SUMMARY: This story is a response to the November 2002 Challenge by celesta_sunstar:
Have you ever wondered what would happen if Snow White had met the Seven Gunslingers instead of the Seven Dwarves? Or generally wondered at the chaos that would occur if the Seven ended up in your favorite novel.
This month I want you to hit the books for your ideas. You can put the Seven into your favorite story, or bring the characters out into whatever universe of M7 you think fits the best. Or the book itself can be a central plot device, much like NotTasha's "Down the Amazon" Series.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is based very loosely on the fairy tale "Twelve Dancing Princesses"
Seven Protecting Princes
Once upon a time, in a kingdom now forgotten, there lived a king with seven handsome sons whom he loved with all his heart. Each was borne to a different mother, who sadly passed away...well all except for Maude, but that's another story. And because the king loved each of his wives dearly and sorely missed them...well all except for Maude, but again, that's another story...he treated his sons as if they were precious and fragile treasures because they were the only reminders he had of their mothers, instead of the capable young men they were, much to their chagrin. So, though he had the best instructors in the kingdom teach his sons everything they needed or wanted to know, they lived their lives protected in the castle, rarely, if ever, leaving their home, and under heavy guards if they did.
As much as the king loved his sons, he didn't know them well. Oh he knew his oldest, Josiah, had a strong interest in religions. That his Chris, while intimidating, was a natural leader and the most likely to be king after him. That his boisterous Buck could, and would, charm any woman he met and his compassionate Nathan had a talent for healing. And while his Ezra took after his mother in his talents, he had a heart of gold, instead of coal, that he tried to hide. His quiet Vin could track and find anything, and his youngest, JD, had an enthusiasm for life that couldn't be matched.
But he didn't know how much his sons chafed under his protectiveness. And the king also didn't know why after his sons were sent to bed, the next morning, their boots would be covered in dust and mud. It did not matter that they were locked in their rooms, which were on the second story of the castle, with no trees near any of the windows and guards stationed at the doors. Each morning, boots which were spotless during the previous day, were covered in dust and sometimes even mud. It was a mystery that puzzled the king for years, but he gave it no hard thought as his sons were always safely in bed asleep when he checked on them in the morning. That was until one day...
"Hey Chris," Vin called out from the shadows as he watched his brother come out of a hidden passage in the bedroom.
Startled, Chris looked up, his hand on his sword, before noticing it was Vin. "Shit Vin, for a moment I thought you were one of the guards!"
Smirking and shaking his head, the long-haired brother replied, "Like one of them would want ta come in here without permission."
Chris shrugged, "Never know." Then, knowing that Vin wouldn't be in his room unless something happened, asked, "What's up?"
"Father's been looking for you."
He winced and asked, "How long? He send you?" The blonde knew that if their father had sent Vin to find him it had to be really important. Everyone knew if you wanted to find someone or something, Vin was the one to ask. Anyone else could search for hours and still come up with nothing, but he'd always find it.
His brother shook his head and responded, "Not long, a half hour...Steven's the one who told me to get ya. I was about to head out when I heard you in the passage, thought I'd meet ya here."
"Know what's it about?" Chris asked as he headed out.
"Chris." Vin grabbed his brother's arm.
He glared at the arm holding him. "What?" Vin looked up and down at him with a smirk. A look of understanding crossed his face. "Lemme change, let father know I'll be with him in fifteen. Oh and remind JD he's up next."
Vin snorted at the thought that they would need to remind JD of something like that.
"Oh and tell him to be extra careful, I heard rumors in town today that the bandits from the forest are getting worse."
"Will do." He replied, then asked, with concern for their youngest brother, "Should we double up? I mean we already increased our patrols during the day."
Chris shook his head as he turned towards his dresser, "It should be all right if he stays close to the road and just does the checkup patrol."
"He's not gonna like that...Probably say we're over protecting him again."
"Let him know we're covering the forest tonight together...that should satisfy him...If he says something, just tell him its that or one of us goes with him."
Vin smirked at the thought, knowing which way JD would go.
"Oh and I want you to scout out the forest."
Vin looked up at that.
Chris shrugged, "You have the best chance of getting in and out without notice, and we need to know a little more before getting them tonight. But be careful."
"Always," Vin smirked, then added, " Oh, by the way, father's in his study," as he left his brother to change into something less common and more princely.
A few hours later, Chris knocked then entered Josiah's room. He saw Nathan and Josiah looked up from the kingdom map they were studying, giving him worried looks.
"So what did our paternal parent wish to discuss?" Ezra asked from where he was lounging on Josiah's bed.
"The usual." Chris snorted. Then, as he glanced around, he saw Vin leaning against the wall almost hidden in the shadows but frowned when he didn't see anyone else in the room. "Where's Buck and JD?" He asked, surprised to not find them clowning around as they usually did during these pre-dinner meetings.
"JD hasn't come back from patrol yet so Buck went looking for him." Nathan said, looking worried.
"What? He's not back?"
Josiah looked disappointed at Chris, shaking his head. "What were you thinking sending him out by himself?"
"I was thinking that JD is capable of handling himself, and I sent him to patrol the road that the bandits weren't active on. Let's go find them." Chris said as he headed towards the wall in Josiah's room that hid the door to the secret passage...only to have it open on him with a frantic Buck helping a limping and beat up JD.
Surprised Chris took a step back, as he exclaimed, "What the?!?"
"Nathan!" Buck cried out, "Ya gotta help JD!"
"Buck, I keep telling you I'm fine!" JD protested
Ezra immediately jumped off the bed and helped Buck sit JD down on it.
"Dunno. Found him like this two miles out trying to get back. Just keeps telling me he's all right...dang fool...had trouble walking the passage and almost had to carry him back." Buck answered, then turned to Nathan, his worried tone expressed all their thoughts as he asked, "He gonna be all right?"
"I'm not a doctor...but it looks like nothing's broken...he just wretched his knee...and bruised his ribs..." their dark-skinned brother replied after he checked JD over. "Just needs some wrapping," then turning to JD, "And you have to take it easy for a while."
They all sighed in relief.
"See Buck...I told ya...I'm fine."
Buck looked up at Chris, "What happened?" he shouted as he got in Chris' face. "What happened was you sent JD out there on his own when you knew that the bandits were out there!"
"Buck." Chris growled in a warning tone.
"Don't you 'Buck' me. What the hell were you thinking sending him out alone?"
"I was thinking that he can handle himself on patrol."
"Yeah Buck. At least Chris thinks I can handle myself! I can take care of myself! I'm not a little kid anymore!" JD chimed in.
Buck looked at JD in disbelief. "Oh you took care of yourself real well out there! That's why your covered in bruises and Nate has to patch you up."
"BUCK NOT NOW." Chris shouted at Buck, then turning to JD, "What happened?"
"I was patrolling the road like you said to." JD looked at the faces surrounding him. "It was quiet. I was headed back when I saw these guys chasing this girl...Casey."
"Casey?" Buck asked, not recognizing the name right off, and wondered when did JD have the time to meet a girl he didn't know.
"Miz Nettie's niece. She's visited Miz Nettie a couple times." Josiah answered.
"I had to help! So I hit one of them with a bolt in the shoulder and tackled the other. I think that's when I wrecked my knee." JD grimaced as Nathan started wrapping his ribs. "Hey Nathan not so tight!"
"JD..." Chris said gruffly, wanting JD to continue his story.
"Oh...umm...well, he didn't go down right away so we ended up fighting hand to hand. I got some good licks in..." He winced as Nathan started on his leg. "So did he. Then Casey came up from behind him and hit the guy with a heavy tree branch." JD paused for a moment, waiting for the amused comments about needing help from a girl to start. When they didn't, he continued, "We tied them up and brought them to the village."
"What?!" Buck shouted. "You went in the village?"
"What kind of idiot do you think I am Buck?" JD shook his head disappointed his big brother thought so little of him. "We tied them to a tree just outside the village and I sent Casey to get the law. I waited until I saw them come and high tailed it out of there as fast as I could and met up with you!"
"Done," Nathan said as he finished tending to the last of JD's wounds. "That's all I can do. I have a potion you can drink that will help with the pain...but it'll make you sleepy. You'll probably miss dinner, which is good, I guess, cuz then no one would know you're hurt."
Buck shook his head at the thought, "Hell Nathan, everyone's gonna notice he's hurt when he walks if he went down to dinner! And if he misses it, Father would think he's sick and send the doctors to check up on him."
"I agree, Father will definitely discover JD's state of health is not 100%. It behooves us to determine a believable account of JD's impairments."
Buck retorted, "Like what? He fell down some stairs? Hell, look at them bruises...You can tell he was beat up!"
"And it's not like anyone in the castle would hurt him..." Vin added in agreement, which started the seven in a quick brainstorming session for plausible excuses.
Distressed with the thought his youngest was hurt in the safety within the castle, the king had all the servants questioned, but not a single one knew what happened. Frustrated, he proceeded to have his sons questioned as well...who were less than helpful.
Josiah spouted various theories on how JD could have gotten hurt. Ezra was also fairly verbose on the subject, though the king and his advisors weren't entirely sure what he said. Chris just reminded everyone that he was with the king at the time. Vin only shook his head and shrugged. Nathan spent the time asking more about JD's condition and apologizing for not being a doctor, although the court's physicians all agreed that he did every thing correctly. The only one which was a surprise was Buck. While his fun loving son did not provide any information, he did inform the king of his intention if and when he found whoever hurt poor JD.
In the end, while the king was certain his sons knew what happened, he was unable to determine what they knew. And therefore was forced to proclaim to the kingdom at large that the one who solved the mystery, which he was certain had something to do with the dusty boots, would receive whatever, within the king's power, they desired or risk banishment for failure. Many tried to solve the mystery, and all eventually went into exile. Though many left before the deadline of a week was up.
Since they were being watched, the seven decided not to got after the bandits right away. So for a while, various people, usually annoying braggarts from wealthy families wanting to better their position more than it was already, followed the seven around. During this time, JD recovered from his injuries with Buck hovering over him. As a result, no one thought they were really worth watching for clues, especially since JD kept to his original story. Vin had a tendency to disappear, then popping up behind whoever was watching him, often times scaring them, that after a while no one really bothered following him around. Between Josiah and Ezra, they sent quite a few away in fear of losing their sanity, with whatever absurd and inane conversations they had. Chris just plain scared them. And thanks to some potions of Nathan, the others slept straight through the night not noticing a thing.
After a while, most people gave up trying to figure out who hurt poor JD. And since there were no further mishaps where any of his sons got hurt, the king practically forgot about the incident.
During one of their meetings, Chris asked, "Hey Nathan, how's JD doing, really?"
Both of them ignoring JD's response of "I'm right here you know and I'm fine."
Nathan replied, "Yeah, he's doing better. Why?"
"Since no one been watching us lately, I was thinking it about time we go after the bandits in the forest...they've been hitting more places since we had to reduce our patrols."
"Hmm..." Nathan thought about over, then finally sighed and answered, "Well I guess he's good to go tonight, but it would be better to wait another day."
"Was planning on it. I want Vin to scout around again. They could have moved or increased numbers since the last time he did."
Vin nodded in agreement. "I'll scout around tonight while you fellas do the patrols..." His voice trailed off as he suddenly started looking around.
"What's wrong?" Nathan asked concerned.
"Dunno...have the damnest feeling that we're being watched."
"What?" The others cried out, knowing that Vin's feelings usually were right, but were confused in this case.
"There is no possibility an unknown individual could monitor us in this chamber." Ezra stated, saying what was on everyone's mind.
Frustrated, Vin shouted, "You don't think I know that!?!"
"Calm down...it's probably just your nerves." Josiah replied in a soothing manner.
"Guess so." Vin reluctantly agreed, though still feeling uneasy.
What the seven brothers did not know was that Casey, the girl JD had rescued, developed a crush on her savior -- even though she did have to help him out -- and she was in the room listening. While she knew he was one of the mysterious seven masked men who appeared one day to protect the village from a band of outlaws, her curiosity got the better of her and she wanted to find out who they were...well only one of them really. She had traveled to a near by woods -- as opposed to the forest where the bandits hid -- where a known witch lived and received a magic cloak which could make her invisible. Using this cloak, Casey was able to follow one of the seven back to the castle where she discovered their identities. Knowing she solved two mysteries of the kingdom, but needed proof -- well proof other than the hat she found after JD rescued her -- if she was to confront the king and claim her reward, Casey decided to follow them on one of their "adventures." Hearing about the plan to raid the woods. She vowed to follow them.
The next day, the seven brothers surprised the bandits at their hideout within the forest. Except for a minor injuries for the seven and major ones for the bandits, the brothers were able to apprehend the bandits without too much trouble and delivered them to the guards of the kingdom.
They were proud of themselves and very cheerful of their success. The seven brothers were able to capture the gang of bandits that had been evading the king's guards for months. And their attitudes lasted, at least until they were summoned to their father's chambers. For when they arrived, they not only saw their father, but also Casey. And in her hands were JD's missing hat, and one of the few of arrows that missed their targets the night before. Seeing those objects, they knew that their secret was now out. For better or worse, they need to confront their father about their actions...
"So all this time, you, my sons, were playing the masked seven protectors for that village?" The king shook his head in disbelief. "You boys could have been seriously hurt!"
Chris shook his head angrily, "We weren't _playing_ anything, father! We're good at what we do! But you're too stubborn to see it. We're not little kids anymore! You can't protect us from the troubles in life forever...we helped that town because it needed it. Your guards weren't able to do anything, but together we did."
Ezra interrupted by adding his two cents in, "Father, we may have been erroneous in our matter of keeping our late night activities from your notice, but given your protective proclivities, we saw it in our best interest not to inform you of it. However, you must admit we were successful in ridding the area of the miscreants terrorizing it."
"You have to realize you need to let us, your fledglings, spread our wings and learn to fly on our own," reasoned Josiah.
To which Buck added, "And you can't think that after hearing all about those bandits that we would stand by and do nothing, did you? You raised us better than that."
Seeing he wasn't about to get any words in, the king looked at who he thought was his most sensible son, who merely shrugged his shoulders and said, "I just wanted to make sure everyone stayed safe and healthy."
Which caused JD to pipe up, "And even if it meant getting hurt again, I'd still do!"
Realizing his sons have grown up on him and were not the fragile treasures he thought they were, but strong resilient men, the king sighed. He turned to his quiet Vin, "Do you have anything to add to what your brothers have already said?" He received a lopsided smile and a shake of a head in response. "In that case, though I have some apprehensions on your activities, I must admit I am proud of how you handled yourselves. And if it is what you desire, I will not stand in your way, if you wish to continue in this pursuit."
Then turning to the other person in the room, "And you my dear," the king addressed Casey, "What would you like as your reward for solving this mystery for me?"
Casey shyly looked up at the king, "Um, well...uh..." She looked at JD for encouragement, who nodded at her and grinned. "I want JD." She blurted, then blushed as she realized exactly what she said, which caused Buck to nudge JD with a knowing grin.
"I mean, I would like...uh...permission from you, Sire, to have JD escort me to the village dance next weekend."
Surprised at the answer, the king turned to his youngest son, and asked, "JD, though this wasn't what I had in mind--"
Interrupting his father, much to the amusement of the others, JD blurted out, "Sure Casey, I'd love to take you."
And they all lived happily ever after, where JD eventually became the king* with Casey as his queen.
*Josiah, never wanting the crown, willingly gave it up to Chris, with their father's permission and approval. He decided to seriously pursue religion and has a small parish. Chris, though a natural born leader, refused to take the crown and left the castle to raise horses, and gave the crown to Buck. Buck became king and enjoyed the attention, especially from the women, but eventually gave it up as he didn't care for the tedious day to day aspect of running the kingdom. Meanwhile, Nathan, following Josiah's example, also gave up his right to the crown and became one of the best doctors in the kingdom. Leaving the crown to Ezra, who to many people's astonishment, though not to his brothers, did very well ruling the kingdom for the few years he was king. Then, unfortunately, Maude found out that her son was the king and came back for a very extended visit. He found, to his distaste, that the only way to be rid of her was to abdicate his crown, which he did as fast as he could, with Maude berating him at every step of his "foolish" notions, to Vin, and now owns several prosperous taverns and gaming halls in the kingdom. Poor Vin didn't even last the day as king before the weight of the crown stifled his free spirit, and gave it up to JD so he could travel where ever his whim took him. JD, unlike his brothers, bloomed under the responsibility of being king, knowing that if any major troubles came up he could count on the others to come back and help.