, himself ever become more than what he was right then? These thoughts oftentimes overwhelmed the young man and he would simply choose not to think on the subject anymore.

Chris nodded in agreement with Vin's assessment and said, "Keep on them."

Vin merely nodded once and turned his horse towards the pass. The pass was a shortcut between Ridge City and the growing metropolis of Denver, Colorado. Many wagon trains had attempted to use it before learning of its dangerous path that lead to more deaths than successes.  It was soon abandoned and was only used by wise men that wouldn't ride through it after the first of the fall rains began.  Obviously, the outlaws weren't so wise. Fall had already set upon them, and though it was warm and hot today, tomorrow could bring cold winds or a thunderstorm. It was best to go in, catch these men and get out as quickly as possible. 

The five regulators fell into single-file as they climbed the winding hill. Chris couldn't help but chuckle at the thought of how much Ezra would be complaining by now. At the thought of his friend, the leader sombered  and put his mind back to the problem at hand. He didn't envy Nathan in the least when that ornery man came to and learned not only had he been bushwhacked, but also someone had taken his horse. Lord, that man cared about that spitfire horse of his.

As the five men crested the top of the climb, Buck bought his horse up alongside his long-time friend. Grinning, like a cat who just ate a canary, he said, "Ain't too bright are they?"

Looking out across the wilderness below, the five men could see smoke wafting up through the trees from an unseen campfire hidden below.

"That or it's a trap," Josiah said sagely. It wouldn't be the first time smoke was used to draw a man's opponent out into the open for an ambush.

Buck turned in his saddle and looked at the older man. Still grinning, he said, "Guess there is only one way to find out."

Readjusting their positions in their saddles, the five men kneed their mounts and started the arduous process of descending the steep winding slope. Going up the hill had been relatively easy; it was the going down that got most people killed. Steep drop-offs on both sides of the trail had led to wagons and horses alike plummeting to the bottom , where treasures unfound lay hidden by brush and trees.

Three hours later Chris held up his hand to signal his men to stop. The whole way down the harden leader had caught glimpses of the smoke spiraling up through the trees. His nerves were on edge as alarm bells went off in his head and his gut tightened. Either Buck was right and these men didn't have the brains the good Lord gave a slug, or Josiah was right and it was a trap. Either way he intended for his men to come out of this alive and in one piece. They were halfway down the incline;  someone had managed to make the road here wider, a turning around place of sorts. Chris had know about this spot and figured it was here the outlaws had stopped to build their fire.

Signaling with his fingers, he had Buck and JD pull off to the left and Vin and Josiah to the right, while he headed straight into the camp. The four other men dismounted and tied their horses up in the bush, trying to keep them hidden as well as they could. Sneaking through the grass and dried undergrowth as quietly as possible, the four regulators soon were positioned in a surrounding circle.  Having come upon a couple of their quarry, both Buck and Josiah had improved the odds. There would be two less outlaws to worry about in the future. Chris rode his steed right into the middle of that camp with no fear showing. It was man who had no fear of dying that proved to be the most dangerous, because a man who wasn't afraid to die had no qualms about taking as many of the others with him as possible. Little did James Turnall know that Chris Larabee was afraid of dying, he just had no intentions of letting anyone know.  After years of trying to get himself killed, he finally had a reason again to live and, strangely enough, it was for those six reasons he was willing to die.  James Turnall came out of his hiding hole with his gun aimed at Chris' chest. "That's far enough, Larabee," he said harshly.

"You plannin' on using that thing or you just showing it off?" Chris asked coyly.

"Well, it ain't for show," Turnall said angrily. He hated that the great Chris Larabee showed no fear of him. Everyone feared him.

"Let's go then," Chris said, with an evil grin. Before Turnall could blink Chris had drawn and shot the gun out of his hand.

Around them a cacophony of gunfire sounded, echoing and reechoing around the walls of the canyon. A moment later silence reined heavily as Chris called out to his men one-by-one, all answering they were well. Their captives were not so lucky, out of the seven that had begun this journey only two survived. Grabbing Turnall by his throat, Chris thrust the man up against a tree. The one-time outlaw yelped against the pain as the bark scraped the back of his scalp. Larabee held no pity for the man and only shoved hi further up on his toes.

"Did you really think you were going to get away?" Chris asked darkly.

"Would have if you didn't have that tracking mutt with you," Turnall answered hatefully.

Chris was ready to snuff the guy when he felt a reassuring hand on his arm. Turning his looked into the blue eyes staring back at him. With almost a pleading look Vin said quietly, "Not in my name you don't. He ain't worth it."

A moment or two passed before Chris assented to the words and eased his grip a mite. It was then that Buck stepped up and grabbed Turnall out of Chris' grasp. "Where is he?" the mustached man growled.

Confused, Turnall asked, "Who?"

"Chaucer!" Buck fairly yelled. "Where is he?"

"Who the heck is Chaucer?" Turnall asked in growing confusion.

"Ezra's horse. The one ya'll stole from my friend in the livery," Buck hissed, his impatience growing and becoming more deadly. "After ya knocked him out," Buck's anger clearly coming through.

"I don't know what you're talking about. We didn't steal no horse at least not from the livery." Turnall said, equally heatedly. He was used to being feared and treated with respect, whether it was out of that fear or not. He certainly wasn't accustomed to being treated so harshly.

Chris stepped up close to Turnall, his green eyes blazing with hate. "I saw a man running in there myself. Winged him before he rode away on my friend's horse. Now. Where. Is. HE?" The black-clad leader asked, none-to-friendly.

"Look, I don't know who you saw, but it wasn't any of my men," Turnall said. Resigned to the fact that his outlaw days were over, that was if he made it off the pass alive and the looks he were receiving from these men surrounding him weren't promising.

Turning away from the man, Buck mumbled a disparaging comment about the outlaw's manhood and walked to gather the horses. The three remaining regulators gathered the dead and placed them over their horses, while Chris kept his gun trained on the two surviving men. A few minutes later the men headed up out of the canyon; their goal was to be at the top before nightfall.

++++++++++++

Chaucer was not a happy horse. Never since partnering up with the his current human, had he been treated so rudely. It reminded him of his days before the brown-haired man had come along and given him a better life, a life filled with sweets and lots of praise. It had been easy to give the man what he asked for because the man rewarded him so easily. The soft talking man with the voice like cotton and honey had been the complete opposite of his previous owner. That man had been brutal and hateful. The punishment he had received had been cruel and undeserving. He had been glad when the beastly man had disappeared, that was until the food and water had run out and he had been left tied to a fence post to waste away. Then he had been untied and taken to a pen with several other horses of an inferior quality to himself.

As the new rider yanked once again on his bridle Chaucer wished terribly for his human, wished to be relieved of this vile human who had forced him onto this trail of mindless wandering.

Chaucer had tried all the tricks he had used in the past to rid his new rider, but all it had garnered him was more punishment and when they stopped; he was hobbled. Hobbled by rope no less. Of all the inhumane, thoughtless, mind-boggling contraptions to be attached to his sore, tender hoofs. His human would never think of treating him with such disregard. Why didn't the man with the soft smile and reassuring words come for him? He missed his human.  Chaucer's head dipped further down as he plodded onward, his spirit breaking with
each step.

++++++++++++++++++

"What?!" Ezra cried out and immediately regretted the reaction.

"Relax now, Ezra. We'll get him back," Nathan said, in a coddling voice. "The others will return and bring Chaucer back with them, unharmed and well," Nathan spoke as he tried to keep his patient calm. They all knew how Ezra felt about his horse and it didn't bode well for the horse thief, if he was bought back alive.

Ezra had finally come to late in the afternoon. After getting both his oars going in the same direction he had asked how he came to be in the clinic. Nathan's simple explanation had seemed to appease the gambler. That was until Ezra recalled he had not tended to his horse before being attacked. Not one to tell a lie, Nathan had spoken the plain truth about the abduction of the man's horse and waited for the explosion.

"Chris just let that goon take my horse?" Ezra asked heatedly.

"No, Chris did not just let that man take your horse. They went after them." Nathan said exasperation clearly showing in is voice. "After making sure YOU were ok."

The healer understood that out here in the west a man's horse was trusted more than his best friend, but there was more than that between Ezra and that obnoxious steed of his. Nathan knew if the boys didn't bring Chaucer back, Ezra was liable to kill that horse thief and could do it in cold-blood. If that outlaw happened to be dead, Nathan had no doubt Ezra would try to bring him back to life just so he could kill him again. Chaucer definitely meant that much to the gambling loner.

++++++++++

The five regulators and their two prisoners had made it back up over the crest, accompanied by the complaints of James Turnall and associate. The peacekeepers were quite used to Chris' strong will and perseverance and had simply followed where he led. Now, they were bunked down for the night, with Chris taking first watch.

Watching his friend from the edge of camp, Buck gathered up a deep breath and walked slowly out to the blond. Stepping up beside his friend, Buck stood quietly for a minute before speaking. "Ezra's going to fine," he said softly.

"Yeah. Sorry, stubborn fool has got the hardest head I've ever known," Chris replied, with a small grin.

"You know he's going to be as ticked off as a coondog without a trail when he finds out we don't have Chaucer," Buck said seriously, the humor gone.

"Yep. Figure he'll drag his body through the desert for that horse," the blond said quietly.

Inwardly he appreciated the loyalty Ezra had towards his horse. There were fools out here who didn't tend to their horse well and often found themselves walking when their horse either died or ran away. Chris figured that horse was just as loyal to the gambler.

+++++++++++++++++

This was just completely uncalled for, Chaucer thought. To be snubbed up against a tree so tight he couldn't even stretch his neck. His human would never treat him in such an undignified way. Yes, he would admit, there were times when the two of them would butt heads, have a disagreement in which road to take, but his human would never treat him so callously. His human and he belonged together. They both knew it the first time they stared at one another. Green eyes met soft brown and there was a connection. Chaucer felt moisture in his eyes and blinked it away. His human would come for him; he had to.

+++++++++++++++

Though, it was still early morning in his mind, Ezra was up and sitting out on the porch of the clinic. The boys would be back today. He knew their determination and Chris' drive, and when they arrived they would be bringing his horse. That steed better be well or there would be thunder to pay. Not even the great Chris Larabee would be able to stop him from extracting retribution if Chaucer had been hurt in any form.  Ezra kept his blurry vision focused on the outline of the edge of town, waiting for the forms of riders to come into view.

Nathan stood at the window and watched his patient with worry and a bit of anger. The gambler had a bad concussion and thrown up half the night. The healer knew good and well the man wasn't seeing straight, couldn't walk straight either. But that hadn't kept the man from making his way outside at the crack of dawn this morning to sit and wait for Chris and the boys.  Lord, he hoped, Chris bought back that horse back in good shape.

It was nearing mid-morning when Ezra could begin to make out the outline of men coming in the distance. His vision had cleared some, but not well enough to be able to count men and horses. "Nathan", he called out.

The healer stepped out of the clinic and saw the men approaching. Counting the number of bodies slung over horses he figured it had been a heck of a battle. His thoughts were disrupted by the soft voice bedside him. "They all there?" Ezra asked with concern.

"Yep," Nathan replied with relieve at seeing all his friends in the upright and health state.

A moment later Nathan heard  a whispered, "See him?" Ezra question sounded more like a pleading.

Nathan bowed his head before answering. "No.  He's not among them," he said quietly.

Chris stopped in front of the clinic while JD and Vin took their prisoners on to the jail and Josiah and Buck headed towards the undertaker's with the five bodies. Looking up, Chris noticed Ezra's slumped shoulders and Nathan's sad countenance. "Ezra? How ya doin'?" the leader asked.

"I'm quite well. It's nothing, but a small nuisance," Ezra replied. Taking a deep breath, he asked, "Chaucer?"

Bowing his head a moment before looking back up at the man who had become family. "Turnall claims it wasn't them that took the horse. We searched the surrounding land just to be sure. He wasn't there,"
Chris said softly, somehow feeling like he had just delivered the
news of a death.

Ezra straightened up and tugged at cuffs before turning and walking back into the clinic. Chris raised his eyebrows at Nathan, who just shrugged. A minute later Ezra came back out with his jacket and hat in hand. Nathan swung and took one look before exploding. "Where in the tarnation do you think you're going?" he shouted.

"To ascertain the location of my steed, Mr. Jackson," Ezra said calmly, as he made his way down the wavering staircase.

By this time the other men, with the exception of the young sheriff, had joined Chris. All of them wondered how long the gambler could stay on feet before falling flat on the ground. Vin shifted in his saddle before saying, "Look, Ez. Just let me water the horses and I'll go back out and track him for ya. Just stay put, before you wind up with another knot on ya head,"

Ezra stepped off the last step and headed down the boardwalk in crazy weave, reminiscent of a drunk. The three men watched the determined gambler make his way to the livery before turning their horses and headed in the same direction. Nathan turned and closed up the clinic before making his way down the stairs. Stubborn fools, the lot of them, he thought, as he strode down to the livery. As he smiled to himself, he knew he wouldn't have it any other way.

Seven men rode out of the livery headed out the direction in which Chris had seen the rider disappear the previous morning. It didn't take long for Vin to pick up the distinctive tracks of the high-stepping proud horse. A long while later Chris watched as Vin studied the tracks and frowned at something. Moving up closer and lowering his voice he asked, "What's wrong?"

"Chaucer's fighting the rider for control, and by the looks of the tracks, losing," Vin whispered.

"Dang, horse. He's just as muleheaded as his owner," Chris hissed, looking back at the man swaying in the saddle.

"Need to stop," Vin said quietly.

Chris, having noticed Buck and Nathan had moved up on either side of the gambler, who was turning quite pale, acknowledged the quiet directive. Knowing his next command was not going to go over well, he held up his hand and called out, "Break."

Ezra's head popped up and the wince signified he quickly regretted that sudden move. "Excuse me, Mr. Larabee, but why on earth are we stalling in this most productive movement?"

Staring Ezra in the eyes, Chris said in his sternest voice, "Because, Ez, the guys and I have been on the trail since dawn yesterday and we need water and a break. Besides, the horses need a rest, as well."

Getting the desired results of his brunt address, Ezra lowered his eyes, mumbled a sincere apology and, with a little assistance from Buck, dismounted. The remaining men knew they could have gone awhile longer, but they needed to get Ezra off his borrowed mount and get some rest. The fact Chris had used them didn't bother any of them in the least, knowing Chris  would have done the same for any of them.

++++++++++++++++

Chaucer had decided enough was enough, knowing that, if his human had not come for him, there had to be a very good reason. He decided if the smooth-talking man wasn't going to get him away from this demon riding him, he would.  Giving one last loud snort, the elegant steed flinched his nerves and slowed to a plough-horse trod. Not giving in to the kicking, spurring or the stinging of the whip, Chaucer remained passive and seemingly uncaring. Just as the rider started to dismount, and therefore had one boot in the stirrups and one out, Chaucer reared up and dislodged his rider flat onto his back. Having the unknown rider on the ground, Chaucer stood lengthwise over the prone body and began pounding his hoofs on either side, never striking flesh, but keeping the person imprisoned within his hoofs.  After several terrifying moments, Chaucer suddenly quit his mad act and backed off, keeping a careful eye on the whimpering body that lay curled up in a ball. Chaucer was all but laughing at the once oh-so-brave horse thief. Yeah, next time you put hobbles on me, you better never take them off, Chaucer thought, letting out a couple of snickers as his head bobbed up and down..

++++++++++

Ezra jerked awake, having fallen to sleep the minute Buck had lowered him to the ground. Cautiously peering around to see if anyone had noticed his lapse in manners, he found no attention being directed his way. Discreetly as possible he shifted his position and placed his hand against the tree to help raise himself off the ground. JD was the first to his side to help him get on his feet. Chris just shook his head at the man's single-minded determination and put the cap back on his canteen. Fifteen minutes, that's all the man had rested and from the looks of him he could have used about a week, Vin thought as he went to collect the horses. Nathan stopped Ezra progress to give him a once over, knowing good and well whatever he gave as a diagnosis, the gambler would still mount up and head out. Satisfied that the man could at least semi-stand and focus his eyes enough to glare at his intrusion, Nathan shook his head and stepped aside, muttering about fools and their ways.

Trying to lighten the slight tension the interaction had caused, Buck turned to Ezra and said, "Don't mind them, Ez. We'll get Chaucer back.

JD, trying to join in the banter added, "Yeah. Can't spend all that money on the pound of flesh, just to let some else take it."

Ezra spun around and demanded, "Excuse me, Mr. Dunne. Just what are you implying?"

Getting nervous at the look Ezra was given him, JD flashed an uneasy grin and said flippantly, "I just meant you probably paid a lot of money for Chaucer. You'd of course want him back."

Before anyone could move Ezra had JD on the ground with his fist in the air. "Chaucer and I take umbrage to that derogative remark," Ezra fairly hissed. "Besides, if I recall correctly, you are responsible for letting that miscreant get free in the first place," he said  as the anger and worry rolled over him.

Buck started to step in, and was stopped by Chris' hand on his arm and firm shake of his head. JD was going to have to learn to handle his own mistakes. Chris respected JD's lion-like courage and his big heart, but the kid was going to have to start learning to stop putting his mouth in motion before his brain in gear. Chris knew it was only his youth that made him spout off things better kept unsaid, they all knew that, but one day JD was going to run into someone who wasn't quite as willing to be tolerant of his age or his mouth and that could get him killed.

Ezra stared down into the hurt and surprised eyes of the kid and took a calming breath. Standing back up and squeezing his eyes against the vertigo that assailed him from such a stunt, he held out his hand to help the boy up off the ground. Taking Ezra's hand, but not pulling on it in fear of the man falling over on him, JD lifted himself to his feet. "Sorry, Ez. I didn't mean to imply that the only reason you are going after Chaucer was because of the money. We all know better than that," JD said humbly.

Ezra could only nod, fighting back the urge to lose the precious little contents his stomach held or the tight hold on his emotions. "I, too, deeply apologize for my unbecoming display of irrationality and loss of control," the gambler said. Taking a calming breath, he added. "I, also, apologize for my callous and thoughtless remark. Five to one odds is insurmountable for any one to beat alone."

Vin, having come up with the horses, handed Ezra the reins to his horse and slapped the man gently on the back. "Ez, you're the only man I know that uses twenty words where only two are needed," the tracker laughed as he handed out the rest of the reins.

Soft laughter sounded off, easing the tension in the air,  as the seven men remounted and took off in the direction the hoof-prints led. Vin hadn't told Chris why he had chosen the place they had stopped and figured now was a good time to let the leader know. Sidling up beside the man in black he whispered, "Rider stopped there, as well. He used some method to hobble him and roughly I would say.  Found some blood."

Chris mouthed a few words not repeatable in public and felt the muscles in his neck tighten. "Explains why that stubborn thing hasn't  come back meeting us, yet," Chris whispered before asking, "He hurt bad?" Thinking worst case scenario for both horse and the rider once they caught up to him.

"Probably more chaffed than anything.  Chaucer ain't going to be none to happy about such treatment, know that much," Vin replied back with a cocky grin. Both men ducked their heads and smiled, knowing if that horse ever got the upper hand, the rider was in for it.


Ezra was miserable. He head throbbed, his horse was gone, taken by some low-life miscreant who didn't understand just what kind of magnificent beast Chaucer was and undoubtedly being ill-treated. Worse than any of those things, he felt miserable about his actions towards young JD. The kid had just been shooting off from the hip. He'd done it plenty of times in the past and had never bothered him before. Ezra reasoned it was because it had never been about the one thing in his life that meant something to him. At least it had been the only thing until he came to this dusty little town and met these six men. Ezra figured he owned JD an explanation or at the very least a clarification.

"Ten," Ezra said softly, his voice carrying over to the men.

"Uh?" JD asked, as he turned in his saddle to look at the man who had ridden up beside him.

"I paid ten dollars for Chaucer," Ezra clarified.

JD gasped as the others tuned their minds to the conversation. "Just ten dollars for Chaucer?" JD asked in amazement, having a hard time rationalizing paying so little for such a great horse.

"I was at a horse auction with Maude. She was running a scheme," waving his hand to ward off any questions. "Too complicated to
explain. Anyway, I was wandering about the grounds looking over the stock and pedigree. I watched for awhile before deciding to forego any purchase. I passed by the kill pen," he said, stopping with a sad look on his face.

They all knew what the kill pen was. The pen was were they tried to sell off abused, neglected, and sometimes wild-eyed  non-pedigree horses. Those not sold were taken off and destroyed. Ezra continued, "Something caused me to stop and watch the proceeding. Inside the pen a handler was trying to show off this ugly, mangy stud." Ezra stopped a moment and laughed at some inside joke that only he knew.

"Horse kept rearing, trying to knock the man off his balance. Unruly beast, really, biting and sashaying around. No signs of good breeding whatsoever," Again Ezra stopped with a smile playing on his lips. "Knew he was mine the moment I looked into those soft brown velvet eyes." Ezra stopped talking and gathered himself up quickly. Embarrassed that he had displayed such raw emotion over something as trivial as the purchasing of a horse.

Everyone kept silent. It was the first time any of them had heard Ezra speak passionately about something other than money. The plain truth was a lot of them felt the same way about their horse. A horse was more than just a way of transporting oneself from one spot to another. It was often times a person's only companion on a long trail. A well-treated horse never cared about the money in your pocket or the work you did. Didn't judge what kind of person you were by the type of home you lived in or the amount of people who respected you or what they were fed. A horse was your guide, your comforter, and the one you confided all your secrets and thoughts to. A man's horse was his best friend.

The seven men rode in silence for a long ways before Vin held up his hand, signaling for everyone to stop. Taking out his spyglass he scanned the horizon and then nearly fell out of his saddle laughing. Handing the spyglass over to Chris, who was looking at the tracker like he had lost his mind, he too broke out laughing. Handing the piece back to Ezra, he said with a large grin, "Ezra, that's some ten dollars you spent."

There in the distance was a lone person stumbling towards them, being shoved every-so-often by a very ticked off horse. The seven men watched in amusement as Chaucer nudged his captor along the dusty path, knocking the man from side to side every few steps to keep the man on track. Chris started laughing, a rich full out laugh that had the others joining him, as they started towards the raveling duo.

"Help me," the thief asked pleadingly. "This horse has gone nuts. You gotta shoot it."

Once upon the walker and horse, Ezra was appalled. "You? You hit me on the head and stole my horse. You'reyou're." Ezra grasped for the appropriate words to convey his confusion.

"A kid," supplied Buck with a large smile plastered on his face.

"Same age as JD, by the looks of him," Josiah added.

"Hey!" cried JD and the young horse thief, both insulted.

Ezra dismounted and walked towards his horse, gathering up the loose reins. Talking in a soft comforting voice the gambler began catalogueging  all the injuries his steed had suffered at the hands of this idiot. He only half listened to the groveling, whiny child as he rubbed and soothingly reassured Chaucer of his presence and made promises of pampering once back home.

Walking back to the young horse thief, Ezra let go of some of his frustration, much to the shock and amusement of his colleagues. After picking the boy back up, he asked simply, "What, pray tell were you thinking?"

"Better question would be, who is he?" Buck asked.

"He's gonna be a dead man if we don't get him away from Ezra and that horse of his," Vin said, as Chaucer bumped the young man's head again rather ruthlessly.

Chris grabbed the boyish-looking man and yanked him towards him. "Now, talk," the imposing man in black said.

"II", the young man stammered, trying to keep his eyes on the formidable man in front of him, and the horse and slick dressed man behind him.

Turning the boy around Chris said softly, with a heavy hint of threat, "That didn't tell me much. Gotta say more than that, or else." The blond left the insinuation hanging, but looked over to where Ezra was standing, unconsciously stroking Chaucer's mane

"Name's Kenneth Walker. I got to Four Corners last week," The youngster spoke haltingly. "I saw him," Ken nodded towards Ezra, "And that horse," speaking in a reverent tone. "Figured if I had a horse like that I would be someone to be respected. I was just entering the livery when someone started shooting and yelling. I got scared, took the horse and rode off," Kenneth words became lower.

Nathan walked up to the thief.  Seeing the makeshift bandage around the upper arm he said, "You're bleeding."

"Was. Just got ripped by some flying wood when someone shot at the livery doors," Ken said.

"That would have been me," Chris said as he stepped in closer making
Kenneth flinch.

"Oh," Kenneth said as he lowered his head.

"However did you manage to stay mounted, young man? Chaucer has a way of dismounting anyone he does not wish riding him." Ezra asked in puzzlement, watching Vin apply some ointment to the raw rope burns around the horse's hoofs.

"Worked on a ranch, breaking mustangs," Kenneth explained. "I kept my seat well enough, then when I got far enough out of town I stopped and hobbled him with rope."

"Yes, I see that," Ezra said, the heat returning in voice and anger relighting in his green eyes.

Josiah pulled the horse thief out of Ezra's reach as a precaution. A storm would be brewing later and it was just too sweltering to have to bury a body. "Why don't we head back home and sort this out there," the older man suggested.

"Fine, I suggest the young man can walk back," Ezra said angrily.

"Ezra. It will take too long if we make him walk and besides we got an extra horse he can ride." Nathan tried explaining.

"Mr. Jackson, surely you are not suggesting that Chaucer carry a rider in the poor misused shape he is in?" the gambler asked in astonishment.

Nathan hung his head and slowly shook it back and forth.  Ezra made it sound like he'd just asked the animal to roll over and die. "Ezra, he's fine. Just mount up and let's go home."

"Yeah. I'll agree to that. That mangy animal attacked me then forced me to walk back here," the young horse thief whined. "Would have shot the worthless animal, but when I went for my gun he rammed me and I lost it in the dirt.  Dumb horse wouldn't let me get near it, just starting marching me back to town," the boy complained.

"Ain't so dumb, if he managed that," Buck said softly, fighting to keep from falling down laughing at the image.

"Son, if you want to keep breathing, I'd shut-up if I's you," Josiah offered sagely.

Kenneth's shoulders slumped, but kept his mouth shut. Seeing they were at an impasse JD spoke up, "He can double with me." He figured it was the least he could do to make it up to Chaucer for the "slanderous remark" he had made against the animal.
 
Seeing approval from Chris, Josiah helped the now tied boy to mount up behind JD. Ezra remounted his borrowed his horse. His troubled vision, headache and rolling stomach forgotten as Chaucer stepped up beside him. Reaching over to give the favored mount one last rubbinghe whispered, "Let's go home, boy." Chaucer snickered and nodded his head twice. Yes, him and his human truly belonged together.

THE END