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Sharon

 

 

FFirst Toast

An episode tag for The High Riders
I started this piece as a “First” Experience for the LW Scott Challenge and only just finished it. It has become a follow up in sequence to my “Why Scott Stayed” story.
Thanks to: Sammi for the beta reading and support as always, Sherri for the great suggestions for reading material for Teresa and Murdoch, and S for issuing the Story Challenge in the first place. Also, thank you to Sir Walter Scott.

 

The edge of the bottle clinked gently against the rim and then the red liquid flowed into the wineglass. In the cavernous silence of the Lancer Great Room, the sound was reminiscent of a small rushing stream. Giving the spout an expert twist before raising it from the glass, Scott Lancer deftly replaced the cork and returned the bottle to its place. Crossing the room, glass in hand, he settled into the blue armchair and once more took up the book he had been reading, a slim volume of local history. After one small sip, the still full goblet was deposited on the side table. The lamp which stood on the table, its green glass shade edged with a row of hanging crystal pendants, provided ample light for reading, so the young man had extinguished most of the other lamps and candles in the room before resuming his seat.

Murdoch and Teresa had long ago gone upstairs to bed. Everyone else on the ranch seemed to turn in rather early, but back in Boston Scott had been used to staying up quite late at night. Even with the long days on the ranch and without his accustomed round of social activities, he found it difficult to fall asleep if he tried to retire much sooner. It was true that the days did start earlier out here, but that had required only a minor adjustment. After all, it wasn't as if Scott had been in the habit of sleeping the day away, something that would have been unheard of in the military—or growing up in his grandfather's house.

So, each evening Scott found himself spending a few quiet hours alone. Strange how after only such a short time, he had already settled into a routine of sorts, falling easily into Murdoch and Teresa's pattern of conversing about the day while sharing the evening meal, then adjourning to the sitting area for a few hours. Johnny, of course, was still recuperating from his gunshot wound, and had yet to make a foray downstairs, though Dr. Jenkins had expressed confidence that his patient would be up and about very soon. Teresa often had some mending or other needlework to complete, while Murdoch Lancer typically sat behind his big desk, reading or writing letters, perhaps looking at a newspaper, until Senora Maria came downstairs with Johnny's supper tray. Then the older man would disappear for a time to visit with his younger son. Initially, Murdoch had devoted the remainder of his short evening to introducing Scott to the ranch accounts, under Teresa's gentle, watchful eye. Now that that ground had been thoroughly covered, Scott had anticipated that other topics might be addressed. However, this evening Murdoch, in a seeming departure from their established habits, had seated himself heavily on the sofa and in a tired voice had requested that Teresa read aloud. With a warm smile, the young woman had obligingly taken up a book and then settled in close beside her guardian. It had been clear that this was an accustomed activity for the two of them as they were almost halfway through Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe.

In response to Teresa's concerned inquiry, Scott assured her that he was familiar with the epic story of knights and kings. With one arm around his young ward's shoulders, Murdoch had leaned his large grey head against the back of the sofa and closed his eyes to listen. Teresa had a clear and pleasant reading voice, though not an especially dramatic one. Since the reading selection was one which Scott actually knew quite well, he had allowed his mind to wander over the many startling events of the past several weeks, while appearing to pensively study his father and the dark haired young woman who had so recently urged him to think of her “as a sister”. Some time later, he had been roused from his reverie by Murdoch's gruff voice uttering his name. “Let Scott take a turn.” Evidently, Teresa had endeavored to pass the book to Murdoch and Scott surmised that this too might be a part of their evening ritual. In response to Teresa's inviting smile, Scott rose and with a few steps crossed the space between them to accept the volume. Although he would have liked to have heard his father's reading voice, Scott had still savored the experience of sharing the well-loved chivalric tale with these members of his new family.

Now as he stared at the pages of California history lying open before him, Scott found himself recalling instead one of the passages that he had read aloud from Ivanhoe 's twenty-first chapter. Cedric the Saxon, the title character's estranged father, had been kidnapped, along with his ward, the beautiful Lady Rowena, and imprisoned in the stronghold of the villainous Sir Reginald Front-de-Boeuf.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

“Yes," said Cedric, half speaking to himself, and half addressing himself to Athelstane, "it was in this very hall that my father feasted with Torquil Wolfganger, when he entertained the valiant and unfortunate Harold, then advancing against the Norwegians, who had united themselves to the rebel Tosti. It was in this hall that Harold returned the magnanimous answer to the ambassador of his rebel brother. Oft have I heard my father kindle as he told the tale. The envoy of Tosti was admitted, when this ample room could scarce contain the crowd of noble Saxon leaders, who were quaffing the blood-red wine around their monarch."

"I hope," said Athelstane, somewhat moved by this part of his friend's discourse, "they will not forget to send us some wine and refactions at noon---we had scarce a breathing-space allowed to break our fast, and I never have the benefit of my food when I eat immediately after dismounting from horseback, though the leeches recommend that practice."

Cedric went on with his story without noticing this interjectional observation of his friend. "The envoy of Tosti," he said, "moved up the hall, undismayed by the frowning countenances of all around him, until he made his obeisance before the throne of King Harold.

"'What terms,' he said, 'Lord King, hath thy brother Tosti to hope, if he should lay down his arms, and crave peace at thy hands?'

"'A brother's love,' cried the generous Harold, 'and the fair earldom of Northumberland.'

"'But should Tosti accept these terms,' continued the envoy, 'what lands shall be assigned to his faithful ally, Hardrada, King of Norway?'

"'Seven feet of English ground,' answered Harold, fiercely, 'or, as Hardrada is said to be a giant, perhaps we may allow him twelve inches more.'

"The hall rung with acclamations, and cup and horn was filled to the Norwegian, who should be speedily in possession of his English territory."

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

As a boy he had read the tale of Ivanhoe for the adventures and the knightly combats. An older Scott had been able to appreciate the medieval history as well as the romance. And tonight, the divisive conflict between Ivanhoe and his father, the rivalry between the brothers, King Richard and Prince John, the themes of family loyalty and the struggle for land, had all taken on a new resonance. Cedric's recitation of King Harold's brave words, with the reference to Hardrada's “possession of English territory”, could not help but conjure up an image of the corpse of Day Pardee. As with the Norwegian warrior who had coveted a portion of Harold's kingdom, in the end, a burial plot had been the only piece of Lancer to which the erstwhile “land pirate” had been able to lay a permanent claim.

If Murdoch Lancer had also recognized any similarities between the medieval saga and recent events, the stern-faced rancher had given no sign. Most unexpectedly, it had been uttering the phrase “A brother's love” which had caused Scott to feel an embarrassing momentary self-consciousness, something that had also apparently passed entirely unnoticed by both his father and his pretty young ward.

<<“ A brother's love ”,>> he thought ruefully now. << We don't even know each other. >> It was far too early for Scott to have discerned his true feelings about either of the two men, his brother or his father, beyond a simple, albeit intense, curiosity. His present relationship with Murdoch Lancer had barely begun to develop, still struggling in the shadows cast by the doubts and questions of the past twenty-four years.

Certainly, the unfamiliar phrase “my brother” was not fraught with the harsh feelings that the words “my father” had evoked for so long, but rather brought to mind both romantically idealistic notions of a “brotherly bond” as well as memories of the very real envy that a younger Scott Lancer had felt towards some of his closest childhood friends, other boys who had been blessed with male siblings. Although it appeared that he and Johnny had shared some of the same negative emotions towards their unknown father, Scott realized that he had little reason as yet to believe that Johnny might also harbor a similarly positive view towards the prospect of having a brother.

Things had certainly not started out auspiciously. The unforeseen—and, to be completely honest, at the time utterly unwelcome-- introduction to his half brother at the stage, then the difficult first meeting with their estranged father, had left Scott with initial impressions of both men which had not been entirely favorable. Murdoch Lancer had been adamant about not discussing the past, and all too ready to put his present problems in front of his two sons. Then there had been the entire deadly conflict with Pardee and his men, with Scott being caught up in a whirlwind of activities, both new and challenging. Invigorating in many ways, yet unsettling in others. Once the land pirates had been vanquished, the older man had remained seated for long hours at Johnny's bedside, willing his younger son to recover, while Scott had willingly taken charge of the necessary cleanup and repairs, working closely with his father's Segundo, the man who had served as the ranch foreman in the months since the death of Teresa's father, Paul O'Brien. Cipriano Sanchez had claimed that he knew the mountain passes “like the back of my hand” and he had not been exaggerating. If the man had simply been trying to please his employer's son, then Scott's plan to decoy Pardee and his men would have failed, and the ranch might very well have been lost.

Despite the regard that Scott was careful to demonstrate towards the older man, Cipriano had still seemed to wish to defer to the young newcomer. Directing the labors of the small number of able-bodied Lancer hands had not been a difficult task for a former military officer who had also grown up in a large household filled with staff. The damage to the grounds and the hacienda had been evident and decisions about the repairs needed had not been difficult. Removing the bodies of men and horses, then disposing of them properly had been a sadly familiar task. Beyond that, however, Scott had been at a loss. “Cipriano, you understand that I know nothing about running a ranch.”

The stolid Mexican had regarded him appraisingly before passing judgment: “You will learn, Senor, you will learn.”

As Scott sat now, pensively looking at the shadows of the room stretching beyond the circle of lamplight, he considered that, so far at least, he had not. Once it had been clear that Johnny was well on the way to recovery, Murdoch had left his son's bedside to resume charge of his ranch. Since several of his sixteen remaining men were also still recovering from injuries, the determined rancher had each morning been faced with difficult decisions in setting the day's priorities. To Scott's dismay, Murdoch had repeatedly assigned him to accompany the Segundo on his rounds as the foreman supervised the other hands, his father making it clear that Scott's task was merely to . . . . observe. Scott had dutifully watched while steers were “cut” from the herd, but no one had volunteered to explain how or why the task was being performed, and he was reluctant to ply the still deferential Cipriano with as many questions as he would have liked to have asked. Riding from place to place, Scott had seen horses broken, calves roped, streams cleared, fence posts set and wire strung, but hadn't as yet been offered any real opportunity to try his hand at much of anything.

Chafing at the inactivity, frustrated that he wasn't learning as much as he'd hoped, and more than a little annoyed to think that he was being foisted off on the new Segundo, Scott had not allowed too many days to pass before he had confronted Murdoch Lancer. His father had offered some vague explanation about “waiting until Johnny was back on his feet,” suggesting that then the two brothers could work and learn together. Although there was some merit to the idea, it was still awkwardly evident that the man was not especially eager to spend time alone with his elder son. Scott restlessly drummed his fingers on the cover of the book as he considered the difficult questions that he still had for Murdoch Lancer.

At least today he had been assigned a “task” of his own: driving the buckboard to Spanish Wells-- with Teresa---- to get supplies. Not a particularly challenging assignment, but at least it had afforded Scott the opportunity to see more of the surrounding area, and he was most certainly not averse to spending time with Miss Teresa. So far, the raven-haired young woman was the only person at the ranch who had asked any questions at all about Scott's journey West. Or shown any interest in his life back East. And, in turn, she had told him quite a bit about what it had been like to grow up at Lancer. Scott had spent very little time alone with Murdoch, even less with Johnny. At this point, he thought ruefully, he probably knew more about Miss O'Brien's history that he did about that of his father and brother combined.

Well, he corrected himself, that wasn't entirely true. He had read those reports, the Pinkerton reports, with page after page of sparely worded facts about his brother's past. There had only been one actual conversation between them since Johnny had been shot. A good conversation, one which had cleared the air between them to a certain extent, hopefully going a long ways towards dispelling their initial animosity, but as to another, it seemed that there was usually someone in Johnny's room when Scott came in from his day of work---or rather, of “observations”---either Teresa or Senora Maria. And Scott had no wish to intrude upon Murdoch's time alone with Johnny in the evening. Scott strongly suspected that once the invalid was on his feet, a lot of things would be different; he wondered now what his brother's opinion would be of Ivanhoe. <<Perhaps Johnny would prefer poetry.>> With a grin and a small shake of his head, Scott tried to imagine the “famous gunslinger” sitting on the sofa with a rapt expression, listening to Longfellow.

Truth be told, Scott had to admit to himself that he was very much looking forward to spending some time with his intriguing younger brother, getting to know the man in person rather than the reputation on the written page. Given what Johnny had believed about their father---that Murdoch Lancer had sent his wife and child away all those years ago--- the undertone of hostility had been understandable. That anger, combined with what Scott perceived as the younger man's independent, perhaps somewhat rebellious, nature had made it possible for a brief time to fear that, like the fictional Tosti, Johnny might have actually allied himself with his family's opponents. Johnny may have taken his time in making his choice clear, but, happily, in the end he had chosen Lancer.

Leaning back in the comfortable armchair, Scott used one hand to loosen his black string tie and then deposit it on the table beside him. Taking another sip of his wine, Scott tried to recall what it was that Johnny had said at that initial meeting here in the Lancer Great Room, that tight response that the Bostonian had so enjoyed hearing at the time. When Scott had refused Murdoch Lancer's offer of a drink, their newly met father had quickly turned to address Johnny.

“You drink don't you?” he'd demanded.

“When I know the man I'm drinking with.”

His brother's revealing reply had been a clear indication that Scott was not the only one to whom Murdoch Lancer was a complete stranger. Considering the statement now, it also seemed to suggest that Johnny Madrid Lancer was not one to trust too easily and most likely would not be an especially easy man to get to know. With a sigh, Scott wondered now just long it would be before any of them would truly “qualify” as drinking partners.

Turning once more to the dry volume in his hand, Scott realized that he was feeling too tired to actually concentrate on the details of the early settlements in California. Instead, he skimmed idly over the words, searching for a phrase or a description that might catch his interest. As he started to turn the page, he heard a movement that seemed to come from somewhere above and behind him---perhaps near the top of the staircase leading to the second floor bedrooms. Straightening up in the chair, Scott turned, squinting as he looked though the open doorway at the lower steps that were barely visible in the gloom.

After a moment, he heard the sound of uneven footfalls that continued until finally there was a glimpse of bare feet, and above them the dark line of a pant leg decorated with a row of silver discs. Recognizing the outline of his brother's figure Scott could discern that the younger man was leaning quite heavily upon the railing as he made his quiet, cautious descent.

Once Johnny had made it to the doorway, he paused, supporting himself on the doorframe with his left arm, the right one curved in against his side. “Hey,” he said softly, but his expression was unreadable in the shadows, as the entry was well beyond the circle of light cast by the tall table lamp. Concerned that the injured man might be in need of help, Scott rose to his feet, but certain that his brother would decline any offer of assistance, he forced himself to remain poised by the blue armchair. As it was a comfortable seat, and the closest one to the door, Scott gestured towards his own chair and then stepped back. After a brief pause, Johnny resumed his forward motion, placing one bare foot in front of the other with evident concentration. His pink embroidered shirt hung untucked and unbuttoned, revealing a glimpse of the dark hair on his chest above a wide band of white bandaging. Having achieved his goal, Johnny eased himself into the chair with a sigh, then looked up at Scott with that already familiar self-satisfied grin.

“Congratulations. I see you enjoy taking your life in your hands.”

Johnny shifted into a more comfortable position. “Nah, it ain't that bad. I've had worse.”

“So you've said. . . You still took a chance coming downstairs alone.”

“Was just gonna go up and down the hall once or twice, but then I saw this light down here. . . .”

“And decided to take a very serious risk,” Scott interrupted blandly as he settled into a seat on the sofa opposite his brother. “It could have been Teresa or Senora Maria down here.”

Johnny shrugged. “Figured it was you.” He ran one hand through his dark unruly hair. His blue eyes narrowed momentarily as he suddenly grasped the point that Scott was making. “Guess it might be best if the ladies didn't know,” he acknowledged with a grin. “Or the Old Man. Seems I'm gonna hafta find out what kinda brother you really are, Boston. Not sure how much I can count on ya.”

The serious meaning underneath the joking remark did not escape Scott's notice.

“You wouldn't be underestimating me again, now would you, Brother?” was his own swift and pointed reply.

Their eyes locked, and it was Scott who looked away, dismayed by his own response. He leaned forward, resting his white-sleeved forearms on his thighs, and stared at his clasped hands. He'd been pleased to see Johnny standing in the doorway, had welcomed the opportunity to spend some time talking with him. Scott knew that the unexpected anger that he felt really had very little to do with the young man seated across from him; with a sigh, he wondered how to go about explaining that. He could feel his brother's gaze upon him, but when he looked up, Scott was surprised to see that instead of that somewhat irritating grin or even what he already referred to in his own mind as the “menacing Madrid look”, there was an expression of serious intensity on the younger man's face. And then Johnny actually answered the rhetorical question.

“No,” he said slowly, “I won't be doin' that again, Scott.” Rubbing at his bandages with one hand, Johnny lowered his gaze, but continued speaking in the same soft voice. “Guess I didn't live this long makin' the same mistakes twice.”

Scott was at a loss for words. If he didn't know better, he would have said that his new brother was offering him an apology of sorts, and perhaps even an unexpected vote of confidence.

Johnny's gaze turned appraising. “S'pose I don't need t'ask ya how things are goin'; ‘sides, I'll see for myself soon enough.” Johnny leaned back in the chair with a lazy smile. “But I figure you're too stubborn to be headin' for home.”

Surprised that a man who, in his own words, “hadn't had much schoolin'” could nonetheless seem to read him so well, Scott wondered whether Johnny might have also managed to glean some information from Murdoch during his evening visits. He smiled wanly. “I haven't purchased a ticket yet.”

“Glad t'hear it.” Then, abruptly, Johnny lifted Scott's glass of red wine from the side table. “So—what're we drinkin'?” he asked as he sampled the liquid.

Scott waited until the noticeably depleted glass was returned to its place. “I was drinking wine.”

“Got anything else?”

Obligingly, Scott rose and stepped over to the liquor cabinet. “What would you like?” he asked, looking back over his shoulder.

“Oh. . .tequila . . . .”

Scott arched his brow, but said nothing.

“But I'll settle for a whiskey.”

After a moment of perusing the array of bottles, Scott lifted one, turning to hold the label towards the perimeter of the circle of light emanating from the table lamp. With a pleased expression, he looked over at Johnny, then noticed with barely concealed annoyance that his brother was finishing off the last of the glass of burgundy.

“That ain't bad. Not my usual, but not bad.”

Scott consciously decided not to comment on the disappearance of his wine. “If you like whiskey, you should enjoy this imported scotch. Very smooth, you'll find it goes down quite easily.”

“Hey, don't open nothin' special on my account.”

Scott was already working on the bottle. “It is a special occasion,” he said good-humouredly. “After all, you've just made your escape.”

Johnny seemed uncomfortable with the phrase. “Well, ain't their fault I don't coop up well.”

Scott poured a finger of scotch into a glass. “Most men don't,” he said as he carried the sample over to the blue armchair.

“You've never been locked up, Boston,” Johnny declared in a mildly dismissive tone, looking up at Scott and accepting the glass. But when the tall Easterner hesitated for a moment, Johnny paused with the glass lifted partway to his mouth, watching and waiting. The man with the close cropped blond hair and the unreadable expression briefly considered his answer, then offered a very carefully phrased response. “No, I can't say that I've ever spent a night in the local jail.” As Johnny sipped at the scotch, his eyes searching Scott's face, his elder brother smoothly added, “But as prisons go, I imagine this one isn't so bad.”

Johnny looked regretful. “Teresa and Maria, now I wouldn't ever want ‘em to think that I don't ‘preciate everything they've done.”

“I'm sure you'll find some way to show your gratitude.”

“You got any ideas, you let me know.” Johnny tossed back the rest of his drink, then extended the empty glass to Scott. “Yeah, I'll have some of that.”

Scott accepted the glass and eyed it speculatively. “I should warn you. . . . a full serving, and you'll probably need to let me help you back upstairs.”

“Figured that. Easier than arguin' with you anyway.”

Scott's only answer was a wry grin.

Then Johnny reached for the empty wine goblet. “Rather not drink alone.”

At that, Scott's grin widened measurably, extending upwards to lighten even the perpetually serious blue-grey eyes. He gestured for the wineglass to stay in its place. “I'll join you with the scotch.”

Returning to the liquor cabinet, Scott efficiently poured two generous glassfuls of Murdoch Lancer's best imported scotch, then recapped the bottle. As he replaced it on the cabinet shelf, he smiled and shook his head at a fleeting memory.

Catching the edge of that smile, Johnny asked “What?” in a voice that couldn't completely disguise his suspicion.

“Oh . . . I was just recalling the very first thing that Murdoch said to us. Do you remember?”

“Yeah. He took one look at the two of us standin' here and then he said. . . . .”

“Drink?” Scott softly joined in the simple one-word interrogatory. Both men smiled, although neither one seemed to find it all that amusing.

As Scott approached, armed with the two glasses of scotch, Johnny fired another question. “So why's that funny?”

The older man halted in his tracks, glanced down briefly, then after handing one glass to Johnny, Scott headed back towards the sofa as he spoke. “Oh . . . I suppose it's because I had a few weeks of cross-country travel to wonder what he was going to say to me when we met.” Seated, he stared intently at the glass that he now held in two hands. “I'd considered numerous possibilities----- but not that one.” He took a sip of scotch, savored it for a moment. “That was . . . . quite unexpected.”

“Guess I was kinda unexpected too.”

Tearing his eyes away from the amber liquid in his glass, Scott looked up at that. “Ye-es,” was the simple rejoinder, drawing out the word, his expression deadpan.

Johnny laughed. “Well, you sure as hell were.”

Scott exhaled slightly and allowed himself another small smile in return. Fixing Johnny with a knowing look, he raised his glass in mock salute. “You hid it well,” he said, in an ironic tone.

“You weren't too happy yourself,” was the swift retort.

Raised eyebrows over gleaming light blue eyes acknowledged the truth of that statement. “And that was my mistake,” Scott murmured softly. He took another swallow of the scotch, then abruptly raised his glass. “We should make a toast,” he suggested.

The dark brow over the sapphire eyes furrowed momentarily, then Johnny smiled slyly and raised his own glass. “To th'unexpected?”

“To the unexpected,” was the swift reply. To which Scott Lancer silently added, “And to getting to know the man you're drinking with.”

 

 

~end~
SC 2004

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