The Magnificent Seven

From New Moon To New Moon
By MMW


October 1 (New Moon)

Hannahís fever has broken.

The sisters assure me she will be fine and make a full recovery. They have asked that I leave in the morning. Though it pains me, I will honor their request.

Still, the worry of the past days here has left me drained and in need of peace and solitude, in need of time before I find myself once more face to face with the exuberance of my brothers. I look forward to the trip home.

What an odd thought - home. For a missionaryís son I appear to have shed the wanderlust that afflicted both my father and myself and found - home.

There are times I wish Hannah was here with me more rather than trapped in the personal hell she chose to escape our father. The weight of guilt I bear for her situation becomes intolerable at times, yet it is no more than I deserve. My own selfishness left her open to receive the full brunt of his madness...

No, I wonít go down that path. I do bear some guilt and that is but one small piece of my penance. Tonight I am too tired to revisit my sins. Tonight I seek only peace.

Now, as I sit by the window of the small room they have allotted me, I can feel the exhaustion from the past ten days finally weighing full upon me. My muscles ache, my bones ache, and my soul cries for renewal. I have drained myself of all my prayers, of all my curses, of everything I had to give. More than once I thought my Hannah was slipping away from this earth and I am ashamed to admit that while my prayers were fervent and heartfelt for her healing, a portion of me questioned if it was right to hold her to this existence, to the pain of this world instead of whatever awaits her in the next. Have I been cruel? Have I been selfish? Or is the old saying true that as long as there is life there is hope?

Such deep thoughts for such a tired body.

I canít recall much of my trip here. I know I rode like a madman after receiving the telegram letting me know she was dying. I donít recall giving an explanation other than my intended destination which I gave to Vin, but he is aware of my purpose for coming here. Well, more correctly stated, he knows Hannah is here and would deduce that I came because of Hannah.

I feel badly that I was unable to give more notice, or, in fact, any notice before departing. With Chris away on a job for the judge, we have been a man short on our patrols. With me gone, we are now two men short and the scheduled prisoner transport will draw two more away. Still, Iím sure they will allow for this change and I will be returning shortly, just a day after the others leave on the transfer.

But I have one other concern brought about by my flight. As I traveled here, I passed one man. I fear in my need to arrive as soon as possible, I paid little heed to my fellow travelers except for one. The road was dark as I raced here. I donít recall seeing him until I brushed his horse, knocking him off into a nearby mud puddle. Slowing, I called back to see if the man was alright. He said little that I would care to repeat and ended his protest in a language I didnít understand. Whatever he said, I can record, did not sound pleasant. The only words I really understood of his tirade were the last few, "new moon to new moon."

Still, should I some day meet him again, I will do my best to make amends.

For now, I must rest. The day begins before dawn here and I will be too exhausted to move if I donít get some sleep.

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October 2

Godís creation never ceases to amaze me, nor does His sense of humor.

As I sit here now, writing by the light of the fire, I look across at my young brother and wonder at the quirk of fate that brought us together.

That first day we met, he promised me a hell of a fight. When I agreed to go he welcomed me and called me a good man. I denied it then, but I wonder sometimes what he saw in me that made him say that. I have learned during our time together that Vin Tanner is a very perceptive man. He reads signs of the trail as easily as I read words in books, and he reads people almost as well. He is an old soul, and a special blessing to our group.

Reflecting on the little family we are forming, I have to say his evaluation of me as a good man still may not be accurate, but we are all better men than we want to be. I think if we were still alone, that might be the case, but together there is a harmony to our actions, a current among us that seems to bring us up from the depths to which we would sink otherwise, almost as if we challenge each other to rise up and be more than what we would be otherwise.

I must admit to being thankful for the blessing of brotherhood with which I have been gifted.

I am especially thankful for that blessing tonight, not only because I realize how wrong I was about needing time alone, but also for the forgiveness that such a relationship engenders.

But perhaps I should record my reasons for such a declaration.

Today I awoke to brilliant sunlight, blue skies and a nun knocking at my door. It appeared they were anxious for me to be on my way now that Hannah was better.

So, gathering my possessions, I prepared for my trip, accepted their gifts of food for the journey and went to say goodbye to my Hannah. She appeared to be sleeping peacefully, looking like a little angel. It tugged at my soul to think that such a little wonder had grownÖ But I wonít despair. She is alive and as long as she lives there is hope for her deliverance.

As with all such times, my heart was full and I felt the coming loss. I wondered, perhaps more than at other times, if this would be the last I saw of my sister. As I leaned down to kiss her forehead, she must have sensed something and lifted her head suddenly. Needless to say, she hit her head on my chin. Though a bit painful, it was the recoil from the impact that really hurt us both. Her head bounced off of my chin and hit the headboard rather soundly.

I felt awful, but knew it was just an accident. Seeing the tears start, I settled onto the bed next to my sister and took her into my arms, offering what comfort I could and apologizing. I was heartened when she calmed and recognized me. It is rare, these glimpses into who Hannah was and who she might be again, but she knew me. We talked for a little while as she calmed, eventually being drawn away into sleep and the clutching claws of her demons. But before my Hannah left, we did manage to say goodbye.

At that point the Mother Superior appeared and I had little choice but to leave.

With my soul singing with the bittersweet joy of having seen my sister, I headed off toward home, now regretting the solitariness of my journey.

That changed before I reached the town limits. Seemingly out of nowhere, Vin Tanner appeared by my side. It appeared that after my hasty departure, the others became concerned, especially as the time I was away lengthened. Guessing that only Hannah would keep my away so long, Vin had assured the others he knew where I was and would leave to ensure my safety. This pacified our brothers, but only after he pledged to wire back daily.

I wonder sometimes at how casually we treat the bounty on his head. When he first revealed it to us all, I admit I was saddened that such a heavy burden had befallen one so deserving of the best of life. But we all grew accustomed to it and I fear, we occasionally forget about it. It is not safe for him to be traveling the countryside alone - well, itís not really safe for him to be anywhere, but at least in town we can mind his back.

Yet I deeply appreciate his coming alone. Though I never asked, he has always kept the existence of Hannah a secret. Iím sure if I asked heíd just shrug and say it wasnít his business to share. I suppose I should tell the others as well. We all have our scars and our secretsÖ I know many of those the others bear, yet I have not revealed mine. So jealously have I guarded those secrets that they nearly got me hung for a crime I didnít commit. It was Vinís own determination and skill that bought my freedom and helped me see light. Knowing that he is aware of Hannah has lifted some of the burden of her care. I now have someone with whom to discuss it. I should have told Nathan long ago, but he carries his own scars and I wouldnít be a burden to himÖ StillÖ perhaps itís time I shared this part of myself.

But Iím rambling.

Looking over at Vin, I wince as I think of the series of mishaps that befell us today. Unfortunately, he seemed to be on the receiving end of each mishap and I the one who caused them. Weíd been riding for several hours in silence, Vin obviously picking up on my need to rejoice in the beauty of nature when we decided to stop for lunch. Finding a small clearing by a stream, we dismounted, ground-tied the horses and loosened the cinches so the animals would be more comfortable. Vin set off to refill the canteens as I got the fire started and put the coffee on. I brought out some of the food the sisters had given me and laid it out. When Vin came back, I offered the food and lifted the coffee to pour - as I have done a thousand times before.

Vin was holding his cup, but something startled me and I fear I lost focus. That brief moment of inattention was all it took for me to shift my hand and pour the coffee on his hand instead of in the cup. The coyote-like yip of pain - for it can hardly be described in any other manner - startled me enough that my hand jerked, the lid of the pot flew off and the grounds and coffee landed directly on Vinís legs. This time the howl - sounding far more like a wolf than a coyote - startled the horses who began to dance with unease almost mimicking the jerky dance-like motions of Vin as he struggled to deal with the hot liquid.

One thing I do have to credit my young brother, I believe he knows more swears in more languages than any other man I Ďve met.

It was only a few startled seconds before I dropped the pot and rushed to his side. I could see the brilliant pink of his skin rapidly approaching red and worried at the hot liquid trapped in the cloth of his pants. After dodging his flailing arm, I eventually managed to grab hold of him, though I fear too roughly, and drag him toward the stream while calling for him to begin removing his pants. I almost laughed at the expression on his face when he comprehended what I was saying, but a second later understanding penetrated his pain and he began slipping out of his clothes.

I needed to cool the coffee and I was sure the cold stream water would provide enough relief so that I could calm the horses and retrieve the aloe that I was sure Nathan had packed in my bags. I thank God frequently for Nathanís insistence that we carry some common medical supplies with us.

So, as I settled the now naked Vin by the stream, I laid out the clothes on a nearby stone to dry and returned to the horses to retrieve the small pot of aloe I knew to be in my saddlebags. It took some time, but eventually I uncovered the small pot, gathered one of the blankets so Vin could cover himself, and headed back toward the stream.

As I approached I was greeted by the sound of distinctly feminine giggles and Vinís stammering voice. Realizing how embarrassing such a predicament would be for the modest tracker, I hurried along. As I stepped into the clearing where Iíd left him, I found a very red-faced Vin Tanner clutching his still-wet shirt to his middle trying to cover himself.

Suppressing the laughter that threatened to break forth, I stepped into the clearing, threw the blanket around the bare shoulders of my friend and stepped in front of him to offer him an opportunity to cover himself.

It turns out the young ladies were traveling with their parents. The family had stopped a short ways further along the trail and the girls had gone for a walk when they stumbled upon Vin who was sunning himself dry after allowing the cool of the stream to take the sting out of the burns.

Shortly after the explanation, the girls heard their parents calling and hurried back, still giggling.

I must say, that I found the situation rather amusing myself, but turning back to look at my friend, I knew giving vent to my mirth would have been inappropriate.

Vinís blue eyes were blazing, as fiery as our leaderís ever were and the flush had yet to fade from his skin. As I offered my apologies, he slowly calmed and I offered to apply the aloe, he refused my offer, not that I blame him, after all, it was my inattention which put him in that embarrassing situation. So, I handed him the aloe, not realizing that my foot was on the edge of the blanket. Somehow it became attached to the bottom of my shoe and came with me as I started to walk away in order to offer Vin some privacy.

Vin called out as the blanket began slipping away. I turned to see what he needed which is when the blanket came completely off and a gasp was heard from the direction where the girls had headed off.

It was then I realized Vinís blush hadnít just been on his face, but from his toes to his hairline.

I fear I froze for a moment. It wasnít until I nearly lost my balance as he jerked the blanket from under me that I was able to move in front of him to offer cover. It appears the girls had left something behind in the clearing and their mother had decided to get it herself.

I offered what apologies I could to the woman and explained our situation. She was terribly sympathetic, but I fear her offer to see to and tend Vinís wound was not well received by my brother. Needless to say, when the woman finally went on her way, I found myself alone in the clearing with a very angry, very embarrassed Tracker. I quickly beat a retreat to our campsite and made sure lunch was out and everything else was ready to go.

An hour later Vin returned, calmer and willing to talk. I apologized profusely and he just brushed it aside stating that accidents happen and it wasnít that important. He did allow me to apply the aloe to his arm. Apparently he hadnít been able to cover the whole area.

Taking the opportunity to lend aid, I saw that, while he had had some difficulties, the burn was covered. I appreciated the opportunity to provide what comfort I could, and did my best to make the most of this quiet peace offering. As I tended to the burn, I related some stories - rather embarrassing stories I thought Iíd forgotten and would never share - of my own and the laughter they inspired was as healing as any balm.

Thankfully it restored our camaraderie and lunch passed pleasantly. We continued on our trip in peace - at least until we decided to set camp for the night.

I donít know what is wrong with me, but I seem to be all thumbs and left feet today.

I headed off to the small pond while Vin saw to the horses. He joined me shortly with the canteens to fill them with clean water.

We had both just stood and I was turning to head back to camp when a frog jumped out of the brush startling me. I naturally took a step backward - right onto Vinís foot. He instinctively pulled his foot backward and lost his balance. I tried to grab him before he fell, but missed and he ended up landing in the water and mud.

At that moment I had more need of Godís divine intervention than any other as I struggled not to laugh. Unfortunately, it wasnít to be. My joviality filled the clearing as a bedraggled looking Vin sat in the mud and water glaring up at me.

"This isn't funny," he hissed, and that's what it was, a hiss. He was livid enough that he wouldn't unclench his teeth long enough to yell at me.

Yet, it was funny. Here was one of the most fearsome men I knew sitting in the shallows of a pond, mud and weeds splashed all over him, his hair dripping and stuck to his face. What had caused me to lose control of my laughter, however, was the dragonfly that had flown in and landed on his cheek - just above where the frog crawled up onto his knee.

I reached over and helped him up out of the water, quickly stifling my amusement. Before I could offer more aid, he limped off toward the horses and pulled a spare set of clothes out of his bag. Following several steps behind, I reached my bags and the aloe pot just as he was getting ready to leave and change. He accepted my offer and wandered off.

I prepared dinner while he was away and made sure camp was set. I do admit that my guilt over the day's incidents had left me anxious to make it up to my young brother. That might have been a mistake. Upon returning, Vin seemed to sense my eagerness to be of aid and cautioned me against getting too close to him, in fact, he stayed on the opposite side of the fire and kept a wary eye on my every move.

Eventually my unease drew me to attempt conversation and I related to him several of my travels and the stories of other cultures. This seemed to ease the tension of our camp as I hoped it would. Vin took first watch and I slept. Now my watch is almost over and I must end this tonight. Another day is dawning and with it a bright hope for a better day.

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October 3

Itís good to be home in my own room, even if the trip back was trying. Well, more trying for Vin than for myself.

I just donít know whatís wrong with me, but I seem to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time recently. Vin believes I have been cursed and will not be set free until the next new moon. After the latest incident, he was telling me about a shaman he knew who cursed a young warrior from new moon to new moon after the warrior disregarded the shamanís requests. It appears that for that span of time the warrior would miss everything he shot at.

As he finished his story, I related what happened on the trail as I was going to visit Hannah. His whole demeanor changed and he was very careful to keep his distance from me after that. He apologized and informed me he would see me on the 31st - the next new moon.

Iíve never been one to believe in curses and was surprised that my young friend would. Vin is one of the most grounded men I know, but he truly believes that I have been cursed. It gives me pause... But surely he is wrong.

Still, after what happened on our trip back...

It was shortly after dawn when we set off on the rest of the way home. Breakfast had gone well and we had set out on the trail in good spirits, both happy to be headed home.

We had been riding perhaps two hours when something startled my horse. I still am not sure what it was, but the results were just short of spectacular.

When my horse startled, I tried to correct, but my pull on the reins sent us bumping into Peso who reared. Somehow, one of Vinís feet came loose and he fell backward off the horse, one foot free, the other still in the stirrup.

Peso, being one of the most highly-strung horses I have ever met, didnít settle, but took off, dragging Vin behind him. It was fortunate we were on a well-traveled trail - at least until my grab for Pesoís reins caused the animal to veer off the trail. Vinís ride came to a stop, when Peso cleared a log and Vin didnít.

In my concern for my friend, I pulled up next to him and quickly made my way to his still form. When I reached Vin, he was lying on his side with his eyes closed, his face very still. Touching his shoulder elicited a hiss of pain and a quiet request to give him a few minutes. I explained that I was going to walk around to the other side of him and see what damage had been done.

At first glance things didnít seem to bad. Certainly he would be sore and in pain for a while, but his sturdy clothes had taken the brunt of the damage. His coat had a few new scars and a healthy coating of dust, but I could find no tears. Unfortunately the same could not be said of his pants.

I had to bite my lip to suppress the hiss of sympathy at the sight of a two-inch twig protruding from a bloody hole in his pants. It would be painful and embarrassing to remove, but Vin wouldnít be able to sit a horse unless I removed it from his backside. Explaining that I was returning to my horse to get my saddlebags - and his muddy pants as well as a blanket - I left my friend lying where he was.

Upon my return he had opened his eyes but not moved. I explained what I had seen and that I would need him to removed his clothes in order for me to check out the damage properly. I was much relieved when he asked if there was something he should know since it seemed I had him out of his clothes an awful lot. I laughed and assured him there was nothing for him to worry about. It was good to hear him quipping, it gave me hope that my own mistake in controlling my horse wouldnít be held against me.

Helping Vin to remove his Jacket and shirt, I had to wince. It appeared I had been hasty in my judgment. There was an almost rash-like wound on his back along with some bruises that were already forming. I explained about the twig and the tear in the backside of his pants. He sighed and told me to get on with it. Between the two of us we managed to remove this pants without too much pain - I hope. I covered him with a blanket, eager to make up for that oversight from yesterday. Then I went through the contents of my bags to see what I could find. His burns from yesterday were still red, but looked better. I would be sure to apply the rest of the aloe after I tended to everything else.

Examining the wound where the twig was, I found myself relieved that the wood wasnít in there too deeply, but knew there would be some splinters that would need to be dealt with back at Nathanís clinic where there were tweezers readily available. Removing the object, I applied some ointment to a folded pad of cloth and placed in over the wound, taking a longer bandage and tying it around my friend to hold it in place. I took another pad of cloth and realized I had forgotten my canteen. Heading back to the horses, I didnít see Vinís hand and managed to step on it rather solidly with my heel. I quickly removed my weight, but the damage was done. Feeling it best I just get on with it, I returned to my horse, got my canteen and returned to my patient.

Wetting a rag, I cleaned the dirt off his back, thankful to see that, though unpleasant and obviously painful, the rash-like wound wasnít bleeding much. Looking at his legs, I cleaned those as well.

Apologizing for the pain, I then moved to get a better look at his hand. Though his fingers were swelling slightly, nothing appeared to be broken. Telling Vin to wait where he was while I went to gather Peso, I only received a suspicious stare and a soft, "ĎK". At that point I couldnít stop my smile since Vin looked and sounded so much like a little boy. Itís rare to see how young our Tracker really is and always somewhat startling when we do.

Fortunately for me, Peso hadnít run too much further after losing Vin. I found him sampling some grass in a nearby clearing. Approaching cautiously, I managed to get a hold of his reins and lead him back.

While Iíd been gone, Vin had managed to get into his pants, though the pale coloring on his face told me it had not been a pleasant experience. Not relishing the thought of watching him put his jacket back on, and knowing it would be painful enough for him to finish the ride back to town, I offered to retrieve my serape - which he gratefully accepted.

Though I desperately wanted to help him mount, I knew better than to offer. Vinís independent streak becomes even more pronounced when he is injured. So I waited and watched as he slowly made his way over to his horse and mounted.

Once I saw him seated, I quickly mounted my own horse and we headed off at a slow pace. I tried to judge from him when we needed to stop and believe I was mostly successful. Still it took us the better part of the day and we did not arrive outside the livery until sunset. I had to wince as I watched Vin dismount. Walking up beside my young brother, I quickly asked Tiny to see to the horses and guided him to Nathanís clinic..

When we arrived, it appeared Nathan wasnít there, but that was OK. I could tend to Vinís wounds; I just needed the equipment. Letting Vin stand where he wanted, aware how painful it would be for him to sit, I quickly gathered the supplies I would need and helped Vin out of the serape, worried as he didnít protest the assistance. I tended to his back, wincing in sympathy at his hisses of pain. .

Eventually I finished with his back and asked him to remove his pants. With a sigh, Vin lowered his pants without taking them completely off. In order to get a better view and make sure I removed all of the splinters, I sat in the chair at the table and had Vin stand in front of me, leaning on the table. Adjusting the lamp, I set to work, trying to remove the splinters as quickly as possible.

Everything was going well until the door suddenly opened, causing me to jab the tweezers into the wound as I spun around and saw a shocked Mary standing in the doorway. Even now it is hard to tell who was a deeper shade of red, Vin or Mary, but with a sputtered apology and a hasty retreat, Mary closed the door behind her and left, leaving me a lone with a blushing, upset Texan in pain.

I was at a loss as to what to say to ease the situation. I must have said something that got Vin thinking and he told me about that young warrior who was cursed. Thatís when I explained about the man Iíd brushed against in my flight to Hannah.

I still canít say I believe in curses, but after the events of the past few days, Iím beginning to wonder.

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October 4

Another day has passed.

Nathan returned late last night and Vin allowed him to tend to his wounds or at least finish tending the ones I didnít.

I went up there this morning to see how Vin was doing and was met with a blue glare and a warning to keep my distance. Nathan shook his head and laughed at Vinís reaction, not understanding why Vin didnít want me near.

Vin refused to elaborate and I didnít say anything, afraid the Texan would think I was making fun of his beliefs. I simply inquired his health, accepted the answer that he would be fine in a few days and left.

I felt a need to apologize to Mary for the scene she witnessed the night before and assure her that Vin would survive his injuries with no ill results. As I walked across the street, I noticed young Rudy Tomkins running across to Nathanís. A few moments later Nathan left with his bag in hand. Sending a quick prayer heavenward, I continued on my path to the Clarion.

Had I but known what would transpire I would have turned then and returned to my work at the church. As it was, the good Lord decided to keep me blind to the immediate future and I knocked on her door. Moments later I was inside.

Though she blushed at the reminder of the scene from the night before I wondered at the smile that curved her lips. Still I continued on with my apology, which she was accepted. She assured me she would apologize to Vin later.

As I rose to leave, she asked me for my help with her press. I agreed and moved over to help her. She showed me the lever that had frozen in place. The grease she had placed on it the night before had soaked in, but she was unable to move it. Reaching over, I pulled and it easily turned. Unfortunately, when it turned, my hand slid off and my elbow ended up in Maryís stomach.

The force must have been greater than I thought because she went flying backward and onto the floor. I rushed over, apologizing for my errant elbow. Mary had her mouth open and was gasping slightly for air. It was obvious Iíd knocked the wind out of her. I knelt beside her and helped her sit up straight. Rubbing gentle circles on her back, she was soon able to regain her breath. . Moving away slightly, I stood and offered her my hand to help her stand.

Reaching up, her eyes widened at the sight of her already swelling wrist. "Oh no!" she cried.

I could easily read the devastation in her eyes as they flew from her injured wing to the press. I knew I would find myself working the press under her tutelage later, but first I would have to tend her wrist.

Reaching down, I gently lifted her and brought her to the kitchen. She seemed rather startled by the action and I soon discovered she hadnít been carried like that since she was a child. Smiling down at her, I settled her into a chair and got what I would need.

With the gentlest touch I could manage, I tended her wrist. She winced in pain as I checked for broken bones. Both of us were relieved when I didnít find any. Using the supplies I'd gathered, I set her up with a bowl of water in which to soak her wrist in the hopes it would help quell the swelling. With a swift, silent prayer, I settled across from the fair lady and tried to distract her from the pain of her injury.

Never would I have thought I could be blessed with so many quick minds in my life, so many people willing to share their life experiences and listen to my own. I admit a part of me fears being looked upon as an old man who speaks of the "good old days", but none of my friends or family seem to see me in that light. As we spoke Mary asked that I help her with her paper since she would be unable to finish. Naturally I had to agree to the task since it was my fault she would be unable to finish her work. Still, I looked forward to the challenge.

After wrapping her wrist, we headed back toward the contrary press. Following her instructions, the papers were printed and set out for distribution well before the dinner hour. Feeling it only my duty, I invited her and Billy to dine with me that night. Mary declined saying she had what she needed to make sandwiches for her and Billy and they would be fine.

Doing my best to leave as a gentleman, I stepped forward, took her hand and lifted it, placing a gentle kiss on the knuckle, just as I'd been taught as a boy. She was smiling and slightly blushing at the attention. A moment later the effect was ruined.

Somehow, and I will never understand how, my foot became entangled in her skirt and when I turned to leave, the skirt came with me. A loud ripping sound filled the room and my mind flashed back to a few days before when I had inadvertaintly stepped on Vin's blanket. Stopping immediately, I tried to turn back, but only managed to tear the skirt more. By this point, Mary was blushing furiously and grabbing at her skirts.

That was when Vin walked in. He stood frozen in the entryway as I struggled to disengage from Mary's skirt. It was only as I succeeded that Vin finally managed to clear his throat and say something about coming back later before retreating more quickly than I have ever seen him move. I apologized to Mrs. Travis as best I could while she worked at her skirt. She met my eyes, and I could easily read the embarrassment there. She asured me she was fine and ushered me out as quickly as possible. I could hardly blame her.

Needing peace after that incident, I headed toward my sanctuary and some peace. I only pray that this sudden clumsiness of mine leaves soon.

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October 5

This day started off early for me. Abby Rhodes came to retrieve me. Her grandfather had finally passed and they were wanting comfort. It is my chosen place to be there for them, so I left with young Abby.

Her grandfather was almost ninety years old - a rarity in this world and even more rare on the frontier. I have only ever met one man older and that was in China. I'm grateful that he passed peacefully in his sleep. I'll be conducting the funeral service in a few days. Normally it would be tomorrow, but a storm blew in earlier and it has been raining ever since. I only pray it doesn't delay my brothers from their journey for long. Buck and Ezra were scheduled to return from their duty tomorrow. I certainly don't mind the patrols, especially since Vin has been so adamant about taking the patrols of the outlying areas and leaving us with the town. When we confronted him about it he simply looked meaningfully at me and said he'd take them all until the next new moon.

Nathan had returned earlier in the day, but our duties left us little time to catch up.

As night began to fall and the storm raged on, I decided there was no better time than the present to visit. Donning my oilskin, I headed toward the livery and my friend. Climbing the stairs, I fought the strong wind that had begun blowing as I first stepped outside. It was difficult to hear anything and most certainly the type of night anyone who had any sense would stay inside.

I never said I had any sense.

Reaching my destination, I knocked, but realized after a few moments that I would be unable to hear any response. Knowing that Nathan wouldn't mind my arrival, I reached down to open the door. The slick handle, however, was torn from my hand and the door was sent crashing against the wall.

In my shock at the sudden loss of the door, I missed exactly what happened, but when I finally stepped in and closed the door behind myself, I saw Nathan had one hand on his head and was cursing loudly. The reason for the exclamations and head-holding was evident a moment later as I saw a drop of blood work its way through his fingers.

Rushing across the room to my hurting brother, I reached out and gently eased him onto the chair nearby. My relief at the sound of his cursing abated somewhat as I took in the ashen color of his features and the tightly closed eyes. Spotting a bucket nearby, I quickly moved it closer just in case and crouched down in front of Nathan to see if he would allow me to help.

Reaching out, I rested my hand on his knee and called softly to him. He took several deep breaths and slit his eyes open so he could just barely see me. "Are you alright?" I asked.

His slitted eyes communicated quite clearly that the question was absurd. "Do I look alright?" he asked back. Then closed his eyes and sighed. "Sorry. Just hurts a bit."

I nodded my understanding. Rising I glanced around and spotted a clean bandage. Picking it up, I reached out to remove his hand. "Itís OK, Nathan," I soothed. "Iíve got a bandage and weíll stop that bleeding in no time. When he removed his hand I was stunned by the amount of blood. He must have seen something in my face because he quickly assured me that all head wounds bled a lot. It was normal. I swallowed and applied pressure. Fortunately it stopped fairly quickly.

"Does it need stitches?" Nathan asked as I took a damp cloth and began cleaning the area of the blood.

I paused then because I honestly had no idea if it needed stitching or not. When I realized he was still waiting for an answer, I admitted not knowing.

"Bring me a mirror, then," he said somewhat impatiently.

Doing as he bid, I found a mirror I could bring over. He pulled the lamp over and examined the cut. I was stunned by how small the injury actually was. Given all the blood and the number of bandages that were soaked through, I was expecting something quite a bit larger.

Nathan sighed and handed the mirror back to me. "Should be fine without," he decided, using the chair to steady himself as he rose.

Stepping back across the room, I suggested that he rest a while longer. I was a little worried when he agreed, but after a moment he began giving me instructions and I soon found myself playing apprentice. In between instructions, we managed to chat quite a bit. He had learned of a few new uses for his roots and herbs from the tribe and he assured me that Rain was as beautiful as ever. I wonder sometimes if they will be able to bridge the gap and marry into the happiness they deserve. Their worlds are so different, yet I still hold hope that one day they will be man and wife.

Just as Nathan was drinking one of his vile concoctions, Henry Fallon arrived. The Fallons live several miles out on the extreme edge of the territory we protect and seeing him in this weather, I knew something had to be very wrong. It appears that his wife, Lorita, had begun labor that night - one month early. She was in a lot of pain and he thought it best to get Nathan.

There was never a hesitation or doubt in Nathan as to where he would be. Just as it is my duty, my need, to be there when souls need healing, it is Nathanís to be there when people are in physical need.

Worrying about Nathan, I said I would come along as well, more for my own peace of mind than because Nathan needed me there. We saddled up and road out in that cold rain.

The birth seemed to go quite well, both mother and baby appearing healthy. Though it was late, I knew I needed to head back. After all, I had more of the Rhodes family to speak to and a service to prepare.

Nathan agreed to come with me. He was looking pale again and I was worried. I figured weíd get back and Iíd make sure he rested.

As we were traveling back in that cold, pouring rain, a clap of thunder startled my normally stolid horse and I brushed against Nathan. He had been dozing in the saddle and jostled awake just enough to lose his hat. Just then a gust of wind whipped along and took his hat with it. I could see he was tired and he indicated that we should just continue on toward home.

Arriving back in town, I made sure he got back to his rooms safely. He was soaked through and shivering, but after stoking the fire in the stove until the heat was quite intense, I left him to change and rest, assuring him I would check on him in the morning. I fear he might become ill from the cold rain, but weíll have to wait and see.

<><><><><><><>

October 6

The storm passed sometime in the early morning. The Rhodes family seems to be doing well with their loss. Nathan went back out to visit the newest member of our community. Vin is still avoiding me and remains on patrol for long hours. And JDÖ well. Heís being JD I suppose. I swear that boy wears me out just sitting. Fortunately, I was busy enough today that I wasnít too exhausted by his constant activity.

Of course, Iím sure Gloria Potter wish I'd been less helpful. Still, it was hardly my fault, or so I like to think.

I had stopped in at the store to pick up a few items when her latest delivery came in. With her normal help out dropping off goods to some of the families in the area, I naturally offered to assist in the unloading. After all, I reasoned with myself, the Lord didnít bless me with all this strength for me to not use it.

So, with the best of intentions and the help of the wagon driver, most of the stock was unloaded and stored in the back room. Having worked our way through most other items, we were now down to the last few bags. I stumbled slightly as I caught one of the bags he tossed and ended up bracing myself against a greasy part of the wagon. Figuring that the worst the grease would do was leave my handprint on the flour sacks, I continued to assist in unloading them.

Hefting one onto my shoulder, I stepped into the storage room where Mrs. Potter was directing the placement of her goods. She pointed out where the bag I was toting should be placed and I moved toward that area.

After all the times both the driver and I had been in and out, one would think our footing would have been sure. Somehow, though we had managed to miss stepping on one of her sonís marbles that had been left in the back. At least, we had managed to miss it until I stepped on it this time.

Needless to say, the results were somewhat spectacular and in a matter of moments things went from an orderly procession to chaos.

As I placed my foot down, I felt the marble beneath and attempted to lift my foot again so I wouldnít fall. Unfortunately, I was too off balance for such a maneuver. My foot landed on the marble and then went shooting out from beneath me.

As I was falling backward, propelled by the marble and the weight of the sack I carried, I kept one hand on the sack as the other reached out for something to steady me. I certainly never intended an offense and can feel a slight flush even now at the thought of where my hand landed, as evidenced by the very clear outline of my hand that was left on her dress. But at the time, I was unaware of my offense and only managed to push Mrs. Potter back, causing her to trip over a bag behind her and land in such a manner that several bolts of cloth immediately dropped on her.

Though she was saved from serious harm, the same could not be said for the bag of flour I carried. As I fell, it caught on something and ripped open. Upon my impact with the floor, the flour seemed to explode from the bag in which it had been stored filling the storeroom with a white cloud.

As the white powder settled, we were left coated with a thin film of flour over everything. It was odd to look at since everything was a uniform color. At least it was until Mrs. Potter pushed the cloth that had fallen on top of her off and revealed the very distinct imprint of my hand.

Thankful for the flour coating, which I pray hid my blush, I apologized profusely to the store owner, yet she remained silent.

Standing, I brushed myself off and offered my hand to Mrs. Potter. She sighed in resignation and accepted it. As I helped her to an upright position, she nearly collapsed again. I somehow managed to get my other arm around her and hold her upright.

With a small amount of maneuvering, I managed to get her onto a nearby crate where I asked her what was wrong. Indicating her ankle, I knelt before her and took her foot in my flour-covered hands. I had just determined that there were no breaks when Nathan arrived.

He paused as he took in the sight before him. A twinkle of amusement lit his eyes as he fought the smile that tugged at his lips. As he entered, he settled down next to me and opened his mouth to ask a question. It was then his eyes fell on the outline of my handprint on Gloria.

At that moment I could feel my face burning once more and even Mrs. Potter seemed a bit embarrassed. Crossing her arms across her chest, she called her daughter Ė who had come when she saw the white cloud of flour Ė to retrieve a shawl. She returned about the same time Mrs. Travis and JD did.

I had to get up and physically close the boyís mouth when he took in the sight. Turning back to Mrs. Potter, who was being helped up by Nathan, I assured her that I would clean up the mess. She thanked me, and left the room, Nathan on one side, Mrs. Travis on the other. Not once had she met my eyes, for which I was thankful. I certainly would never manhandle a woman in such a manner, and definitely not Gloria Potter.

Since JD was so intent on finding out what happened, I handed him a broom and informed him of the dayís misfortune. I have no doubt that Buck will be told upon his return to town and if Buck knows, soon everyone else will as well. I can only hope that the handprint remains out of the proper gossip. Of course, given the nature of gossip, I wouldn't be surprised if people had Mrs. Potter and I in the midst of a secret assignation when our passions were carried away resulting in the destruction of the flour. Gossip is an amzing thing. Perhaps I should speak with Mary about putting the facts in the paper to cut off wagging tongues.

It was good to see that Nathan was well today and suffering no ill effects of either his wound - which one must search with great deliberation to find - or his drenching. Tomorrow...

Tomorrow is the funeral. I still have a little to prepare. Soon I'll have a baptism as well. Life is an amazing cycle reaching the same points over and over - baptism, confirmation, marriage, death... Those are the constants but it's always different. I think I need to stop by the saloon and check in with the others before reviewing my scriptures for tomorrow and retiring.

<><><><><><><>

October 7

There was an excellent turn-out for Walter Rhodesí funeral. That gave me some comfort as I realized the family wouldnít be alone in coping with the loss of their patriarch. This is a good thing since Buck and Ezra are late returning and I have patrol to cover.

Given the rain of two nights ago, I certainly wouldnít have expected the beautiful day we had today. The sun was shining and by the time we reached the grave, the puddles which had plagued us the day before had dried.

I have to say I felt my heart soften with joy as I watched the tears of the family dry during my words. I wonder at and am humbled by this ability with words that the Lord has given me.

Oh, I know that he has gifted all my brothers with ability with words - Buck to cheer, soothe and woo women, Chris to chill a man and lead, Nathan to deliver with compassion news that can change a life, JD with an abundance of enthusiastic chatter, Vin with a remarkable simplicity and Ezra with the ability to baffle. Yet for some reason I doubt I will ever understand, He has gifted me with the ability to comfort and reveal. Truly I have been blessed and undeservingly so.

Still, after the funeral, I watched the family leave to return to their homestead, knowing that their friends and neighbors would soon be with them to offer what comfort they could.

Home, friends, family, community... These are the things worth dying for, worth fighting for. This is why I was led here for my penance.

As I walked slowly back toward town, I spy Vin just stepping up onto the boardwalk in front of the saloon. It had been several days since Iíve been able to speak with my young brother and I felt the need to check in with my family and ensure they are doing well.

Changing directions, I headed into the saloon. As I stepped inward, I felt both JD and Vin turn to see who it was. I must admit I was somewhat disappointed when I saw Vin begin to stand from the seat heíd taken by JD. Waving him back into his seat, I heard the echo of his words about my being cursed and felt a determination to prove him wrong.

Settling into another of the chairs, I did my best to ignore the suspicious blue eyes and the fact Vin was leaning as far away from me as he could. Greeting my young brothers, we quickly caught up on the news around town. I informed them of the funeral and expected visits at the Rhodes house as well as the newest member of our community. They both seemed pleased at the news of the birth and Vin assured me he would look in on both families that night during his patrols.

We then managed to settle into some more relaxed conversation; which I found quite relieving as I managed to get a few smiles from Vin. All was going well until I felt it time to leave.

As I rose from my seat, I somehow missed the presence of the beautiful Inez behind me. She was holding a tray full of hot food and beer. As I stepped back to push my chair in, I somehow bumped her causing her to lose her balance and the tray.

The tray and all its contents proceeded to slip down and shatter on the table and the two travelers sitting there.

With profuse apologies, I did my best to calm and soothe the two strangers, one of whom had a cut on his hand that looked like it might need Nathanís attention. Offering to lead him to the clinic, I apologized again to Inez and caught sight of brother Tanner shaking his head, a knowing look in his eyes.

I could only shake my head in return, wondering at his superstition.

With all the soothing words I could muster, I managed to ease the stranger's ire as we arrived at the clinic. Ushering him inside, I was unprepared for the loud sneeze that greeted us.

Freezing in the doorway I realized that my clumsiness from two nights ago had indeed had ill consequences for my friend.

Seeing a client, Nathan quickly ushered the man into a chair before a coughing fit took him. The man seemed uncomfortable, so I quickly ushered Nathan into another chair and began cleaning the wounded area myself. With Nathan guiding me, I was able to tend the wound and see the man on his way with more apologies.

Then I found myself looking at the weepy eyes and reddened nose of my friend. With a sigh, I quickly set about heating some water and gathering the herbs he usually used for such ailments despite his protests that he was "fine".

This is where I have spent the remainder of my day, tending Nathan and bringing about as much steam as I could to help break his congestion. I must say, he is truly as awful as any of the rest of us when it comes to being a patient. Still I hold hope he will be better tomorrow and Buck and Ezra will return.

<><><><><><><>

October 8

Buck and Ezra have returned to the fold. They arrived this afternoon bearing Nathan's hat. I think both Nathan and I were relieved by its return.

Of course, Nathan has banned me from the clinic. I can't say I blame him, though. For Vin, I suppose it's just a futher confirmation to what he already believes. For Mary... Though she tends to be very sure of herself and her beliefs, I can sense even her being swayed by Vin's arguments.

As for myself... I wish I could say that I was able to shrug off Vin's idea as nonsense, but I've seen too much in my years to completely discount it. Still, these accidents have not been outside the realm of possibility and perhaps it isjust coincidence, or, more likely, simply my attention being drawn to these events thus making them seem more numerous. Yes, I believe this is the case. Because I have been more focused on these events, they have taken a larger role in my life than they truly have.

Still, it hurts to be banned by Nathan. I can only hope that my efforts the past few days have worked to head off the worst of his illness. I'll have to be sure to check with JD tomorrow as to Nathan's status.

I wish I could protest a lack of understanding as to why my brother has chosen to keep me from helping, but I fear I can not. After all, I was there too.

Last night I made sure the clinic had steam in it - herbed steam, specifically. With Nathan's guidance, I was able to steep the correct herbs in the water for the steam. I was also successful in creating a poultice he desired to place on his chest in order to aid in fighting congestion.

We got through the night without major mishap. I admit I didn't get much rest, but even my own exhaustion can hardly explain everything that happened. Still, I believed I was capable of tending my ailing friend.

I should have realized otherwise when the first incident occurred. After coughing on and off throughout the night and being forced to drink the same concoctions he forces on us, the inevitable call of Nature occurred. Too weakened to walk to the privy, I helped Nathan sit up and placed the chamber pot accordingly. I then left my brother to his privacy as I headed down to the restaurant to pick up some food.

I had been very careful in carrying the loaded tray back. In addition to Nathan's breakfast, I carried my own. I seem to have misjudged how tired my friend was for as I opened the door, I found him still sitting on the side of the bed. He had moved since I left, so I assumed he was finished with his business.

Moving the the small table, I set the tray down. I removed the covering over the bowl and went to grab a spoon for the oatmeal I had brought my brother. As I turned, I caught the side of the tin mug containing my coffee. Naturally, the inevitable happened and the cup went crashing to the floor.

The loud sound seemed to have startled Nathan from his stupor and he turned and began to rise before he was fully aware. The next thing I knew he was falling down on the bed, cursing.

Replacing the spoon and bowl and ignoring the mess the coffee had made, I hurried over to his side. Lifting, I managed to get him settled on the bed and scanned him to see if I could find the problem. It didn't take long.

It appears that when he went to stand, he had lifted his foot and set it down, with some force, inside the chamber pot.

With a clinical detatchment that would have made Nathan proud (had he not been in pain and cursing), I managed to remove the pot, clean the mess and determine that neither the toes nor the foot were broken. I quickly prepared a bath for the foot and had it cleaned. Fortunately, there was little swelling and no bruising.

Settling Nathan into the bed, I managed to bring him his oatmeal without further incident.

By lunch, however, I seemed to have pushed his patience almost to its limit. He had asked for a medical book to read after finishing his breakfast. He was in the midst of a rather thick tome and I told him I would bring it to him. Lifting the book, I walked it over to him, only to trip and send the book flying - right into his stomach, knocking the air out of him. I did my best to make amends. He recovered quickly and waved away my apologies. A short time later, I brought him his medicinal tea. He managed to drink it down and asked for water. I poured the water and was handing the glass back when I lost my grip on it and the cup dropped onto his lap soaking both him and his book.

The final straw, however, was when, after returning from my lunch, I found him over by his herb cabinet and somehow managed to startle him causing his bandages and several boxes to fall on him.

He escaped with a few abrasions, a few bruises and a mean temper. That was when he banned me and told me to send JD to be with him.

Since it was close to the time for my watch anyway, I relieved JD early and sent him along to Nathan.

The town was quiet the rest of the day - at least until Buck and Ezra returned. It appears that the rainstorm we had did delay their travel and while returning, they saw Nathan's hat by the side of the road. They were both much relieved when I assured them Nathan was alive and suffering only a cold.

Since I had my watch to finish, I watched them go off to their rooms and then Buck return to the saloon.

Later I saw them sitting with Vin obviously updating him on the events of their trip. I admit to not having the heart to break up the conversation since I know Vin would avoid me by leaving. So I'll have to catch up with them tomorrow as well.

<><><><><><><>

October 9

It was an evening where I'm thankful all my brothers - save Chris who is still away on business and will be yet for some time - were here.

We were in the saloon having a drink. Nathan was there, feeling much better than the day before. He and Vin were sitting off at a different table. Buck, JD, Ezra and I were playing a game of gin. Things seemed quiet enough for the town and the night. It still being early and the day uneventful, none of us was truely prepared for the all-out brawl that erupted. Within minutes the entire Saloon was embroiled in the the event with fists, chairs, tables and bodies flying.

I probably shouldn't admit this, but every now and then I do enjoy knocking a few heads together.

We had everything under control after only a few minutes thanks to a well-timed shot from Vin.

At the sound of the gunshot, everyone froze and we were able to quickly gain the upper hand. The instigators were located and we began carting them away to jail.

Ezra helped Inez with righting the tables and chairs and determining the extent of the damage. Nathan stayed behind to tend to the wounded and Vin made sure to stay far enough behind me that nothing could happen to him.

With the instigators locked up, Vin offered to go make sure the other participants in the evening's activities were safely on their way back to their rooms or out of town. JD went with him leaving Buck and I alone with the groaning, complaining, poor excuses for humanity in the cells.

Eventually, Buck left to see what was taking Nathan so long. In the time alone with those men, I fear my temper - already hot from the fight - only increased in degree as the prisoners taunted me. I had finally had enough and was about to open the door and take out my agression on their sorry hides, when my rational mind seemed to kick in and instead, I left them in their locked cells and headed for the door to get some cool air.

The plan would have worked brilliantly, except that as I opened the door outward (I think may need to change that around, I'll see what the others think in the morning) with some force, Nathan was just reaching for the nob himself.

When the door met with sudden resistance and a yelp of pain, I let go of the doorknob and stepped out.

Apparently, when I had opened the door, the force had been enough not only to knock Nathan onto his backside, but also to split his lip and apparently catch his fingers.

Rushing to his side, I was stunned when he pulled away insisting, "You stay away from me. I've had about all your curse I can take."

Despite his protest, I was able to look over his hand and determine that other than a few new scratches from being knocked against the door, his hand was fine. His lip didn't look too bad, so I offered my handkerchief before his baleful glare had me thinking of returning to my guard duty.

Leaving my clean handkerchief with him, I stood and backed away just as JD came running up to see what had happened. The second glare I received from Nathan left me speechless. It was a simple accident that could have happened to anyone, certainly he could see that.

Still, he now believes, along with Vin - and I fear Mrs. Travis - that I am cursed until the next new moon.

Perhaps tomorrow more rational minds will prevail.

<><><><><><><>

October 10

It was a beautiful day today. It was the type of day that makes it difficult to believe we are headed quickly into Winter - quickly to the close of yet another year. I wonder at times where the days and years go - time only seems to be passing more quickly in my life.

And yet, in other respects, this month is passing at an intolerably slow rate; especailly since Nathan and Vin - my two breakfast companions - have been avoiding me. Breakfast can be a long mean when one eats along - especially when subjected to the laughter and whispers of others.

Perhaps it was this early morning isolation that caused me to be overjoyed at the sight of Ezra in the saloon, for certainly such exuberance is unlike me. Still, I have to wonder, once again, about Vin's words.

It was the noon hour and I went in search of my brothers - any of them who were not avoiding me, that is. I had spent the morning counselling a young couple. Amy Billings and Charlie Donnley are engaged to be married. I was honored when they requested I perform the ceremony. The forth Thursday of November - the day President Lincoln declared would be Thankgiving day - has been chosen as the wedding day. I find it odd on some level that a man who has never been married would provide advice on married life, but I have my training, my observations and "The Song Of Solomon" as my guide... But I digress.

After spending the morning with that couple, I was ready for some quality time with my friends. Spying Ezra eating in the saloon, I entered and joined him. Inez took my order and I began questioning my brother about his journey.

Apparently they were delayed at the drop off point when the prison wagon failed to show on time. After they finally rid themselves of their burden, they had headed back, making good time. Then, as I suspected, the rains came and they were forced to seek shelter. Apparently they did so at a farm house, spending the night in the barn.

The next day they helped with some simple chores as a payment and once more headed toward town.

They found Nathan's hat on a bush and grew concerned. Increasing their pace toward town, they were greatly relieved to find Nathan and the rest of us well.

I already knew the other information they brought since Vin and Nathan had allowed me to be in the same room with them for the briefing and setting of patrols that occurred last night.

As Inez placed my food before me, Ezra asked about my activities. I began relating the general outline of events - the birth, death and funeral.

He mentioned hearing something about a curse and some assignation I had with Mrs. Potter. He scoffed at the idea of both pieces of information, but the mention of the curse had gotten my blood going again.

In my haste to discuss the issue of the curse and dispell the rumor, I lifted my chair slightly to move it closer, which I did. Unfortunately, the leg of my chair landed directly on Ezra's foot.

He cried out in pain and tried to pull his foot backward. In my haste to help, I rose to stand and inadvertantly knocked him backward causing him to fall and his head to hit the floor.

Horrified by the events, I knealt beside my brother and placed my hand on his shoulder to keep him still until I could assess his state.

I was greatly relieved to discover his only injury - other than a sore foot - was a sore head. No bump seemed to form and there was no sign of concussion, so I helped him up, righted his chair and apologized for the incident.

He brushed aside the apology, unconcerned. I couldn't help but hear Vin's voice in my head telling me I was cursed from new moon to new moon.

Still, I find myself relying on my rational mind and agreeing with Ezra that it was just an accident.

Certainly nothing like this will happen tomorrow.


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