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Southernfrau

 

 

And My Heart Burdened Be

Rating: PG-13 due to graphic descriptions of injuries.

Disclaimer: You have the right to remain silent, remaining silent will insure your safety especially if you were planning to point out I don’t own the Lancer characters.  All I can say is you have a point there…but wear a hat and it won’t show.

Warnings: The writer of this story is of highly questionable mental capacity and needs her head examined for starting a new story when she is so far behind on her reading and feedback. However her muse refused to be silenced and was angered by her insolence for trying…which lead to a battle of wills of epic proportions…don’t even ask how it turned out…needless to say the story is being posted!

 

Chapter One

The rain poured from the sky in solid sheets of liquid misery.  Scott Lancer paused to shift his oilskin poncho around his slender frame.  He didn’t really know why he was bothering, as the rain gear had just about reached the point of saturation, he was fairly certain that another ten minutes of the torrential weather and his shirt and jacket would be as drenched as his pant legs and hat.

With a heavy sigh he used a sodden leather glove encased hand to wipe the water from his face.  His hand did not make it all the way back to the saddle horn before once again rain ran down his aristocratic nose and dripped from the tip.

Scott gritted his teeth, jaw clenching in aggravation and discomfort as he felt the river of water rolling down the middle of his back as it flowed from the over filled brim of his hat.  If he held his face forward to keep the blowing drops of rain from blinding him, his hat brim would collect all the precipitation and then the slightest movement of his head would send it rushing down his spine.

The blond Lancer’s weary gray-blue eyes scanned the rain-distorted landscape.  After a scorching hot summer, the Lancers were caught by surprise when the winter rains set in several weeks early, sending the ranch into chaos as everyone put in extra hours to accomplish all the tasks they would have had time to finish at their leisure had things gone normally. 

Scott wanted to curse out loud the huddled mass of waterlogged cattle.  It was because of these burdensome beasts he found himself halfway up the side of a mountain trying to round up the last of the herd and bring them back into the valley for the winter.  It was true what his brother Johnny said, cows are some of the dumbest animals on the earth.

Just thinking about his little brother caused a hint of a smile to creep across Scott’s lips.  The blond might be stuck out in this horrid weather but he was not alone, he had the company of his brother.  A brother that he had longed for all his life, one he had wished on many a star for and whispered many a prayer for to the vastness of the heavens and God.

Scott chuckled to himself as he thought of the man he called little brother.  Never was there a more independent, self-sufficient and dangerous man as Johnny Madrid.  He was more than capable of tending to and protecting himself.  Yet from the moment Scott saw his brave but insane dash across the fields of Lancer, his wild and impossible hurdling of the fence and the sickening terror of his body falling to the hard packed dirt as he was shot from the saddle, he had become Johnny Lancer, baby brother of Scott Lancer.

Scott could pin point with precision accuracy the exact moment when his heart felt the weight of brotherhood.  He knew at what time the desire, to protect with all his being and might this person who carried the same paternal bloodlines as he did, rose up and consumed him.  It occurred right after he rushed to his brother’s aid only to be waved off with a weak “I can make it”.  Some sixth sense…some brotherly connection hummed to life and warned him to stick close…and that knowing, that intuition had his shoulder and heart ready to lift up and bear his brother as he collapsed.

A golden blur and flash pulled Scott from his ruminations. The wet leather of his saddle squeaked as his body shifted and water sloshed from the full brim of his hat as his head snapped around to watch his impetuous younger brother, astride his palomino, charge after a wayward cow.  It took more than rain and mud to dampen the spirit, energy and gusto of the youngest Lancer.

Scott shook his head as a full-blown smile graced his face while he studied the skill and talent Johnny and Barranca employed to herd the cow in the right direction. The thunder rumbled, heralding the arrival of more storm clouds.  In the distance, beyond the silhouette of his brother, a bolt of lightning streaked across the sky, splitting the atmosphere with a blinding explosion.

Scott felt the vibrations of the rolling thunder dance across his body and before the booming cadence ended his eyes watch in terrified frozen stupor as the sodden ground under Barranca’s back hooves liquefied into mud.  The horse became unbalanced and his hindquarters dropped over the precipice he had been standing directly in front of, he squealed, large eyes widening in fright and scrambled madly for more solid purchase with his front legs.  The palomino made it over the edge to safety just as Johnny flew backwards from the saddle.

Screaming his brother’s name Scott leaped from his horse, his feet slipping and sliding on the muddy field as he hurried to the steep drop off his brother had just disappeared over.  Barranca rushed past him, his sides heaving and nostrils flaring from his exertion.

By the time Scott made it to the cliff his brother had already tumbled halfway down the rough obstacle strewn incline.  All he could do was stare in morbid horror, as his little brother’s body seemed to connect with every rock, bump and sapling in his uncontrolled careen down the hillside.  Finally Johnny rolled to a stop against a young scrub pine, it was just big enough to bear his weight and halt the forward momentum, but the little tree shook from the force of the body connecting with it.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Two

There was a brilliant flash of light and an ominous pounding and drumming sound echoing in Johnny’s ears and he felt the ground move.  One second Johnny was throwing his weight forward trying to give Barranca the leverage he needed to get back on stable land, the next thing he registered was the look of unadulterated fear contorting Scott’s face.  His hands lost contact with the rain swollen and slick reins, his arms wind milled as they fought to find something to grab hold of, to stop the inevitable and then he was falling into open space.  The lightness of the free fall was replaced with the throbbing pain of the sudden stop when open space gave way to hard packed ground with stones.

The air left Johnny’s lungs in a rush and a grunt.  The initial shock of the blow against the rocky foundation did not have time to sink into his stunned mind before he felt his body skidding down the cliff.  He tried to tuck in his arms and legs, to minimize the areas that could be damaged, but he seemed to have no control over them.

Johnny’s limbs were like a puppet’s appendages that had had the controlling string cut.  His arms appeared to be flapping in one direction and his legs in the opposite.  His oilskin poncho was torn from his body, snatching his hat from his head in the process.  Johnny’s shirt was ripped and shredded along with his skin as the sharp points of rocks and broken saplings caught the cotton material.  He felt a stabbing pain in his left shoulder that caused him to suck in his breath and a mouthful of mud. 

The youngest Lancer’s one saving grace was he had worn his leather pants and they protected his legs from the cuts, scratches and gashes his chest was collecting.  However, the pants could not cushion his leg from the bone- breaking contact of his left ankle against the boulder in his path.      

Each bounce, flip, turn, slide and collision with the ground, rocks and trees added to the damage and pain that now consumed Johnny’s body.   He was still conscious when his battered, torn and broken body impacted with a scrub pine with enough size to stop his head over heels trip into Hell.  He heard a crack as his body finally rolled to a rest against the trunk and briefly wondered if it was another bone breaking or the wood.

Johnny hissed and then blew out a slow breath as the bark of the tree bit into his mangled side and peeled still more skin from his waist, leaving traces of the tree embedded in his hip area.  At some point in his trip down the steep incline he recalled hearing his brother scream his name, now he heard nothing and felt only mind and body consuming agony drenching him like the rain still pouring from the black sky.

All his injuries seemed to be in competition for recognition of which one could cause the most torturous bodily suffering.  Johnny’s distressed mind listed off his hurts.  The funny thing was, he knew he had broken his left ankle, several ribs and possibly dislocated his left shoulder, but the thing that was bothering him the worst was the multitude of abrasions that were stinging as the chilling precipitation fell on them.

Johnny wanted to sit up and check out the damage he had done to himself, but he found he didn’t even have the strength to roll over onto his back.  He lay panting and fighting the rising nausea, but he lost the battle and feeling more vulnerable and exposed than he ever had in his young life he achingly forced his face further to the right and retched until tears streamed down his cheeks from the agonizing sensation that his body was being torn in half.

When he finally finished emptying his stomach, with great effort he pushed himself off the tree trunk to what he thought would be a more comfortable position on his back.  Every wounded part of his body screamed for attention.  The cold rain beat down unmercifully into his bruised face, the storm raged on, lightning flashed across the sky and Johnny’s breath caught in his throat as he realized he had felt the rumble of the answering thunder vibrate the ground he lay on, but he had not heard it. In fact the annoying patter of the falling rain that had clogged his hearing all morning was strangely missing…he didn’t even hear the strangled whispered plea of “Scott” that hesitated off of his lips as his eyes fluttered shut and he was consumed by the silent blackness of being unaware.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Three

Scott’s heart contracted into an oversized knot so large it felt like it was weighing down on his lungs keeping him from drawing a decent breath.  He did not even realize he had unconsciously raised and clasped his hands that had gone icy cold in the wet leather gloves, into a prayer position.  The sounds of his fervent chant was muted by the echoing patter and whoosh of the still falling rain.

“Oh dear God…please be all right…oh dear God …”

His mantra morphed into a trembling shouted plea, “Hold on Johnny I’m coming, I’ll be right there.”

Scott spun quickly on his heels with one thing in mind…get to the horses and get his rope and Johnny’s.  The sudden jerky movement very nearly sent his feet out from under him due to the slippery oozing mud the once firm dirt had become, gasping loudly and sucking in a mouthful of rain he gained control of his fear agitated body.

“Slow down, calm down, think man think.  You’re aren’t going to do your brother a bit of good if you take the same trip he just did.”

Even though it screamed against all his instincts Scott slowed his movements to a more sure footed pace.  In a stroke of good luck or perhaps mercy, Barranca had halted his startled flight right next to his stable mate Charlie.  By the time the blond Lancer made it to the horses he had shaken off the fresh sense of shock about the accident and had begun formulating a plan.

Scott knew there was no way his brother flipped head over heels, ass over elbows down the mountainside without doing some damage to himself.  He decided he should load all the first aid supplies his father insisted they both carry in their saddlebags into his.  With nervous jerky hands that didn’t seem to be able to process what his brain wanted them to do he finally unloaded the un-needed items from one side of his bags and put the medical supplies from Johnny’s into it.  He shoved the items he removed from his saddlebags into the now empty side of Johnny’s.  He lifted his poncho long enough to drape the bags over his shoulder, and then he put the oilskin cloth back over his head to help hold it in place.

Grabbing his rope from where it was looped around the saddle horn and then snatching Johnny’s lariat from his pommel, he hurriedly began tying the two ends together.  As he tied and tested the steadfastness of the knot he made his way back to the cliff side.  Fortune at least was smiling on him in that there was a sturdy full-grown pine near where Johnny went over.  Right in front of the tree was a good-sized boulder that would make sure the tree stayed anchored.

Silently praying that the two lengths of rope would be long enough to reach his brother, Scott began to double loop the tree and tie  it off securely.  The boulder was smooth enough he didn’t have to worry about it fraying the rope, which was a good thing since he laid the rope across it so that it would help him angle himself out from the steep incline.

Before preparing to drop over the side Scott looked back and down and his heart clenched and gave a curious flutter of relief when he realized his brother had moved from the tree trunk and rolled onto his back.  It gave him hope that even though he was probably gravely injured, his little brother was still alive.

Adjusting all his gear and making sure it would remain in place, he carefully stepped back, his feet began to glide about as though on ice instead of in the slick mud.  Scott’s muscular arms and back bunched and tightened contracting under the pull of his weight as he slowly let out a bit of rope at the time to control his descent.

Scott’s attention was so focused on his task he didn’t even notice the storm had intensified.  The black clouds swirled ominously higher, lightning flashed in multiple streaks resembling hungry fingers in search of something to grab, the thunder boomed with enough energy that the vibrations of it could be felt in the wind that had picked up speed and force.

The fury of the storm did not deter Scott Lancer, he kept a firm grip on the rope and hand over hand he slowly lowered him self down the incline.  His chin was tucked down on his chest as his eyes cautiously watched the ground under his feet for obstacles or other dangers.  He paused several times just long enough to gauge his progress and to pick up Johnny’s poncho.

All too soon he ran out of rope, still latched onto the lifeline he turned his head slowly to estimate how far away Johnny was.  To Scott’s great relief he was over three-fourths the way to his destination.  He hated to let go of the rope but he had no choice if he wanted to reach his brother.  Just before laying the rope down he spied a sturdy branch he could use for leverage and stability, holding the lifeline with one hand he reached out and snagged the tree limb.

Scott planted the end of the branch firmly into the ground and tested its strength before taking that first cautious timid step.  A smile spread across his face as hope began to beat in his heart that he would soon be by his brother’s side.  The grin suddenly changed into a shocked grimace as his worse fears came to fruition. He felt his feet go out from under him, his hands slid down the limb, wet leather gloves stripping the bark from the over-sized stick as they blazed downward.

Scott hit the ground with a spine-jolting thud; he was helpless to stop the rushed careen propelling him straight towards his brother’s insensate supine form.  His boots connected with Johnny’s hip and pushed him back up against the little tree, which shook and swayed harshly as the combined weight of the Lancers tested its structure. The tree held but the abrupt stop slung the blond Lancer backwards and his head connected with a mud hidden rock, the last thing he heard was a loud pop.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Four

The rain beat down on the two vulnerable forms of the Lancer brothers. A low moan was barely audible over the steady staccato sound of the precipitation. Scott’s eyes flew opened as he realized the moan had to come from Johnny. The blond took a mental inventory of his person. He lifted each leg and bent his knees . . .  all was fine there, he shrugged and wiggled his shoulders; they were all right as were his arms. He tenderly felt the back of his head, it had a sore spot but the mud did a good job of cushioning his head.

Scott’s brow wrinkled in concentrated effort as he tried to figure out where the loud pop had originated from, he hadn’t broken any bones in the fall, he hadn’t impacted Johnny hard enough to break any of his and the young scrub pine was still standing. Scott sat up and when he did he heard the tinkle of bits of shattered glass moving against each other. That’s when he realized his fall had probably broken either the small flask of whiskey or the small bottle of laudanum. He’d find out later right now he had more pressing matters to worry about… like how his brother was.

The blond scooted sideways so he was parallel to his brother. Now that he was actually in a position to assess Johnny’s injuries he found himself strangely hesitant to find out for sure just how bad it might be. Pushing back his fears, Scott forced himself to do a quick visual inventory. From the back Johnny looked fine, muddy but fine. His leather bolero jacket and pants had protected his body. He gently rolled Johnny onto his back taking care to make sure his head and back stayed in alignment.

A feeling of cold dread washed over Scott making his head swim when he saw the visible damage. Johnny’s face and chest were covered with scratches, cuts, bumps and bruises. His left shoulder was definitely dislocated and bleeding heavily. Scott surprised himself when he briefly wished for his father’s strong and steady presence. "No use wishing for what I don’t have…I’ll just have to make do the best that I can."

Swallowing back the bitter bile that rose in his throat, Scott stripped the wet gloves from his hands and tentatively began a more detailed assessment. He called to his brother, briskly patting the chilled skin of his lax face. "Johnny…Johnny…come on little brother. Wake up and talk to me. You better not let Murdoch find you laying down on the job, he’ll bellow so loud Val will hear him in Green River."

When his repeated calling of his brother’s name didn’t elicit a response Scott tried a sternum rub like he had seen Doctor’s use in field hospitals during the war when trying to wake patients after surgery. Johnny moaned as he felt pressure on his chest. He fought his way out of the blackness that consumed his being. His head felt like an anvil had dropped on it, there were points of pain around his body that throbbed with every beat of his heart.

Forcing his eyes opened, Johnny blinked rapidly as the rain flooded into them, robbing him of a clear view of his brother. He groaned and lifted his right hand to shield his face. When his vision adjusted, the sight of his blond brother staring into his face greeted him.

The relieved sigh over seeing his brother open his eyes, started Scott back to breathing normally. He sucked in so much air it almost made him light headed. " Thank God, Johnny can you tell me where you hurt the most? I don’t want to cause you any more pain while I check you over."

Scott’s sense of relief was short lived when his brother just stared blankly at him instead of answering his question. The blond studied his brother’s face intently while he waited for an answer. There were a multitude of scratches, cuts and bruises decorating the abused face. Scott gently placed his hands under Johnny’s head; long slender fingers massaged and probed hunting for damage in the form of cuts, bumps and indentations. The digits felt robin’s egg sized lumps behind each ear.

"Oh Johnny, how the hell did you manage to get knots behind both ears?"

The older brother frowned in concern when he still didn’t get a verbal response. Deciding perhaps it would be easier to examine his brother while he was too addled to deny or hide injuries he began a more detailed assessment. First he cautiously insured there were no abnormalities in Johnny’s neck.

Scott rolled Johnny to the left and gently removed his arm from the right side of his coat. He checked his spine and all seemed in alignment there. Scott rolled him to the right and repeated the process. He cringed at the odd way Johnny’s left arm flopped, realizing his arm was dislocated at the shoulder. He lifted the arm and rotated it and when he did, in the first bit of luck that day, the arm slid back into place with a resounding pop. Scott glanced down at Johnny to see how he was fairing and his own stomach churned in distress at the look of torture painted over the face whitened and tightened in pain.

"I’m sorry Johnny. I don’t mean to hurt you. I’m only trying to help."

Johnny’s left shoulder was bleeding with a steady flow of blood. Since his practically shredded shirt could not be salvaged Scott removed his pocketknife and cut the ripped material from his body. He set aside the two sleeves; he could tie those together and use them to bind Johnny’s left arm to his body. The front of the shirt was full of rips and tears but like the sleeves, the heavy leather of Johnny’s jacket had protected the back.

Scott felt he should address the bleeding shoulder before moving on to the other injuries. He folded a few pieces of the ragged remains from the front of the shirt into a pad and pressed it over the wound. Johnny jerked and moaned, raised his right arm and tried to push his brother’s hand away.

"Ssstop…it hurts…llllet it be." Demanded Johnny’s pain slurred voice.

"I’ve got to keep pressure on it little brother, it’s still bleeding."

Noticing no blood seemed to be seeping through the layers of material Scott lifted the pad to look. As he lifted the folded layers he realized a small but sturdy stick was pulling from the wound because the jagged end of it was caught in the shirt pieces. The little piece of tree was about two inches long and as it was released from the area of shoulder it had impaled the blood welled up out of the hole. The sight of the blood and the bits of muscle and flesh clinging to the rough wood caused Scott’s stomach to flip and try to rebel. He gagged and squeezed his eyes shut against the memory of his brother’s moan as he had pushed on the injury with the stick still in it.

Minuscule bits of tree bark flowed from the wound with the blood. Scott hated to do it but he gently pressed the injury to give the wound a chance to cleanse its self naturally. Once he was sure the bark was gone he let the rain wash the area and he wiped it with the torn shirt. There wasn’t much he could do for the variety of scratches, cuts and abrasions on Johnny’s torso but to gently wipe them clean as the rain beat down washing away the blood and mud. He did notice several thorns and bits of sticks embedded in the skin, once it was clean, they would have to be dug out.

Johnny’s left hip, just above the top of the low waisted pants looked like it had been rubbed over a wood planer. The skin was cruelly torn in spots with flaps of skin moving and waving in the rivulets of water running across the prostrate body. Scott could still see rather large pieces of bark caught under the skin. He removed the larger bits but he decided it would be best to dig the smaller ones out when he did the other stickers and thorns, hopefully after he got his brother off this hillside and into shelter.

Watching Johnny’s chest rise and fall in shallow breaths, Scott realized he needed to check for broken ribs. He felt one area on the right that had a little give to it, but when he moved to the left and began feeling with a light but firm pressure he cringed. Three spots on the left moved markedly, to the point Scott imagined he could hear the crunch and grind of broken bones. Fighting the rising bitter bile of nausea the blond pulled the saddlebags from under his poncho and dug the rolled strips of old sheet used for binding.

Scott slid around to behind his brother’s head and pushed his hands under Johnny’s armpits and lifted him with great care to rest his brother’s back against his own chest. It was awkward trying to wrap the rolled strip of cloth around Johnny’s torso but he managed. He steeled his heart and resolve against the moans, gasps and flinches his actions elicited from Johnny. Scott used the second bandage roll further down around Johnny’s waist to protect the abrasions and bruises on his left hip. While he had him up he used the two sleeves to bind Johnny’s left arm in place. As he worked he whispered words of comfort into his brother’s ear, momentarily forgetting he could not hear him, nor could he feel the reassurance of his big brother’s breath on his ear due to the rain that continued to fall cruelly upon them.

Once he was finished wrapping the abused chest, Scott folded Johnny’s poncho into a makeshift pillow and slipped it under his little brother’s head. He paused in his ministrations to push the wet hair from Johnny’s face and stroke his fingers across his cheek before cupping the stubborn chin in his hand. Johnny’s eyes fluttered open at the light touch; Scott smiled as he gazed into the pain glazed eyes, neither one spoke a word they’re actions and reactions said it all…I love you brother.

The boom of thunder broke the serenity of the moment and in the next instance Scott was scooting back around his brother’s legs. He felt down the right leg and it seemed fine. Scott began checking the left leg and was about to get his hopes up that it was fine too, until he got to the ankle. As soon as he touched it Johnny jerked and began to toss his head about and mercifully passed out. Upon closer inspection Scott could see from the angle even with the boot on it was broken.

Scott decided the best thing to do was to cut the boot at the side seem to split it wide open. That way he could release Johnny’s foot with the least amount of pain. Knowing Johnny’s knife was sharper than his he reached across to Johnny’s right boot and retrieved the one he always hid there. True to Johnny’s nature about the care of his weapons, the knife was razor sharp. It sliced through the seam of the boot so effortlessly until Scott was sure the local shoemaker would be able to repair the footwear, as they were Johnny’s favorite pair.

With the boot and sock off, Scott could see that even though the foot was bruised and swollen, the bones had not broken through the skin. He quickly chose two sturdy sticks from the ground and set them within easy reach and then took off his belt to use to strap them in place. Taking a deep breath and closing his mind to everything but his task, Scott gently pulled back and rotated the foot back in the opposite direction of the strange angle. He heard and felt the pop as the bones slid into place and set. He grabbed the pieces of small branches and placed them. He held them in place between his knees until he got the belt wrapped around them twice, and then he lifted the injured limb and finished wrapping the leather around the make shift splint.

Even though it was raining Scott felt as though he was sweating. He really didn’t understand how Doc Jenkins did these types of things on a daily basis, but then again Sam wasn’t related to his patients. There wasn’t much more Scott could do. He had tended to all the hurts he could. He was worried about Johnny going into shock; that could kill him. None of the other injuries were life threatening unless infection set in or if he had internal injuries that Scott was not qualified to detect.

Scott chewed his lip in distress and concern as he considered whether or not he should give Johnny any laudanum when he regained consciousness. He was pretty sure from the lumps on his head he was concussed and he didn’t even want to think about the fact Johnny seemed to be deaf. He reached into the saddlebag to retrieve the medicine, as if looking at the bottle would help him make his decision. As the leather bag moved he heard the tinkle of glass, he pulled his hand out spread the bag open and peered in…it was a moot point the glass bottle was broken, the neck of it popped clean off the body. "So that was the pop I heard when I fell."

The blond’s head dropped forward and his broad shoulders slumped. He felt inadequate, inept and as vulnerable and exposed as the night of the failed escape attempt, only this time his brother would suffer for what he felt was his failure too. Scott had no idea how he was going to get his brother back up the side of the cliff; all seemed hopeless.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Chapter Five

Scott lifted his pale, despaired filled face to the heavens that seemed to be pouring down a host of tears upon him. He felt like crying himself, but there was no time for such a useless emotion. He surprised himself when a heart felt plea called silently from his mind. /God I need some help here. You haven’t heard from me in a long time. It may not be right but I kind of gave up on you that night in the POW camp when so many of my friends lost their lives in the escape attempt. I’ve spent many years since then ignoring you like I felt you ignored me…/.

Scott’s breath hitched as he swallowed back a desperate sob, he dropped his head as warm tears slipped down his face to mix with the chilling rain as the useless emotion held him in a constricting grip. His throat felt tight, so he coughed to clear it and then his fervent prayer was voiced aloud. "I spent years wishing for this little brother and he means more to me than my life and there is nothing…absolutely nothing that I would be too proud to do to help him…no burden my heart wouldn’t bear for him… just please don’t take him from me…"

"Mr. Lancer…Scott…Johnny…where are you?"

Scott had not heard the approach of a rider above the din of the storm, but a break in the rumblings allowed him to hear the voice that now shouted above the noise. All the tension and fear drained from Scott’s body and it was as if he caved in on himself as he slumped forward in weakness. This time it looked like his prayer had been answered.

"Down here…we’re down here! Hurry…Johnny is hurt!"

Scott practically giggled in relief when the goofy mug of Tiny Boy Skipper appeared over the top of the ridge. Tiny Boy was just the help he needed; contrary to his name there was nothing tiny about him. What he lacked in mental capacity he made up for in physical strength. He was six and half feet tall, shoulders wider than the length of an ax handle and stronger than an ox. He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed but once he was given a chore he didn’t give up until it was finished.

"Hey Scott…did you know your horses are just standing up here, not ground tied or nothing? And I think someone stole your ropes and saddlebags…cause they ain’t here…oh looky somebody done tied your ropes to a tree…"

"Yes Tiny I know. Could you listen to me for a minute? I need your help; Johnny slid down the side of the cliff and hurt himself…"

"What in the world was Johnny thinking? Didn’t he know that would hurt…why did you let him do a durn fool thing like that…I bet your Pa will be purty steamed at you, you being the older brother and all…"

"I not so sure God answered my prayer after all," Scott mumbled to himself as he briefly entertained thoughts of beating his head against the nearest rock as Tiny continued to blather on.

"Hey Scott did ya hear me? I said you want me to come down there and help tote him up."

A horrific scene flashed before Scott’s eyes of the oversized but likeable oaf accelerating down the hill, ass-end kissing the mud and moving with enough velocity to knock the brothers and the tree into the next town.

The blond sounded somewhat panicked and agitated, his voice coming out as a shriek. "You stay right there Tiny Boy, I’ll tell you step by step what I want you to do. It’s too dangerous for you to try to traverse the hill too. I’ve already tended to Johnny’s injuries; I just need to get him back up. Do you have your bedroll with you?"

"Of course I got my bedroll Scott, I don’t get to go back to a big house to sleep every night like you. I reckon you must think I’m too dumb to be prepared."

"Sorry Tiny, I didn’t mean to imply anything. I want you to find two sturdy branches or good-sized saplings and built a travois using your bedroll blanket and lasso. When you’re done with that let me know and I’ll tell you what to do next, okay?"

"Sure thing Scott, wait right there now, I’ll be quick as I can."

Scott shook his head and rolled his eyes at the asinine statement. When he did he noticed Johnny was shivering, he laid his jacket back over him. The blond decided to lie down next to his brother and share body heat while they waited. He didn’t realize how bone tired he was until he stretched out by Johnny and spread out his oilskin poncho to cover them both. A bittersweet smile half-formed on his lips when his little brother try to burrow into his side to steal his body heat.

On the topside of the cliff Tiny Boy set about his task with all the determination and diligence he always employed. He scanned the field and saw two saplings just over six feet tall each; they looked stocky enough to bear weight. The gentle giant strode to them. The tops had a fluff of pine needles but the bottom portions had been stripped clean of small limbs, twigs and greenery by deer and mountain goats. He grabbed the top of the first tree with his huge hand and bent it down, at the same time he put one massive foot on the trunk where it enter the ground and with a stomp and a jerk the strong man broke the sapling off at the roots. He repeated the process with the other sapling he had chosen.

Tiny Boy searched to find two fat broken branches about three feet in length. Once he found the right ones he set about making the travois. He used his rope to lace and tie the shorter piece of wood horizontally between the taller vertical pieces. He wove the rest of the rope in a zigzag pattern down the tree trunks until he got just about to the bushy ends, and then he attached the second horizontal piece in place. All that was left to do was stretch his blanket over it. He took out his knife and in the uppermost corners of the blanket he cut openings that allowed the material to slide down over the tops of the vertical poles, insuring the wool would stay on the travois.

Scott was startled from his quiet plan making when Tiny’s head suddenly appeared over the edge of the precipice and shouted down to him.

"I’m finished with the trav…trac…stretcher thing Scott. What do you want me to do next?"

Sitting up Scott hollered, "I want you to pull up mine and Johnny’s ropes and attach the travois to it. Then lower it back down, I don’t suppose you have any extra rope so you can make the lifeline longer do you?"

"Nope…I ain’t got not extra rope…I got my spare lasso if that would help."

The blond huffed…if the situation weren’t so serious, Tiny’s confusion would be funny. Scott reined in his irritation and called out. "Your spare lasso will work fine, tie it to the rest of the life line and then to the travois."

Watching the rope snake it’s way back up the hill gave Scott a momentary feeling of being trapped and abandoned on the incline. The end of the lifeline disappeared increasing the sense of unease and loneliness until Skipper’s oafish mug reappeared.

"Okay Scott I have it all tied off, what do you want me to do now?"

The blond let out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding and repeated what he had already told him. "Start lowering the travois, Tiny."

"You don’t want me to untie it from the tree first and tie it to my horse?"

"No Tiny, I don’t. I want the lifeline anchored to something steady while I get Johnny loaded on the travois. After I have him on it and secured, then you can move the rope to your horse."

Scott watched the progress of the travois as Skipper slowly sent it down the hill. He tried to block out the inane chatter of the man full-grown in body and sadly under-developed in mind. He snorted when he caught snatches of the one sided conversation. Apparently their rescuer had shown up because some of the other hands had told him this was the best area to find a snipe. The likeable simpleton had fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the books.

Johnny shifted restlessly on the ground and the blond patted his shoulder murmuring soft words of encouragement that his brother could not hear. The youngest Lancer’s eyes struggled to open, he frowned as he watched his brother’s lips move as he spoke. Johnny’s mind was too consumed with the aches and pains of his body to give more than a passing thought to his inability to hear, he knew he should be concerned but at this moment the deafness at least didn’t hurt. His entire being felt like a thumb that had bashed with a hammer…then stepped on ….as well as slammed in a door.

Johnny saw his brother moving to his side and forced himself to track his movement. He observed as Scott grabbed the end of the travois and pulled it the rest of the way down so that he could lay it parallel next to Johnny. He jerked in surprise when he realized Scott was bent over him, right in his face, telling him something. Johnny assumed he was explaining how he was about to get off this muddy hillside. Frankly at this point he didn’t much care how he got off, as long as he did. It was bad enough that his body ached like he had been trampled by a herd of horses and cows; he was also cold, muddy and wet, probably soaked to the point his skin was wrinkled.

Scott figured Johnny couldn’t hear a word he was saying but it made him feel better to speak to him, if for no other reason than to insure his brother knew he was trying to help. The blond smiled as his little brother’s sapphire eyes connected and locked with his gray-blue ones. The two stared silently at each other, their eyes conveying their love and trust. Finally Johnny nodded and averted his gaze to the stretcher then looked back at Scott and nodded again.

With Johnny’s non-verbal okay to proceed, Scott reached out, braced his hand on his brother’s left hip and rolled him onto his right side. He quickly positioned the travois under him with the other hand, noticing Johnny’s body shook with the effort of trying to help hold the position. When the placement seemed right he gently lowered his brother down. The gasp and moan as Johnny settled into place tore through Scott’s heart the presence of the empathetic pain making it feel like a serrated rusty knife had diced the organ into chunks as it beat. The blond’s face twisted in sympathy.

Worried that his little brother was too weak from the blood loss, injuries and pain to hold on to the stretcher, Scott searched about for a way to secure him to it. He had used all the rolled bandages, rope, and his belt. Scott knew Johnny’s belt would not fit around him and the travois. The blond scrubbed his face in agitation, he was wet, cold, tired and worried and to top it off his brain seemed to be shutting down on him. Just as he was about to concede defeat he spied Johnny’s poncho that he had used to cushion his head, still folded and laying in place.

Scott heaved a sigh of relief and took a moment to calm his shattered nerves by sucking in a lung full of moisture laden cold air. With a clearer head and hands made steadier, the blond began to cut the poncho into six long strips. He tied the ends together in twos so that he had three long strips and then he used them to lash Johnny down at the calves, waist and across his chest just under the armpits.

Once he was finished preparing his brother for the trip back up the hill, the blond dropped his head and pressed his left hand firmly onto his forehead. His head felt like it was floating or was filled with fluttering wings in flight, it wasn’t painful but left him with a peculiar sensation of feeling disconnected and somehow outside his own body. It was as if he was an unwilling spectator in this tragedy of events that left him seemingly powerless and without control. The anxiety and fear that something else would happen as they made their way back up the incline, consumed him and filled him with dread, draining the color from his face and tearing his breath from him in deep gulping pants.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Chapter Six

Johnny watched, as his brother seemed to deflate before his eyes; Scott’s face lost its color and he looked to be gasping for breath. The blond appeared as wrung out as Johnny felt. The youngest Lancer’s thoughts were as jumbled and tossed as the small sticks and stones caught up in the slide of the mud descending the hillside. His body and mind felt thick and weighed down by the smothering consistency of the slowly advancing dense mixture of dirt, debris and water. He wanted to tell his brother everything was fine, but he couldn’t seem to find the ability to form the words much less speak them.

Johnny couldn’t understand why he could hear his own voice in his head but yet couldn’t hear any other sounds. He knew he should be concerned especially about that but he just could not keep it straight long enough to worry about it. Right now the only thing he could concentrate on was the pain and riding it out. He had enough mental faculties still functioning properly to know he was in trouble, but the pain, discomfort and cold served to blur and distort his understanding of how serious this situation really was.

Scott felt his brother’s eyes watching him, the blond looked into the concerned sapphire blue orbs and his worried soul drank in all the trust and concern he saw flittering about with the confusion. Taking a deep breath and forcing the air slowly back out of his nose the Scott reined in the runaway fears and managed to find an encouraging smile for his little brother. His hopes soared when Johnny returned the smile with one of his own.

Scott chuckled as his grin grew wider, " I never thought I would say this little brother but right now I would give anything to see some of that cocky sassy attitude of yours claiming you were fine, that you could make it on your own."

Johnny studied his brother’s face. He knew he was talking to him because he could see his lips moving. He frowned as he realized, albeit fleetingly, that he could not hear the words. His body shook as the cold and shock took a firmer grip and just as his eyes rolled back into his head, shuttering the image of his rain drenched brother from his consciousness’ his mind grasped the significance of it…/Whoa…I can’t hear! I’m deaf! /

The smile melted from Scott’s face as he saw his little brother’s body stiffen and then shake as his eyes rolled back into his head. He grabbed Johnny’s wrist and made sure he had only passed out. The anguish and shock over the horror of Johnny’s accident bubbled viciously in Scott’s stomach, threatening once again to erupt violently from his mouth as the bitter bile tainted his tongue. He swallowed the emotions and bile through strength of will and determination. /God please help me get him up this hillside./

"All right Tiny, untie the rope from the tree and attach it to your horse." Struck by the terror that Tiny Boy might come too close to the edge, Scott wiped the wetness from around his mouth and shouted imperatively, "And Tiny don’t come any closer to the drop off than you have too, this hillside is even more unstable than it was when Johnny went over."

"Okay, Scott. I’ll walk as far away from the cliff as the rope will go until I feel all the slack taken up before I tie it off."

Scott was somewhat surprised that Tiny had been able to formulate such a cohesive and sensible plan and then actually put it into words. It gave him hope that things were looking up.

The blond Lancer was wound tight with nervous tension as he observed Skipper just above the crest of the hill untying the rope from the tree. Scott jerked and reached upward with trembling arms, as if he could catch the big man, when he saw Tiny skid and glide with arms wind-milling as he made his way back around the boulder in front of the tree. The giant of a man was actually able to regain his footing, without ever going down. Scott lost sight of him as he moved further away from the ridge, causing anxiety to once more grip and squeeze the breath from his lungs.

The blond exhaled slowly and kept his eyes trained on the peak of the incline. "Thank God," he mumbled when the big man appeared waving his arms and shouting. "Get ready Scott, soon as I walk back over to my horse I’ll start pulling you up."

Scott made sure the saddlebags were secure over his shoulder and then settled his rain poncho back in place. He carefully picked his way up to the head of the travois and picked up the rope. He had worried about walking ahead of the stretcher and possibly falling but it was the only way to insure the travois did not become ensnared on any debris.

Standing waiting to feel the tug of the rope as it started the upward movement of the travois Scott realized he had lost his gloves some where in the mud and muck. His hands felt icy and he wondered briefly to what degree the weather caused it and what portion was due to the fear and worry pumping through his veins with blood that went cold as Johnny tumbled down the mountain.

A lack of gloves however would not keep him from getting his little brother topside. The rain had softened the normally rough, prickly hemp. The rope retained enough water that it was slightly puffed, the coarse fibers spongy enough to allow a tight grip without irritating or scratching his bare palms. With another glance back to check on his little brother Scott was caught unaware when the lifeline went taunt and began to move the travois. He turned back around to face up the hill and began planting his feet firmly into the saturated earth and moving slowly upward.

Scott sighed as the tension that had him wound tighter than the coils in a spring relaxed as he felt this horror finally nearing its end with every step he took. He chuckled to himself as he thought about Tiny saying Murdoch would be steamed at him for letting Johnny get hurt. Murdoch knew as well as he did that Johnny was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, but it never failed whenever they were assigned some task together his father always sent them off with the words, Scott keep an eye on your brother.

Johnny thought he said it because his father didn’t trust him yet, but Scott realized it was because Murdoch was protective of his youngest and wanted to shield him from any more of the ugliness he had experienced growing up in the border towns.

Scott was jerked mentally and physically from his ruminations as the rope tightened in his hands and began pulling him along faster than he could keep up. Scott was shouting for Tiny to stop as he went to his knees and was tugged upward. The hillside was so water logged the ground was becoming the consistency of pudding. The mud oozed up around the lower portion of the blond’s legs as he was dragged through it. His knuckles were stark white from the death grip he had on the lifeline.

"Stop….stop….STOP TINY!"

Scott screamed in panicked agitation as he continued the trip on his knees. He tried valiantly to get his feet back under him but the ground refused to release him. He worried that eventually he would slide across some obstacle in the muck and be injured himself and that was the last thing he needed, Johnny was depending on him. His calls to halt went unheeded.

By some miracle the blond saw the ridge of the hill was about ten feet ahead, a rather steep portion of the incline was all that was left to be traveled over. Scott gave up trying to shout for Tiny to stop. He tightened his grip on the rope and prayed his vulnerable legs would not unearth any buried dangers. He tucked his chin to his chest as his entire concentration was centered on hanging on to the lifeline. With his head down he didn’t see the lip of the precipice just above him and he lifted his face just in time to plow through the sludge of dirt oozing over the rain eroding cliff side.

Scott sputtered and cursed as the thick mire of soupy earth pressed into and rolled over his face, the grit and grime invading his eyes, nostrils and mouth. He quickly turned his head to the side and vehemently spit the filth out. As his torso cleared the edge of the cliff he held his head back to allow the downpour to wash the clinging mud from his face.

As he felt the ground level out below him he glanced back to see the top of the travois pop up over the hillside. When the makeshift stretcher cleared the drop-off and was about five foot from the edge, the movement stopped. Scott’s relief was so great he felt as if his bones had liquefied. He sunk gracelessly forward with his head resting on his knees. His whole body was lax except for his white knuckled grip on the rope; he just did not have the energy to force his fingers out of the desperate clutch on the hemp strands.

Taking deep breaths to restore his equilibrium, the blond stayed in his position as if he was praying to Mecca. He was dimly aware of seeing Tiny’s large boots squishing and packing the wet earth down into bootprints that slowly filled with water, as he walked past him. In the next instance, Scott was springing from the ground in a panic at the terrified scream of his brother shouting for him.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Chapter Seven

Johnny was aware of movement that made his head swim and caused an unpleasant sensation of rocks tumbling inside his stomach, threatening to push his insides out. Spit built up in his mouth making him try to swallow, which increased the uncomfortable feeling of nausea.

All of a sudden the movement stopped, and that only served to throw his stomach into further turmoil. The salvia increased, flooding his mouth, he swallowed desperately trying to contain the contents of his convulsing stomach. Johnny was fast losing the battle, he gagged and his eyes flew open when he realized the inevitable explosion was about to happen.

Johnny eyes opened only to have rain pour into them. He blinked rapidly to clear his vision. The first thing he saw was a giant of a man standing over him with a goofy grin on his face. Pain, cold, shock and the beginnings of a fever had him too muddled to process, with any clarity, who this big lug was. Then he realized he was trapped…tied down…unable to defend himself!

The large fellow’s face moved closer the mouth moving in animated fashion as he yammered words Johnny could not hear. It was all too much for his mind or stomach to handle.

"SCOTT!" Johnny nearly strangled as he screamed.

Scott was up and moving to his little brother as the scream ended and the strangled noises continued. The strangled sounds gave way to a heaving retch that sent a vile mess shooting from Johnny’s mouth into the air where it abruptly halted with a splat against Tiny’s chest.

"Roll him Tiny, before he chokes," shouted Scott.

And roll him, Tiny did. He reached out with his extra large hands and flipped Johnny face first into the mud. He wondered what good this was going to do.

"NO! You’re going to smother him you imbecile."

The blond dropped next to his brother and turned him back to his side. Johnny was gasping and panting, spitting furiously trying to clear his mouth.

"Hold the travois just like this, Tiny. On its side." Scott stressed

When he saw Tiny Boy was in control of the stretcher, Scott turned his hands up to the rain and rubbed them briskly to clean the dirt off. Then using the index finger of his right hand he did a finger sweep of Johnny’s mouth to help him clear it.

Johnny vomited once more, he struggled against the burning pain it caused in his chest. The ties binding him down added to his distress and confusion, but he began to calm when he realized Scott was there.

Seeing that Johnny’s nausea had abated, Scott had Tiny lower the travois back to the ground. For lack of anything else to use, he gently wash the mud from Johnny’s face using only his hands and the falling rain.

Johnny closed his eyes and sighed at the tender ministrations of Scott’s hands. They glided softy with nimble grace and ease about his mud caked face. The close contact brought a measure of assurance to the injured Lancer that he wasn’t alone, that he would not have to ride out these injures on his own, he had a brother to watch his back and aid him until he could fend for himself. And that was a euphoric feeling even if physically he felt like he had been drug backwards through hell over broken glass.

Scott continued his gentle aid; he was as comforted and calmed by it as his sibling. As the soft sweep of his hands and the falling precipitation cleaned the dirt from Johnny’s face Scott was struck by the youthfulness that shined through when his little brother let his guard down. These unguarded moments were treasures that Scott stored in his heart; they were rare indeed. Normally Johnny was all light and motion, wise beyond his years, and sadly jaded by the hard knock existence he had lived in the border towns. Scott’s hands trembled slightly as he was suddenly overwhelmed by a fierce need to protect the life-hardened soul that resided in the young body of his brother. He blinked and came out of his reflective trance when Tiny spoke.

"I had me a little brother once…fever took him when he was five and I was 10. We had the chicken pox, but Maxy’s went to his lungs. Doc said he burned up from the inside out from the fever. I never could understand how God could let a little feller like that suffer the way he did."

Scott’s heart twisted in his chest at the abject sorrow that contorted the big man’s face as he spoke. Tiny’s hands wrung his sodden hat in agitation as the traumatic memory stripped the time-healed scab from the old wound of hurt until it was raw once again.

"I’m sorry Tiny…for calling you an imbecile. It’s just …No, I won’t make excuses it’s never all right to tear down another man’s self-esteem. Please accept my apology."

Shock flashed across the gentle giant’s face and then gave way to a brilliant smile as the sincerity of Scott’s apology registered. "That’s okay, Scott. I know I’m not the smartest man that works for you. I don’t know a lot of things that others know…some people think I don’t know much of anything, but I know love when I see it. It don’t take a genius to understand you’re worried about your little brother. I do know we need to get him out this rain and dried off."

Scott struggled up from his knees and grasped Tiny’s over-sized hand with his and shook it vigorously. "A capital idea my good man, let’s get it done."

"Just tell me what you want me to do boss."

"There’s a line shack about a mile to the north. Let’s attach the travois to my horse because I really don’t think Barranca would appreciate having it tied to him. After you help me get Johnny inside I want you to ride back to the house for help. Tell our father to bring all the first aid supplies he can and to send for Doc Jenkins."

The two men set to work. Tiny went back to his horse and loosened the rope; he moved to Scott’s horse and grabbed the reins. He walked Charlie to the head of the stretcher and then threaded the lifeline through the stirrups. While he worked at that Scott threw the two sets of saddlebags on his horse.

As Tiny coiled up the remaining rope, the blond crouched down next to his brother and got his attention by tapping his fingers on the cold cheek that trembled as his teeth chattered. He waited for the blue eyes to open before speaking. "Hey little brother, I hope you understand some of this. I know you can’t hear me but I’m trusting that you realize I’m about to get you in out of this weather and get your warmed up and taken care of…I have your back!"

Johnny forced his eyes open as he felt fingers drumming lightly on his cheek. His whole body was jittering and twitching like bacon frying in the pan as it tried to fight the effects of the cold that seeped all the way to his bones. The rain that puddled in his eyes blurred his bleary sight further. Johnny rapidly blinked the moisture away; he studied his big brother’s face as he spoke to him. He figured he was explaining they were about to find shelter. He nodded in compliance, letting Scott know he trusted him.

Scott stood and stretched his tired back, and then flexed the stiffness that clutching the rope had caused in his fingers. He wished he had his gloves but they were somewhere down the cliffside and nothing could persuade him to retrieve them. He strode purposefully to Barranca and before mounting warned the high-spirited horse that he had better be on his best behavior.

Placing his foot in the stirrup, the blond swung gracefully into the saddle and then urged the palomino forward to the side of his horse Charlie. Tiny handed him the reins and them lumbered over to his own horse and mounted.

The trio of horses turned north and slowly started plodding off the mile distance. The massive weight of the horses helped them to sink further into the mud, up past their fetlocks, making them more surefooted in the muck than their human companions.

Johnny lay stiffly on the travois, what little color left in his face leeching away as he fought the motion sickness. He wasn’t being bumped and jostled but the stretcher swayed and dipped side to side as the end of the poles would find low-lying areas. It caused an uncomfortable sensation of falling. Even though he knew and could feel he was tied down, he still fought against the restraints, jerking and wishing for something to grasp hold off to stop the hated motion.

Scott sighed audibly as the line shack came into view. They had made it. He rode straight up to the little porch and sprung from his horse, relieved to be able to put part of the ordeal behind him. The blond quickly bent over his brother to check on him.

The forward motion stopped yet Johnny continued fighting the lighted headed and floating feeling that consumed him. A great pain rolled across his belly as the contents of his stomach insisted on fighting for the lead in leaving, robbing him of breath. He swallowed convulsively as he endeavored to hold onto the last of his lunch and dignity.

Scott’s face screwed up in confusion, just as he was just reaching to tap Johnny’s cheek it sounded like his brother growled at him. Too late he realized it was the rebellion of Johnny’s stomach causing the sound, he cringed in disgusted horror as the vomit spewed from his mouth and coated his long slender fingered hands.

"I…I’m ..ssssorry…" Johnny moaned with a look of total shame etched on his face.

Scott smiled through a grimace, shook the vomit from his hands, rinsing them in the rain before replying. "It’s all right, that’s the warmest my hands have been today."

Johnny couldn’t hear what he said but he could tell from his easy reaction that his big brother wasn’t upset. Johnny closed his eyes against his warring emotions as Scott began the task of untying the strips of oilskin that had held him in place.

As Scott worked at releasing his brother from the travois, he gave some concise instructions to their rescuer. "Tiny, after we get Johnny inside I would appreciate it if you would bring in a supply of wood and a couple of buckets of water. Then if you would please see to our horses. Would you like to rest before you ride back to Lancer?"

"Don’t you want me to help you get him dried off before I do those other things?"

Scott could just imagine the horror on Johnny’s face had he been able to hear that. While his brother was not a modest or shy person, he was extremely independent and private person, the blond really couldn’t see him allowing another man to tend to his needs without a fight or unless he was unconscious.

"I’ll take care of that while you complete the tasks."

"All right, you’re the boss. Let me tote him in the shack for you. It’ll be easier on his ribs than if we hold him from his shoulders and legs."

"Okay, just a minute. Let me tell him."

The blond worked the last tie off and then patted his brother’s shoulder to get his attention. Concern flooded him when he felt the trembling of the too chilled body under his hand, yet there were bright splotches of red on the cheeks of the pale and pain twisted face. Scott feared as soon as he got Johnny dry and warm the fever would rage through his body. When Johnny was finally able to focus on him Scott attempted to make him understand what was about to happen.

"Johnny, Tiny is going to lift you and carry you inside." The blond used his hands to pantomime. He pointed to his brother and made a lifting motion and then gestured towards Tiny Boy and the front door. He knew Johnny understood when his eyes tracked the movement and then he nodded his okay.

Scott scurried out of the way, standing and grabbing hold of a porch post as the rapid movement seemed to tilt the world under his worried and stressed body.

Tiny bent over and effortlessly scoop Johnny from the travois. Scott was struck by the gangly youthful quality still apparent in Johnny’s limbs as his legs swung limply from his perch in Tiny’s massive arms. The effect made his brother look more vulnerable and young than he did in periods sleep.

Skipper’s long wide feet thumped up the wooden steps with a vibrating thud, leaving clumps of mud in his wake. Scott slipped quickly in front of him to open the door. Tiny strode determinedly across the short expanse of the little one room shack and tenderly laid his burden on the bed.

"Y’all need to fatten this boy up, Scott. He don’t weigh hardly nothing at all; I believe I could tote him all the way back to Lancer if I had too."

The relief of finally being in out of the inclement weather lent a twitter to the giggle that preceded Scott’s answer. " Good grief Tiny, haven’t you ever noticed Johnny eats all day? He has so much nervous energy he’s never still. Our father says it’s a wonder he doesn’t wear his pants out from the inside out from all the fidgeting."

Tiny stomped his feet and slapped his hands to his thighs as he roared with laughter over the quip. Scott’s eyes widened and his heart skipped a beat when Johnny shuddered in startled reaction to the cacophony of noise it caused.

"I’ll go get the wood and water now," Stated Tiny Boy as swung around in the small space and in just four steps of his long legged stride was already out the door and pulling it to.

Scott turned to his brother and couldn’t help the wide smile that appeared to be eating his face. "Now did you actually hear any sound or were you sensing vibrations?

Johnny watched his brother carefully. He had seen Scott’s reaction when Tiny’s boisterous display had elicited a surprised flinch out of him. Suddenly Johnny felt as bone tired as he ever had in his life. His body trembled in its effort to generate heat, he yawned and shook from head to toe. He fought the sensation of diminishing awareness as his injuries insisted he heed the siren call of sleep.

Seeing that Johnny had reached his endurance level Scott reached out and patted his shoulder and informed him, "Hang on another minute, little brother. I’m going to change clothes and then get you dried and comfortable in this bed.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Chapter Eight

Scott turned to grab his saddlebags and realized they were still on the horse, so he decided to get the fire going in the potbelly stove with the wood that was in the storage box next to it. He shivered slightly as he made his way to the stove. His feet kicked up the dust on the floor causing it to swirl as if waltzing as he crossed the room. He was pleased to find that the wood was of a good size as well as nice and dried out. He should be able to get a good fire going quickly with it.

Before putting the first small log in the firebox he lightly tapped the stovepipe to make sure it wasn’t clogged and to break loose some of the soot and ash. Satisfied that the venting was fine, he grasped the cast iron handle of the door and recoiled from the sheer coldness of it. For some reason that freezing metal handle made him think of how chilled his brother was, he snatched his hand back as though he had been burned. He slapped himself on the forehead as he dropped the piece of wood.

"Oh for Christ’s sake, the only imbecile around here is me. What was I thinking? My head must be so empty the wind would whistle through it. The first thing I need to do is get those wet clothes off of Johnny."

Turning on his heel the blond marched back to the bed, his jaw clenched in irritation at himself for letting his train of thought, as to what actions to take next, derail so spectacularly. Scott felt like he had been gut punched by the hind legs of a mule when he got back to Johnny’s side and saw his rigid trembling posture as he fought the shaking of his body.

Not wanting to startle his little brother by all of a sudden grabbing him Scott gently cupped his cheek to get his attention. When the blue eyes fluttered open, the blond shuddered at what he saw there, it was obvious Johnny was miserable and in pain.

"Hey…just wanted to warn you I'm going to get these wet clothes off of you first, and then get you wrapped up warm." Scott motioned with his free hand as he spoke, to make sure Johnny understood his intent.

Scott lifted the sodden jacket off his brother’s chest, glad now that he hadn’t tried to put it back on him and had only laid it across him. Being the tidy and organized person that he was, the former Army officer neatly hung the jacket on the chair by the bed. Turning back around he paused as he considered the wet bandages wrapped around Johnny’s torso. He decided to leave those in place until he could cut some more from one of the line shack’s spare sheets.

The blond sat down on the edge of the bed and began unbuttoning the many silver conchos that lined the side of Johnny’s pants. After finishing with the right side he leaned to the left and with great care began releasing the buttons on the left. The last thing he wanted to do was jar his brother’s leg and cause him any more pain. He noted that thankfully the leather pants had kept the splint from becoming overly sodden. Once he had both sides undone, he rolled Johnny from right to left and then left to right and worked the britches out from under him. He folded them and laid them across the chair with the coat.

Johnny was left in a pair of long underwear that reached to the top of his knees. They clung to him like a second skin and Scott knew there was no way he could lift Johnny’s hips and legs to peel the drawers off without hurting him. The blond stood long enough to retrieve his little yellow handle case knife from his pocket so he could cut them off. He sat back down and grimaced at cold clammy feel of Johnny’s body.

Slipping the end of the blade under the leg of Johnny’s underwear at the knee, Scott lifted the blade and cut through the material up to the waist, he repeated the process for the other leg. The blond closed the knife back up and slipped it back into his pocket his own body trembling from the chilled air and wet clothes he wore.

Johnny kept his eyes closed during the entire process. He was not a modest person by any means, in fact he and Scott had frequently seen each other in the nude. They enjoyed stopping by one of the many ponds on the ranch for a dip in the heat of summer. This, however, was different, he felt vulnerable and more exposed being unable to undress himself. He squeezed his eyes shut even tighter when he felt the last physical piece of his dignity being pulled from underneath him.

Scott could sense how distressed this whole stripping process had been for Johnny. He was secretly glad his little brother had chosen to close his eyes and shut out his mortification. By refusing to watch or acknowledge what was occurring the youngest Lancer had missed the momentary look of shock that had crossed his big brother’s face.

/My God, Tiny is right we need to fatten you up./

The blond was appalled at just how slender his little brother was. He now understood why Maria kept baked goods and leftovers readily available for the young man. It stood to reason that a person with an abundance of energy would need plenty of fuel to keep him going.

Shaking himself out of his reflective thinking, Scott threw aside the destroyed drawers. He grabbed the blanket from the foot of the bed and tucked it tightly around Johnny’s body; he smiled when his younger brother snuggled into the warmth of the wool. Just as he was retrieving a second blanket from the trunk at the end of the bed the door flew open, and crashed with a resounding bang against the wall.

Curiosity over the dull thud that vibrated in his ear enticed Johnny to open his eyes. The sight of a wind-swept and rain soaked Tiny Boy Skipper greeted him. The body of the giant man blocked the doorway, effectively holding back the wind, rain and what little daylight that was able to peek through the cloud covered sky. In one hand he held two buckets of water hanging by the handles from a balancing stick, curled in his other arm was a load of firewood that would have taken both arms of a normal sized man to carry. Tiny had obviously kicked the door open, as both hands were full.

Scott scowled, the action marring his handsome features, over the disturbing entrance of the big man, but he held his tongue. Without Tiny’s help they would still be down the side of the cliff.

Tiny shrugged his shoulders and looked sheepishly at the older Lancer brother. "Sorry Scott, I was trying to get save time by bringing the water and wood at the same time. I didn’t stop to think about needing a free hand to open the door."

Shaking out the blanket in his hands, the blond turned and fluttered it over and then down onto Johnny and began tucking it around him. "That’s okay Tiny…but you could have just knocked. I would have let you in."

Tiny walked to the stove set the water down and dropped the wood in the box. His face was tinged red as he haltingly admitted, "That’s what I was trying to do…knock with my foot. I guess I don’t know my own strength."

Scott finished placing the blanket, relieved to see that Johnny’s stiff posture was beginning to relax. He paused to place his cool palm on his little brother’s forehead. Just as he feared it was warm feeling where before it had been cold and clammy. He had been afraid as soon as they got him dried and warming up that the fever would begin to build and it looked like his fears had not been unfounded.

The experience after Johnny took Day Pardee’s bullet in the back and other illness had taught the family that the youngest Lancer’s fever would rage like an inferno during the night hours. Scott could practically feel the turbulence of the acidic juices in his stomach as his heart splashed down into it over the thoughts of doing battle with Johnny’s injuries and fever alone, because he had to send Tiny to the ranch for help.

The blond pressed his hands over his face trying to contain his raging emotions. The slender fingers scrubbed down his cheeks, pausing firmly against his mouth to stifle the fear he couldn’t voice aloud, his hands traveled on over his chin and slipped in a clenched prayer position under it. He whispered desperately to himself, "I wish our father was here."

Taking a deep breath to compose himself and put his plans in order, Scott spun around ready to take charge.

Skipper was busy loading the stove with wood, when Scott approached him. The big man was pulling a Lucifer stick from the box on the shelf to strike it on the flint rock that lay on the stovetop. The flash of light as it sparked to life highlighted the intense concentration Tiny always put into any assigned chore. The blond was washed over with a feeling of shame and remorse at the harsh thoughts he had had about the good-hearted man. Scott was glad he had apologized to for the disparaging remarks about his intelligence earlier.

Picking up the kettle, Scott checked to see that it was clean but dusty. He quickly rinsed it and filled it with water as Tiny got the fire roaring to life. As he sat the pot on the stove Tiny Boy was closing the door on the bright orange tongues of flames that wiggled, flickered and licked out of the opening, making the old pot belly stove look like a fat black cast iron fire breathing dragon.

"Tiny, I want to thank you for all you have done to help Johnny and me. I also want to apologize again for snapping at you when you were just trying to help. I really need for you to ride back to Lancer and tell our father what happened. Tell him I’ve treated Johnny’s injuries the best that I could but to bring more first aid supplies and Doc Jenkins too."

"I’ll leave as soon as I put your horses in the lean-too."

Scott followed him outside and grabbed the saddlebags, "Be careful Tiny, there’s no telling if we’ll have mudslides with this rain still falling."

The blond stepped back up on the porch and stomped the mud from his boots as Tiny led the horses to the shelter. Scott was looking forward to getting out of his wet clothes and into whatever dry ones he could find. If he hadn’t been in the shack changing clothes, he would have seen Tiny Boy leaving after tending to the horses…he would have seen him turn in the opposite direction and taking the wrong trail.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Chapter 9

A gust of wind pushed at Scott’s back as he opened the shack door. He had to tighten his grip on the door handle to keep it from being snatched from his hand. He stepped quickly inside and then pressed his body against the door to force it close. The wind howled as it pushed back and the door, trapped between nature and man, creaked in wooden protest against the two-sided pressure.

The potbelly stove was heating the air nicely; there was a marked difference in the outside air and the one in the line shack. The little house had windows but it was such a gray gloomy day the only light that filtered in through the windows was diffused and weak, like it was already in the twilight of evening instead of afternoon. Scott toyed briefly with lighting a lamp before deciding it would be a waste of oil, he’d wait until he was ready to inspect Johnny’s wounds with a more careful eye.

The rain lashed against the windows. Through the obscured watery view of the panes he could see leaves scurrying off to an earthbound existence as they made their break for freedom from their lofty perches in the branches of the trees. If they could have been home, relaxing in the great room with a cheery fire, hot coffee and warm from the oven cookies as well as the companionship of family, it would have been an enjoyable event. Instead Scott could feel the coils of tension winding tighter in his stomach as he thought of how isolated and alone he felt at this moment.

Shaking his head at the useless moment of wool gathering, Scott strode purposefully to the trunk at the foot of the bed. All the line shacks were equipped with them. They held extra linens, blankets and clothes. He hoped there would be something to fit because the spare clothes were in a variety of sizes. The clothes had seen their better days but they were mended, clean and most importantly dry.

The lid of the trunk squeaked as it raised and then thudded against the end of the bed, Scott grimaced and hurriedly look to see if it had disturbed Johnny. /I keep forgetting he probably doesn’t hear most of these sounds, hopefully when the swelling from the lumps go down he’ll be all right./ Seeing that Johnny was resting comfortably, though he could also see the hint of fever red warming on his cheeks, Scott got busy looking for dry clothing.

Under the other spare blankets Scott found a pair of his own brown trousers, with threadbare knees. Digging deeper into the chest he found long underwear and socks. Just finding the socks made him recall how wet and cold his feet were causing him to shiver and fight the urge to chatter his teeth. He continued his search to find a shirt and the best he could do was one of his father’s old ones. It would be a loose fit but at least the sleeves would be the right length, if he had to wear one of his brother’s his wrists would be exposed.

Grabbing a towel before carefully lowering the lid, Scott scooped up the items and head over to the stove to change clothes in the warm air. He laid the clothes on top the stove knowing they would be there long enough to warm but not scorch. Peeling off the sodden shirt, he trembled and goosebumps popped up on his chilled skin. Scott grabbed the towel and briskly rubbed his arms and chest until the moisture was gone and the skin reddened from the friction.

Scott picked the shirt from the stovetop and sighed in pleasure as the warmth of it chased some of the chill from his body. He laid his towel on the heat while he toed off his boots and slipped out of the drenched pants. Then he wiggled out of the wet underwear, he was dismayed to see his legs were grimy from the knee down from being dragged up the hillside.

Dunking the corner of his towel in one of the buckets of water and then wringing it out some, Scott quickly wiped the muddy trials from his legs. He switched towel ends and used the dry one to wick the moisture from his lower extremities. He completed his task as fast as he could, as he felt not only exposed to the cold air but unseen eyes for some strange reason.

He picked his underwear up and before pulling them on enjoyed the toasty warmth of them seeping into his frigid fingers. It was all he could do to keep from moaning as he stepped into the drawers and the remaining heat warmed his toes as they passed through. He did moan in ecstasy when he pulled them into place over his hips and his nether regions no longer felt as though he was sitting on a block of ice.

Scott grabbed his trousers and they were hot to the touch, anticipating the heavenly feel of the extra heat to his body, he slid into them and then rubbed his hands up and down his thighs enjoying the sensation of no longer feeling frozen. Deciding he had wasted enough time Scott quickly buttoned and tucked in his shirt. At last he was ready for his socks, he took them from the heat and walked briskly across the dusty floor, his toes contracting and curling on the icy floor. He plopped down in the chair by the bed and pulled the warmed woolens on to his feet. Scott wiggled his toes and let out a satiated sigh…dry and warm at last.

A few seconds passed before Scott pushed himself up from the chair. He really needed to do a more detailed examination of Johnny’s injuries, as well as change out the bandages. Once again he went into the trunk at the foot of the bed and pulled out a clean white sheet.

Scott reached into his pocket for his knife and came up empty handed, he was addled for a moment until he realized he had left it in the pants he had just taken off. Striding across the room he picked up the discarded trousers and shivered at the icy feel of them, amazed to think he had been wearing something so frigid and hadn’t turned blue from it.

Scott pulled the knife from the pocket and dropped the pants back on the floor. He rubbed the cutting utensil between his hands to warm the metal up as he made his way back to the chair by the bed. He quickly cut and ripped the sheet into three-inch wide strips of cloth. When he was done he pulled the small table closer to the cot and placed both oil lamps on it. The glass globes were clean of soot but dusty, he blew the excess particles off and wiped the rest off with one of the strips of cloth. He lit the lamps and was almost sorry for the extra light as it accentuated the frail condition of his little brother.

Scott tore his eyes away from the worrisome sight, as he tried to get thoughts and plans in order. He had his bandages, he had the table to work from and more lights…what else did he need to gather before he got started? "Great Scott… why don’t you forget the most important thing you need… warm water and soap?"

Once again Scott made the trip across the room thinking he was about to wear a rut in the floor he had been back and forth so many times. He grabbed the kettle and poured warm water into a bowl. When he reached up on the shelf to get a bar of soap he saw the shaving cup and brush and an idea formed in his mind from something he had seen in the hospital tents during the war.

Laying his supplies on the table, his blond head dropped in a silent prayer.

/ Thanks for sending us help to get back over that hillside, now if you could please guide me through this until better help arrives./ Though his prayer had not been long or eloquent it seemed to lighten his heart and give him a sense of peace.

When Scott raised his head, he was startled to find Johnny staring at him, glazed blue eyes squinted, brow furrowed in apparent confusion.

"Hey little brother, are you ready to get this show on the road?"

Johnny’s only response to the question was to cock his head at a questioning angle. He lifted his right hand and used his index finger to poke at his ear. Scott couldn’t keep the happy shocked look off his face when he finally spoke, the first sounds from his mouth since the scream back at the hillside.

"My head feels like it’s in a bucket of water. I can tell there are sounds but I don’t really hear them …it’s more like I feel them."

"You have two robin’s egg sized lumps behind your ears." Scott pantomimed with his hands, first using his index finger and thumb to form an egg shape and then running his slender fingers into his own blond hair to indicate the spots and finally pointing to Johnny.

Johnny concentrated on his brother’s hand motions and watched his mouth. He had always been as skilled at reading lips as he was reading body language. He understood what Scott was telling him, but he needed to know more.

"Do you think Sam can fix it? I don’t know if I could stand always being like this…it could be dangerous for a man like me."

"I’m sure Doc will be able to help you."

Scott silently prayed that his little brother wouldn’t notice his choice of words. He was loathed to lie to him, hence the careful wording. They could deal with the consequences later, right now the important thing was to get these injuries tended to…and that meant taking off the wet bandages, cleaning the wounds and rewrapping and splinting. A task Scott was not looking forward to, not because he didn’t want to do it but because he knew Johnny would be in pain.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

 Chapter 10

Scott could put it off no longer it was time to get the wet bandages off, clean the wounds more thoroughly and re-dress the injuries. He blew out a steady stream of breath to calm his nerves and steeled his heart against the pain his brother was about to endure.

Trusting that Johnny would be able to understand some of what he was saying, Scott decided to talk as he worked, his brother’s ability to lip read and Scott’s hand motions would hopefully convey enough warning as to what he was about to do.

"Okay little brother, it’s time to let it buck. I’m going to start with that puncture wound in your shoulder. That’s the one I’m the most worried about because it could possibly become infected."

Scott once again took up his knife. He shook his head as he recalled when Johnny had bought the instrument for him one afternoon in Baldomero’s. His brother had informed Scott that if he had his pants on then he should have a knife in the pocket. A man never knew when he might need to cut something. Scott had thought it pure exaggeration at the time, but now couldn’t count the number of times during ranch work when he had to pull it out and use it. When Scott snapped out of his moment of reflection he found glazed blue eyes watching him with a smirk on his lips.

Johnny spoke in a voice that wavered from loud to soft, as he couldn’t hear himself speaking, but the words made it seem like he had read Scott’s thoughts. "You see Boston, I told ya…never leave home without your gun and knife…ya never know when you might need them."

Scott smiled and pretended to cuff the dark head. "So you did little brother, I’ll give you that one…however you realize I’m still the older wiser brother."

Scott realized Johnny was trying to let him know it was all right to get started, that he would deal with the pain like he always did. Knowing that still did not calm the quivering mass of nerves threatening to send Scott’s stomach into chaos.

"I’m going to cut this strap holding your left arm in place off, when I get the puncture cleaned out and bandaged and your ribs wrapped, we can put a sling on your arm since it pretty much popped back in place on it’s own."

Slicing through the shirtsleeves he had used to tie Johnny’s arm in place, he watched his brother’s face for any overt signs of pain or distress. A slight grimace when he lifted the limb and place it along his side was the only indication of discomfort Johnny displayed.

"Johnny, I’m going to cut off all these bandages from your torso before I try to clean anything. You holler out if I hurt you or if it feels like I’m cutting you."

Scott’s hand stalled at his brother’s hip, his fingers felt frozen, yet his arm was trembling. The blond jerked in surprise when Johnny’s overly warm hand reached out and grasped his, giving it a reassuring squeeze. The simple act of trust served to steady the blond’s hand. Scott slid the knife, blade upward, under the strips binding Johnny’s ribs and sliced neatly through them. He quickly pulled the loose pieces of cloth from under Johnny and dropped them to the floor.

There was a slight barely perceptible hesitation as Scott reached to remove the pad of cut shirt pressed over the shoulder wound. He pursed his lips in concentration and silently prayed it wouldn’t be infected. Scott had to fight the urge to squeeze his eyes shut as he lifted the material, when the injury was uncovered he wished he had given in to his urge.

The wound had not bleed much, but it was red and swollen. There was definitely a pocket of pus as the yellowish muck was oozing from the puncture and staining the pad. Scott swallowed convulsively as he battled the churning of acid in his stomach. He dropped the soiled cloth to the floor.

"Johnny, I need to put a warm compress on this and draw all the infection I can to the top. I’m going to have to squeeze it out. I know it’s going to hurt but it can’t be helped."

Johnny watched his brother’s lips as he spoke to him. He could tell from Scott’s reactions he hadn’t liked what he saw when he took the bandage from the puncture wound.

"Are you gonna put a hot cloth on it?"

Nodding in the affirmative to his brother’s question Scott rose and went back to the stove. He took a clean dishtowel and dropped it into the pot of hot water as soon as it was soaked he scooped it out with the ladle. He let it drip a minute before trying to wring some of the excess water out. He sucked in his breath sharply as he twisted the towel with his bare hands . . . it was hot.

Hurrying across the room with the steaming towel he rapidly folded it into a square and laid it on Johnny’s shoulder. His brother bucked and out of reflex started to swipe the heated cloth off.

Scott grabbed the wildly flailing hand. "No, Johnny . . . stop. You need to leave it alone."

Johnny’s eyes connected with Scott’s begging for relief. "It hurts …." He ended the statement on a moan.

"I know it hurts, but you have to leave it alone. I’m going to change your ankle splint while we let the heat pull up the infection."

Picking up several of the long strips of sheet Scott moved to the end of the bed. After sitting down he lifted his brother’s left leg and placed the foot on his own thigh. He carefully removed the leather belt he had wrapped around the sticks to hold the splint in place. Laying aside the pieces of wood he made sure the bone was still in alignment. The skin was horribly bruised over the area and it was definitely swollen but at least the bone had not broken through.

Scott placed the sticks back against the injury; he tied a strip around the middle to hold the contraption in place while he wound the rest of the cloth up and down the splint. When he finished he waited a minute and then pinched the tip of Johnny’s big toe to make sure it was not too tight and cutting off his circulation.

"Does that feel all right, Johnny?"

When Johnny just stared at him he repeated the question and employed hand gestures as well to get the point across.

Nodding his head, Johnny wearily spoke. "It feels fine, Scott. Now can we do something about my shoulder? It feels like something is poking me in it."

Oh how Scott hated the thought of lifting that compress and looking under it, but it had to be done. With halting reservation, he gently peeled back the towel. He wanted to gag . . . to run from the shack screaming he couldn’t do this . . . but he had no choice.

The hot compress had indeed brought the infection to the top. Right before his horrified and disgusted sight was the most revolting thing Scott had ever had the misfortune of gazing upon. There was a large bloody mass, so dark it was black looking in spots and right in the center was a greenish yellow glob that seemed to move and breathe as if it had a life force of it’s own. The color leeched from Scott’s face and he placed a trembling hand over his mouth; he feared he would be sick in spite of his valiant attempts to hold it all together.

In this case, Scott thought right. He leaped up and stumbled to the door and clumsily forced it opened. He staggered to the edge of the porch and vomited with such violence he was sure he had expelled his stomach along with the food. When he was finished he caught a couple of handfuls of rain and pulled it into his mouth. He swished the water around and then spit it out. He captured some more of the chilly precipitation and washed his face.

The first thing he did when he re-entered the shack was to wash his hands with the soap. Scott sat back down on the edge of the bed and smiled weakly at Johnny and shrugged.

"I never claimed to be a nurse, little brother."

Johnny snickered and raised his eyebrows. " I ain’t seen you that sick and green since the first time we had to help castrate the bulls."

"Little brother I would gladly snip the accoutrements of every bull on Lancer, rather than face another sight like this."

"Huh!"

"Never mind, lets get this over with," Scott retorted with a cringe and a shudder. "I realize this will not feel good but hopefully after we’re finished you’ll be better off."

Picking up a clean cloth Scott wet it and laid it on Johnny’s chest so he wouldn’t have to reach for it after he started excising the infection. Biting his own lip, Scott wished he could do this without looking but he had to watch to see when the indicators showed the wound was clean.

Scott didn’t even realize he was holding his breath as he positioned his hands and as gently as possible pressed down and inwards towards the opening of the wound. He winced in sympathy as Johnny pushed his body down and clenched his jaw until the blond could hear his teeth grinding. The sweat poured from Johnny’s face that was devoid of all color except the fever red patches on his cheeks.

A loud ‘pffft . . . plop’ sound preceded a gush of blood and pus. Johnny’s body contorted in agony but Scott continued on, the worse thing to do would be to stop the pressure while it was draining so effectively. The corrosion kept spewing, leaking down onto Scott’s hands and traveling towards the towel on Johnny’s chest. Right before the liquid mess started clearing another piece of twig popped free of the hole. The little piece of tree rode a rivulet of blood down Johnny’s torso. And then all that came from the puncture was clear.

Almost passing out from lack of air, due to holding his breath, Scott finally exhaled and greedily sucked in air. He sunk forward in relief, his shoulder’s slumped. For just a moment he closed his eyes, he heard Johnny panting and when he hazarded a look, he saw the tears streaming down his face. Scott had to fight the urge to brush away the tears, as his hands were a bloody mess. He spied the tiny stick and picked it up.

"The worse is over, Johnny. All the wood is out of the wound. The opposite end of this twig is not broken, so we don’t have to worry about another piece being in there."

Scott showed the sharp piece of wood to his brother. Johnny blinked and tried to make his eyes focus.

"Tequila."

"I don’t think that’s a good idea Johnny. I’m sure you have a concussion and the alcohol will probably make you nauseous."

Johnny frowned and looked perplexed. "I don’t want to drink it, Boston. You need to pour some on the hole, unless you have some carbolic. I have a bottle in my saddle bags."

"Sorry Johnny, I wasn’t really thinking. Let me wipe this blood off your chest first."

As gently as possible, the blond ran the towel over Johnny’s shoulder, then flipped it over and gave it another going over.

"That will do for now, I’ll wash the rest of your chest in a minute. When I was in the Army I once saw a doctor cleaning wounds with foreign matter in them with soap and a special scrubbing brush. I’m going to try using this shaving brush. I think the bristles are soft enough not to tear the injuries and long enough to sweep out the dirt and particles."

Scott reached for the saddlebags that he had dropped on the floor at the foot of the bed. Flipping open the first compartment, he was greeted by the sight of Johnny’s muddy boot and his equally filthy gloves. " I don’t even remember putting those in there," he mumbled.

He dropped his bags on the floor and picked up Johnny’s. He rummaged around in both sides before finding the small bottle of tequila. Pivoting back around on the chair, he showed his find to his brother. Scott popped the cork out using his teeth.

"Brace yourself, little brother, this is going to sting."

Johnny prepared himself for the fire about to erupt in his shoulder. The first bit was poured into the raw hole and Johnny was convinced he could feel it sizzle, sweat rolled down his face along with pain wrought moisture from his eyes. He was coping with the pain fairly well until the liquor filled the puncture and bubbled out as Scott continued to pour.

When the excess cascaded down his torso and rolled over the multitude of cuts and scratches, the fire morphed into an inferno that ravaged Johnny’s body and mind with unrelenting torture. He felt like he was slammed into a stone wall of pain, unable to bear it any longer he twisted and contorted trying to flee the pain and when he couldn’t he threw pack his head and roared out an animalistic scream that ripped through his throat like shards of glass and then his he was lost to the blackness of unconsciousness.

Scott was so startled by the unearthly howl; he dropped the tequila bottle. When Johnny began to writhe around the blond slapped the bottle out of the way. He realized too late the alcohol was probably burning in all the other lacerations on Johnny’s chest. He grabbed a cloth strip dunked it in the bowl of water and quickly wiped the excess from Johnny’s body, even though Johnny had already passed out from the pain.

Deciding he might as well go ahead and finish cleaning the rest of the injuries while Johnny was unaware and not likely to suffer as much from the hurt, Scott got busy. He mixed up the soap with the shaving brush and with a light handed pressure, using circular strokes soaped up Johnny’s chest from throat to just below his navel.

Scott was relieved the brush was working as he had hoped. Small bits of bark and other debris were swept from the wounds. He was extra careful at Johnny’s hip were the large flaps of skin had been torn on his impact with the tree. When he was finished he retrieved two bath towels to roll and place along Johnny’s sides to catch the excess water when he rinsed the soap off. As Scott was wiping away the last of the wetness, Johnny woke up.

"Hey little brother, you just slept through the rest of your treatment. Let me wipe up you arms and face and then you can sit up for me to rewrap your ribs."

Rinsing out the cloth he had been using, Scott washed off his brother’s face and then cleaned up his arms. When He finished he motioned for Johnny to sit up, placing his hands, which had wrinkled from so much exposure to water, under his back to help him lift up.

Johnny groaned and panted, his breath coming in short heaves at the pulling sensation tearing across his abused torso. Scott made quick work of tightly binding the injured ribs. Johnny seemed to relax as the cloth strips eased the strain. When Scott got to the mangled skin on the hip he put a clean small dishcloth over it before continuing with the sheet strips. He finished up by fashioning a sling from a pillowcase by ripping it open along the seam.

By the time everything had been done, dusk was peeking in the windows and Johnny’s head was drooping on his brother’s shoulder.

"All done, little brother. Let’s get you comfortable and I’ll go see what I can find in the way food."

"Thanks, Boston. I’m not hungry . . . I just want to sleep."

And he was asleep before Scott could lower his head onto the pillow.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 Chapter 11

While Scott sat and relaxed for a few minutes by watching his little brother sleep, Tiny reached Clear Pond Meadow. Even though dusk was falling there was still enough light for Tiny Boy to see his plan to first go in the opposite direction and then turn back towards the rear of Lancer when he reached the high slanted meadow had been an excellent one.

Clear Pond Meadow had a natural sandy bottom water reservoir and because the meadow was on a gradual slant rain tended to roll down the incline into the pond. This meant this area of the ranch did not get as water logged or muddy. A wide goofy grin broke out on the simple man’s face as he turned his sure-footed horse back towards Lancer and proceeded to angle down the slight rise in the land. He laughed out loud as he realized the ground here was in much better shape than the area they had been working in. Barring any unforeseen problems he should be back at Lancer by late evening. Just as he was settling deep into his saddle the fates smiled again…it quit raining.

Scott suddenly became alert . . . something jerked him from his brooding thoughts as he studied Johnny. He quickly sat forward and made sure his brother was resting comfortably. Other than feeling somewhat feverish, Johnny seemed fine. Yet Scott could not shake the feeling something had changed.

Standing up, Scott strode swiftly to the door and eased it open just a crack, as he did not want to let the heat out. He felt like shouting praises on high when he realized he was hearing an occasional drip of excess moisture off the eaves but that the steady drumming downpour had ceased.

"Thank you, God. Now if you’ll just get me through the night until help arrives I will endeavor to make amends for my often failing faith."

A low growl rumbled and Scott laughed as he patted his stomach and retorted, "Now that you’re no longer filled with knots of dread and apprehension I guess you want to be fed."

Stepping back over to the bed Scott adjusted the blankets ensuring Johnny was protected from a chill. He sighed as his hands detected the increased heat building in the injured body.

"I better eat and fortify myself now because I have a feeling I will need all my strength to battle you and your fever later tonight."

Before heading to the stove Scott stopped to dig through his saddlebags for the willow tree bark they carried with their first aid supplies. He found the square of white linen it was wrapped in and unrolled it. He had enough bark to boil to make at least two kettles of willow bark tea.

Scott filled the kettle with water and dropped in half of his supply of bark, then put it on to boil. He perused the can goods on the shelf by the stove and found a can of carrots and one of potatoes. With the two vegetables he could make a pot of beef jerky stew. He backtracked to the bags and rummaged through his brother’s until he found the stash of dried beef strips his brother always had with him. He also picked up his knife up off the table he had pulled to the bedside.

The blond carried the food items to the table. Then went back to the stove to clean his knife with hot water and soap. By the time he finished it was time to set the tea off the heat to steep before serving it to Johnny. After that Scott grabbed the canned goods and a pot which he filled half full of water.

Back at the table he cut the strips of jerky into bite size pieces and dropped them in the pot. Scott used his blade to open the carrots and potatoes to be ready to go into the pot after he boiled the jerky to softened it and make the beef broth. Traveling back over to the stove he put the pan on the heat and then poured a cup of willow bark tea for Johnny.

A sudden movement and moan by his brother startled Scott as he was making his way over to the bed with the cup of medicine. The blond sped up to reach Johnny’s side quicker and ended up sloshing the hot liquid on his hand and the top of his socked foot. He hissed in pain as Johnny tossed and tried to turn and sit up.

Johnny felt uncomfortable, he recalled earlier feeling like he would never be warm and dry again. Now he it was like he was too warm . . . really almost hot. The blankets wrapped around him were smothering him like an over sized hot steamy towel wrapped around his face in preparation for a barber shave.

Johnny tried to twist and free himself, he was sure he was going to stifle if he didn’t get upright. Forcing his bleary eyes open, as he managed to lift himself partially from the bed, Johnny saw Scott headed towards him with a cup.

"Awww hell . . . . don’t tell me you have a cup of that horse piss Teresa thinks is so wonderful."

"Okay, I won’t tell you, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out once you drink it. And you are going to drink it, little brother."

"Huh! I can hardly hear you, Boston. It still sounds like my head is under water. Did you just say I stink?"

Sitting on the edge of the mattress Scott raised his voice, "No, I said you’re going to drink this. You don’t smell at all because I gave you a bath." He finished with an evil grin.

Johnny’s shoulders slumped as his brother handed the cup to him. There was no use putting it off. He could tell from the determined set of Scott’s jaw that he might as well drink it and be done with it.

The brew was hot and bitter, the tang of it caused salvia to form and mingle with it. Johnny forced the concoction down and feared he would be sick again. He sensed pressure building in his stomach, but instead of rolling across it, it rose filling his chest and pushed his lungs into his bruised ribs. Just when he thought he could stand it no longer, a protracted expulsion of air ripped from his mouth. "Burrrrrrpp."

"Sorry . . . excuse me, but it was better out than in."

"That’s all right, brother. Why don’t you lay down and rest some more, I’ll bring you some beef broth in a little bit."

Taking the empty cup from his brother’s trembling hand, Scott set it on the table. Before he helped Johnny lower himself back down in the bed, Scott’s nimble fingers inspected the knots behind both of Johnny’s ears.

"It feels like these knots are going down. Can you hear any better?"

"Yeah….I feel too hot, which is why I’m sweating . . . so that’s why I’m wetter!"

Scott chuckled at his little brother’s miss-interpretation of what he had said. Secretly he was glad to see Johnny acting cranky, it meant he wasn’t so ill that he didn’t have the energy to balk at his treatment.

"Rest brother, I’m going to go finish making the stew."

The dark haired Lancer mumbled as he snuggled down in the bed, "You ain’t the only one wishing he had a brew."

The little shack had not only warmed up it now smelled of beef and the spices used to flavor the jerky, giving the house a cozy homey feel. If not for the fact he was worried about Johnny’s injuries, Scott thought it would be nice to spend sometime away together like this. He decided he should mention a possible hunting trip to his little brother once he was better.

Scott stirred the pot of jerky bits and water; the beef had plumped back up some and released its spicy flavor into the liquid. He grabbed two tin cups from the shelf and spooned them full of beef broth; since the cups were metal he could leave them on the stove to stay warm. He added a bit of flour to what remained in the pot so it would thicken up. At last he added the carrots and potatoes, mixed it well and put the lid on for it all to heat up.

While Scott waited for his dinner to finish cooking he decided to straighten the shack up. He gathered up his and Johnny’s muddied clothes and put them in a burlap sack, the clothes were in need of a good cleaning from Maria or Teresa. He put all the cloths and towels he had used with Johnny into a bucket of clean water. All that was left were the bandages he had cut off of Johnny; there was no need to clean those. He decided to put them in the trash pile outside; he needed to go out for another bucket of water any way.

After grabbing up the empty pail, Scott stopped at the bed long enough to check Johnny. He sighed heavily at the red patches on his little brother’s cheeks, a sure sign his fever was climbing. Scott just knew he would be busy tonight, pushing water and willow bark tea into Johnny.

Slipping quietly out of the door, Scott went straight to the water barrel and filled the bucket with the frigid liquid. Deciding he better answer the call of nature while he had the chance, he left the pail on the porch and headed for the designated area.

 

Johnny squirmed in fevered dreams. He was wading in a stream, but the water was warm and getting warmer still. All of a sudden he was waist deep in a river, the choppy waters churning up and threatening to wash over his head. It splashed in his face and he swiped at his eyes to clear them. Johnny snapped his eyes open and groaned; his full bladder urged him to get moving.

"Scott," he called weakly. When he received no reply, he tried again, "Scott!" Just calling for help added pressure to his over full bladder, he couldn’t wait another second, he would have to get up on his own.

Johnny had just thrown the blankets off and managed to drop his right leg over the side of the bed. He was trying to scoot close enough to the edge to lift the splinted left leg over when Scott came through the door with the bucket of water.

"NO," Scott shrieked as set the pail down and rushed across the room to stop his headstrong brother. "What do you think you’re doing?" he demanded as he tried to place Johnny’s limbs back on the bed.

"Stop . . . I have to go. . . move outa my way."

"You’re not going any where but back to bed." Scott struggled with the determined body. "Johnny stop acting like a brat and lay down."

"I have to pee, let me up." Johnny wiggled desperately as the urge continued to consume him. Scott helped him up then admonished him.

"Stay on this bed, I’ll get the chamber pot."

Reaching under the bed, he grasped the cold metal handle and pulled the pot from under the bed. He noted out loud, "It’s dusty."

"Who cares if it’s rusty, I got to go, move Scott," growled Johnny.

It must have been sheer exhaustion on Scott’s part and a fevered brain on Johnny’s because for some reason the metallic ting of the urine hitting the inside walls of the chamber pot gave both men the giggles. Both were truly and irrevocably lost in laugher when Johnny announced the faster you pee the more bubbles you can make.

Johnny howled with laughter to the point his abused ribs protested and finally he was so breathless he fell over against Scott. His brother going limp against finally snapped Scott back to reality. He covered the pot and pushed it back under the edge of the bed

Scott helped Johnny lift his legs and swing them back onto the bed. He slanted the pillows against the headboard so Johnny could lean back.

"Before you go to sleep, I want you to drink a cup of beef broth for me."

Blue eyes met blue, both still twinkling with childish amusement, as Scott pantomimed the act of drinking to get his point across. Johnny nodded his consent.

After struggling to stay awake to finish the full cup of liquid nourishment Scott had served him, Johnny finally lost the battle; the last drop just missed his mouth and rolled down his chin. Scott pried the tin mug from his hand, set it aside and then settled his brother lower in the bed. Satisfied Johnny was comfortable the blond fixed himself a plate of stew and sat down to eat.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Chapter 12

The stew was not the best Scott had ever tasted, but then again it wasn’t the worst either. It was hot and filling. The spices that the jerky had been dried in had leaked into the broth and the flavor had soaked into the vegetables. The meat was a little stringy and tough but the carrots and potatoes were very good so he ate mostly that.

Cleaning up the table and dishes, Scott thought back on the time he and Johnny had joined Nick and Heath Barkley on a hunting trip. Johnny and Heath had offered to cook supper; that alone should have told the two big brothers that their little brothers were up to no good! When the four men sat down at the campfire to eat the two scamps had made a big deal of serving them.

As long as he lived Scott would never forget the look on Nick’s face when he dug into his plate of beans. The older Barkley had cocked his head as he chewed with a thoughtful look on his face. Nick nodded and mumbled with a full mouth, "This is really good."

Thinking it was all right; Scott had scooped up a mouthful of his own. The beans had been flavored with whiskey and the meat was very tender . . . some kind of white meat…it tasted somewhat like chicken. Seeing the look of devilment on Johnny’s face and the way he kept glancing at Heath, who was squirming and turning an interesting shade of red, set off the alarm bells in Scott’s mind.

"Where did you two get chicken out here . . . or did you find some kind of game bird?" demanded Scott. /Please God let this be some kind of bird./

Before either of the cooks could answer the night air was disturbed by the sound of a splash from the pond, they were camped near by, and the chorus of an army of bullfrogs calling out in their hoarse croaks.

"Uh oh, Heath, I think they’re calling for their brother."

"Nope . . . I don’t think so Johnny. That bullfrog was a lady, she was full of eggs."

The next thing Scott knew beans were flying and Heath and Johnny jumped and took off with a raging Nick Barkley hot on their heels. While Nick had chased the two younger men through the woods, Scott had calmly dumped his dinner and had made a meal of jerky and coffee. By the time the other three made it back to the campfire, Scott had fixed his bedroll and watched with amusement as the other three rolled out theirs. He snickered to himself as they brushed the dirt, dust and bits of leaves and twigs from their rumpled clothes.

A low whimpering moan pulled Scott from the happy reminiscing and drew him over towards the bed where his little brother lay. He sighed as he took in the condition of the injured man. Johnny was bathed in sweat on the parts of his body not bandaged, his cheeks were as red as if sunburned; he trembled and shook.

"And so it starts." Whispered a resigned Scott. "Fight the good fight little brother because we still have a lot of memories to make together."

With a determined set to his jaw, Scott strode to the door to retrieve the bucket of cold water he had brought in earlier. Making his way back to the bed, he sat down in the chair. Dipping the a clean dish towel in the water, he swirled it around and idly thought how his own churning emotions threatened to break free of their confinement just as the liquid now in motion rose up the sides of the pail, in danger of spilling over the sides.

Scott held the cloth up and wrung out the excess. His heart clenched in sympathy when he laid the frigid wet material against Johnny’s skin and he flinched and tried to scoot away from it.

"Sorry, little brother. Other than the willow bark tea this is the best way I know to fight a fever."

Time after time the rectangular piece of towel was dunked, wrung out and then gently glided over Johnny’s face, neck and arms. Johnny quivered and shivered, his teeth chattering as his body rebelled against the chilly treatment of his fever.

"S..S..Scott, please no more . . . it’s too cold . . . just let me sleep."

Scott grabbed his brother’s chin to get his attention and to stop the restless tossing and turning of his head. He waited to speak until he was sure the fever bright eyes were seeing him.

"All right Johnny, we’ll stop for a few minutes for you to drink some more willow bark tea. I’m sorry this is so uncomfortable but we can’t let your fever get out of hand."

The older brother tiredly trudged to the stove to pour another mug of tea. While he was standing there he opened the metal door to place more wood on the fire. He paused for a moment to warm his hands by holding them at the opening. Scott rubbed his hands briskly trying to encourage the heat to seep further into his fingers, to relieve the bone deep coldness the extended exposure to the water had caused. Closing the stove door with a clang, Scott picked up the cup and headed back over to the bed.

"Here little brother, sit up and drink this tea."

Johnny struggled to focus his eyes. He needed to see Scott’s face to try and figure out what his brother was saying. But it seemed the harder he tried to focus the blurrier his vision was, that combined with the sensation of water sloshing around in his ear made his stomach want to toss back it’s contents.

As Scott tried to help Johnny sit up he was assaulted by the feeling of falling, like the room was spinning around him. Johnny tried to fling his arms out to catch himself, forgetting his left arm was in a sling. The wild movement caused pain to erupt in the injured shoulder and the sling to bite cruelly into the tender skin of his neck. His high fever compromised his coordination and he was unable to prevent himself from pitching forward into Scott’s chest.

"Whoa! Brother, be careful let me put down this tea and help you."

Scott reached to place the cup on the table, his other arm wrapped protectively around Johnny, who seemed content to lean on the solid presence of his big brother. The older sibling could no more stop the smile that momentarily transformed the worry creasing his features into soft lines of pleasure over the trust this simple act bestowed upon him than he could stop the sun from rising. And truth be told, he wouldn’t trade these newfound feelings for all the tea in China.

Struggling to hold Johnny in place with one hand while he used the other one to plump the pillows so Johnny could sit up to drink the tea, strained Scott’s tired muscles. Once he had everything to his liking Scott lowered Johnny back slowly to rest at an incline.

Johnny felt himself going back, the action made his head swim and his stomach to sass him. He clutched at Scott with his right hand, "Don’t let me fall," Johnny pleaded.

"I’d never let you fall, little brother." Scott stated emphatically as he stared into blue eyes that had once studied him with uncertain curiosity but now shone with the bonds of brotherhood. He stated it again just to make sure he was heard, "I will never willingly let you fall and if it’s not in my power to prevent the fall then I will be there to help you up again."

The muffled heaviness in his head and ears kept Johnny from hearing all the words Scott had just spoken to him. But he got the message loud and clear from the intense demeanor and protective air of the first man Johnny ever truly trusted to watch his back.

Scott had to blink back the sting of tears that threatened to flow over the calm acceptance he saw relax Johnny’s fever ravaged body. He picked up the cup of medicinal tea and turned to his younger brother. Johnny made no attempt to take the mug; instead he impassively allowed the older sibling to tilt the cup to his mouth and over the next fifteen minutes lethargically sipped the bitter brew.

While Scott was thrilled that his and Johnny’s relationship had progressed to such a tight bond of love and trust, he couldn’t help but worry at the seeming lack of fight in his normally feisty brother. Worry was somewhat of a foreign concept for him, not that he hadn’t ever known it, he had, but never due to love, so that it burdened his heart and not just his mind.

After setting the cup down, Scott returned to dunking and wringing out the towel and wiping his brother down in an effort to cool him off. As he worked diligently at his task, darkness stole across the land, cloaking Lancer in the shadowed blackness of night. The murkiness of the lightless period obscured the details of the landscape making it appeared like the trees and mountains were gray masses huddled in the inky swarthiness.

The clouds had rolled away shortly after the rain stopped, racing across the sky and over the mountains like windswept tumbleweeds. The gusty gales brought a colder feel to the air. At times it blew brutally buffeting the moisture-laden world, licking at the wetness of it. The treetops danced with the rhythm of its movement and sprinkled the ground below with glittering teardrops of water that had been caught within the bushy proliferation of needles.

The heavy winds huffed and puffed against the little shack’s walls and they in turn moaned and groaned at the ill treatment. Johnny tossed and fidgeted, seeming to match every noise the house made with one of his own. The fever continued to climb despite Scott’s constant efforts at battling it with bathing and the tea.

Johnny muttered incoherently, one minute shivering despite the layers of blankets and the next fighting to sling off the hot wool that heated him like an inferno. Scott’s sole focus was on his brother. He patiently ministered to Johnny. Lifting him to rest against his chest as he slowly fed him the willow bark tea, murmuring soft words of encouragement when Johnny’s fevered brain was too clouded to understand the bitter brew was to help him.

The ache in his back from leaning across the bed finally forced Scott to crawl onto the mattress with his little brother. He positioned the bucket of water on the chair so he could reach it. And then Scott scooted up against the headboard and laid Johnny against his chest. The heat radiating off of Johnny’s body caused perspiration to form out on Scott’s own body. Between the water and the sweat both brothers were soon drenched.

Finally several hours later the fever peaked and then fell. Johnny suddenly ceased his restless mutterings and movements. He puffed out a big sigh, and grunted as his injured ribs protested the expansion of his chest. Johnny relaxed back against his brother seemly unstrung. He was as limp, loose and unwound of tension as an unraveled ball of yarn.

Scott didn’t have the heart or energy to move his little brother. He dropped the towel, he had been wiping him with, into the bucket. His water- wrinkled hand gently caressed Johnny’s face as he checked to make sure he was indeed cooler. Scott’s relief crashed over him like a huge wave, freeing his mind and body of the heavy stiffness of worry. Scott realized he could barely hold his eyes open. His blond head dropped forward until his cheek was resting on the top of Johnny’s dark hair. The two brothers slept, as the wind blew and preparations were being made to aid them.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Around midnight, Tiny Boy crested the last hill and spied the Lancer hacienda nestled in its valley. From the rise of the hill he sat on he could see the windows of the great room were awash with light, even at this late hour. Tiny rushed forward pleased to be near the end of his mission. The heavy oak door of the house creaked open just as Tiny Boy dismounted.

"Who’s out here," rumbled the deep voice of Murdoch Lancer.

Normally the big rancher would have been in bed at this time of night but he had fought an uneasy feeling of impending trouble all day. The sense of doom had increased when his sons had not ridden in for supper. He tried to placate himself and Teresa by deciding the rain was the cause for their delay. Then the rain had stopped and the wind had picked up, right along with his fears and concerns.

"It’s Tiny Boy, Mr. Lancer." Skipper nervously took his hat off, letting it dangle from the stampede string as he brushed back his hair. "I have a message from Mr. Scott."

Murdoch stepped further out into the yard his heart lurching, hesitant to hear the news, yet propelled onward in his desire to know for sure the condition of his children.

"What is? What happened to my sons, where are they?" Murdoch’s hands clenched at his sides, as he had to fight the urge to grab the other man and quickly shake the answers from him.

Licking his lips with a tongue that had gone as dry as his mouth in the face of the obviously agitated father before him, Tiny decided it would be best to start with good news.

"Scott’s fine and he says Johnny will be too. Johnny fell over the side the cliff when the ground gave way." Tiny backed up as a wild-eyed Murdoch advanced on him.

"Dear God, is he alright?"

"Scott’s said Johnny had a broken ankle and some ribs, dislocated his shoulder and had some cuts and bruises. Knocked his head pretty good too. He thinks he’s gonna be fine but he wants you to come tomorrow and bring a wagon, first aid supplies and Doc Jenkins, they’re holding up at the southern most line shack."

Jelly stepped out of the shadows pulling his suspenders up. His hair was plastered to his head in spots and angled up and out in other areas. The handy man could have cared less about his appearance, he was more concerned about what he had just over heard. His boy was in trouble.

"Boss, you want me to ride on up there and see if’n there’s anything I can do?"

Murdoch seemed momentarily flustered. He shifted the weight from one leg to the other with a pent-up air of indecision. The gray head shook with some agitation and one long gnarled finger out of nervous habit traveled to rub along side his nose. The simple act calmed his fears and Murdoch was able to order his thoughts.

"No, Jelly. But you can begin gathering supplies, anything you think we might need, wake Teresa up to help you. We’ll leave here at first light."

"I’ll get right on it, Mr. Lancer." Jelly disappeared into the house hollering for Teresa as he went.

"Tiny, I want you to go to the bunkhouse and wake one of the other hands to ride into town for the Doctor, then you get some sleep I’m sure you’re just about done in."

"Yes sir, Mr. Lancer . . . and don’t you be worrying too much, Scott was taking real good care of his little brother."

Murdoch watched as Tiny walked off, his tired horse plodding along behind him, the darkness finally swallowing then both. He spun and marched into the house. Murdoch was a man on a mission with one purpose in mind . . . get to his sons.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Chapter 13

The sun was just beginning to embark on its journey across the sky. The bright ball was turning the blackness of night into the lightening shades of grays mingled and brushed with bold strokes of pink that would morph into a brilliant cloudless blue when day had fully broken. Under the color-muted veil of the dawning new day, the rescue wagon was rolling under the Lancer arch.

Murdoch sat stiffly on the seat, reins in hands, mouth pursued in concentration and concern. Sam Jenkins sat beside him, yawning and scrubbing at his tired face. The old country doctor has been pulled from his sleep hours earlier by frantic knocking. Upon opening his door he had been greeted by a ranch hand imploring him to hurry to Lancer that the Patron’s sons were in need of his services.

Fidgeting in the back of the buckboard, Jelly Hoskins worriedly chewed his bottom lip and fought the anxious flipping in his stomach. The old handy man thought the world of the Lancers, but he was especially close to the youngest Lancer. He knew his guts would continue their acrobatic hi-jinks until he could see for himself that Johnny was in one piece.

The sturdy wagon rumbled over the uneven rain sodden path; so far the trip was progressing well. Murdoch said a silent prayer that when they had to leave the road for pastures and meadows that the heavy conveyance would not bog down. Doc Jenkins, who over the years had learned to sleep when the chance presented itself, dozed with one hand griping the side rail and the other the back of the seat, he figured he might as well rest as the big rancher was in no mood to talk. Jelly continued his mute contemplations from the rear; he had no desire to ramble as he usually did as Murdoch had already practically bit his head off for it earlier.

The miles rolled away and the sun inched higher in the sky. The warm rays took some of the sting out of the cold breeze whipping across land, beast and man. The jolt and sideways lurch of the wagon leaving the packed roadway for the up and down swelling of the pasture jarred Sam Jenkins awake.

"Is it much further, Murdoch?"

"It depends on how muddy this ground is Sam. If it’s not too bad maybe thirty minutes, however if this muck slows the turn of the wheels it may take another hour."

The clipped manner in which Murdoch answered told Doc the big man was still tense and worried. The old doctor smiled to himself, while he was sorry his friend was fearful for his sons, it was good to see the big man care about something other than his ranch. The return of the Lancer sons had brought new life and purpose to his former lonely existence.

"Boss, I can feel it in my bones, them boys is gonna be fine. My elbows ain’t even aching this morning. Yes sir, believe you me everything’s alright." Jelly bobbed his head as he tried to convince himself and Murdoch.

The three men in the wagon fell silent except the occasional grunt and groan as they dipped, lurched and rumbled across the boggy ground. A couple of times they held their breath as the thick mud clung to the wheels and slowed them almost to a stop. Finally forty-five minutes later they rose over a particularly rough rise in the land and all released an audible sigh when they spied the line shack. Smoke was rising from the chimney to encircle the stand of trees around the house. The cold air kept the whitish wisps of vapor from rising very high.

Murdoch vaulted from his seat with as much vim and vigor as one of his much younger sons. He took three steps towards the cabin before he realized Sam might need help getting down as he turned to go back he ran into the good doctor. Apparently Sam had been just as anxious to get to the Lancer boys. The two men were ascending the steps of the porch as Jelly was climbing down from the back of the wagon with an armload of supplies.

There was no noise coming from the little building and that concerned Murdoch, until he opened the door. The big man’s heart fairly skipped a few beats. His hungry eyes feasted on the sight of his two sons. Both boys were on one bed. Scott was sitting partially up; pushed back against the headboard, Johnny was nestled in front of him resting against Scott’s chest. Scott’s cheek lay on top of Johnny’s head, their blond and brunet hair mingled together.

The two younger Lancers were deeply asleep. Their father trod quietly across the room to the bed. He removed the bucket of water from the chair and sat it on the floor, and then he sat down in the chair. Doc Jenkins stood back to watch the reunion.

A quick check with his eyes told Murdoch just what he needed to know most of all, though they looked rough and abused, especially Johnny, both boys were alive. His large hand, gone weak and shaky with relief, reached out and caressed his youngest son’s cheek and forehead. A smile grew in his heart and bloomed on his mouth at finding the skin to be cool and dry.

"Murdoch, wake Scott up and have him move so I can get there and examine Johnny."

At Sam’s request, Murdoch touched Scott’s arms that were wrapped so protectively around his little brother. He gently jostled his older son to wake him. The action caused Johnny to shift and try to burrow into the warmth of his brother, his mumbled complaint of being cold sent Jelly into action.

Jelly scurried to the potbelly stove to build the fire up and knock the chill out of the air. In his haste he clanged the door noisily against the metal side. The abrupt sound jerked Scott from his restful repose and his bleary eyes shot open to find his father sitting by the bed.

"Murdoch . . . thank God you made it."

"I’m here son. Can you crawl out from behind Johnny so Sam can give him a good check-up?"

Scott grunted and grumbled as he tried to get his sleep-numbed limbs to obey his brain. His father cautiously pulled his youngest son forward into his own arms, allowing Scott to scramble out from behind him. The blond scooted off the bed and then stretched, lifting his arms above his head until a series of pops and creaks realigned his back and limbs.

"All right Murdoch, lay Johnny down and let me in there." Ordered Sam.

The big man was reluctant to let go of his youngest, but he did because he truly needed to hear that all would be well. While Doc clucked and mumbled through his examination of an exhausted and sleeping Johnny, Scott relayed the details of the fall, rescue and fever battled night. Jelly unloaded supplies from the wagon and tended to the horses. The old handy man was coming back in the shack with a fresh bucket of water when Doc Jenkins finished the examination and turned to the concerned family.

"First and foremost, Johnny is going to be fine. He’ll be laid up for a while with that broken ankle though. Scott you did a fine job of tending to his injuries. In fact I’m going to leave your splint on him until the swelling goes down some more before I cast his ankle. Why do you have a sling on him, did he dislocate his shoulder?"

"Yes sir, he did. But it popped back into place easily, when I lifted his arm to take his jacket off when we were still over the cliff side."

"What happened to his shoulder, that looked like a puncture wound?"

"His shoulder was impaled by a small sturdy limb. I’m positive I got all the wood out. I put a hot compress on it and it drew all the infection up, then when I put pressure on it the stick popped out. One end of the twig was fresh broken but the other end wasn’t so that’s why I’m sure it’s all out."

"You did a good job cleaning all these lacerations, I don’t see any signs of infection. He has a couple of cracked ribs too, but all in all he’s fine. Johnny’s going to be one sore young man for a while but he’ll be back to his over active self before we’re ready for him to be. Jelly could you bring those bandages over here and help me re-wrap his chest?"

"Doc, before you do that, there’s one more problem. Johnny has lumps behind both ears. When he first came to, he couldn’t hear anything. As the swelling has gone down, he regained some hearing but he says it sounds like his head in a bucket of water."

Murdoch paled at Scott’s news and started towards his younger son. Sam held his hand up and stopped the concerned father.

"Hold on Murdoch, let me check him out."

Jenkins sat on the edge of the bed and ran his experienced fingers over the areas behind Johnny’s ears. Then he lightly turned Johnny’s head and examined the canal of each ear for fluid or blood. Turning back to father and son he explained his findings.

"The swelling might have displaced the three small bones of the ear. When the swelling went down they were free to work, as they should again. I’m reasonably certain his hearing will return too normal when the pressure and swelling have receded completely."

"Sam is there any reason we shouldn’t go ahead and take him back to Lancer? I’d feel better knowing he had all the comforts of home."

"I think that will be fine. He seems to be resting well. He doesn’t have any fever. Just let me bind his ribs."

"Well now that’s just great . . . you could have told a body we was going right home afore I unloaded that wagon." Jelly half –heartedly grumbled.

"Come on Jelly, I’ll help you load this stuff, to tell you the truth I’d rather be home too. Murdoch and Teresa can take the night shift with Johnny tonight."

Murdoch and Sam roused Johnny and wrapped his torso. Johnny insisted on being dressed, he was adamant that he was not going back to Lancer bundled in nothing but blankets. And he wouldn’t let Sam help dress him he insisted his father and brother could accomplish it just fine.

Jelly fixed a quick lunch of biscuits, bacon, eggs and coffee for the four men to eat before leaving. The sly handy man under the advice of Doc Sam slipped a dose of laudanum into Johnny’s coffee, the hot strong brew kept him from detecting the medicine.

By the time the clean up from the meal was finished Johnny was out for the count. He didn’t even realize his father had effortlessly scooped him up and held him while Scott and Jelly moved the mattress to the wagon bed. Murdoch laid his precious burden down and then scrambled over the seat to sit by Sam. Scott and Jelly secured the shack and then retrieved the boy’s horses and tied them to the tailgate. Finally they climbed up and took their places. Jelly sat against a sidewall and a still tired Scott stretched out next to his little brother and dozed off.

As the wagon made the trek home Murdoch’s eyes kept looking back at his sons. The knot of fear had dissipated, he felt like he was back in control of his world . . . or as much in control as a man with two headstrong sons could be.

The End

Epilogue

Two weeks later . . .

Johnny cussed a blue streak in Spanish as he struggled to force the heavy, thick, white plaster cast encasing his ankle into the leg of his pants. He fell back on the bed and wiggled and gyrated like a man staked to an anthill as he tried to get the pants on.

The cast thumped noisily against the side of the bed. This just was not working. Johnny thought perhaps he would have more leverage if he stood up and pulled. Putting all his weight on his right leg he pushed off the bed, careful to keep his left leg up. Once standing he dropped the left limb down some and tried pulling, he unbalanced himself and growled in frustration as he felt himself falling. He braced for the impact with the floor but it never came. At the last possible second Johnny felt himself caught under the arms by a pair of strong hands.

"Need some help little brother?"

"I guess I do."

Scott helped Johnny lower himself to the mattress. He crouched down and began to inspect the problem with the trousers. He reached into his pocket and removed the knife Johnny had bought him months ago.

"I need to split your pants leg at the seam. The cast is too wide to fit through."

The sharp blade made quick work of the task and Scott was able to slip the material over the thick plaster. Johnny braced his hand on his brother’s shoulder and stood. He was able to slip the pants over his hips and then fasten the button fly. While he did that Scott retrieved his crutches from beside the chair and handed them to him. As the blond strode to the door, Johnny called out.

"Hey Scott . . . thanks for catching me before I could fall. I don’t mean to be a burden."

"You’re welcome little brother . . . you’ll never be more than I can bear."

 

~end~
Sept-Dec 2006

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