The Trail to Tascosa

by The Traveling Dime Store Novelist

DISCLAIMER: The following stories are works of fan fiction. They are not intended to infringe upon the copyrights of CBS, The Mirisch Group, MGM, Trilogy, or anyone else who may have legal claim on "The Magnificent Seven". I do not claim the characters or concept, and the only profit I get is the enjoyment of writing the stories and sharing them with other fans.

This second story in the series takes place about a week after the end of the first story, "The Journey Begins". As with the first one, the characterizations are based on my observations, and may not agree with your own, as we all see the world from our own unique perceptions. I would like to thank the eleven members of the Posse who graciously allowed me to use their names (as well as hair and eye color) in this story – you’re a courageous group!! I would also like to thank Michael Martin Murphy for the song "The Tennessee Stud" which is where this story idea sprang from.

Story Two

The Tennessee Stud

By The Traveling Dimestore Novelist

"You do it," JD Dunne hissed at Vin. "It was your idea!"  

Vin Tanner scowled and glared at the package wrapped in brown paper he held in his hands as if it were all the package’s fault. He returned his gaze to the younger man. "I ain’t any good at this kind of thing, JD."

"And I am?" JD shook his head as he saddled his horse. "Since we left that town two days ago, you been carryin’ that in your saddlebag. Just give it to him – he’s been grouchier’n a bear with a sore paw since he figured it was ruined." JD paused. "Hey, Vin did I ever tell you the one about the three legged dog who – "  

"I heard it, JD," Vin said with the barest hint of a smile. "And it wasn’t funny."  

Scowling, JD shook his head as if unable to believe nobody had liked his joke.  

The ex-bounty hunter took a deep breath and let it out slowly. His fingers tightened around the paper that hid Ezra’s red coat from sight. When the cat had attacked Ezra nearly two weeks ago, it appeared that his fancy coat had been ruined by the cat’s claws and Ezra’s own blood. Vin had hung onto it, and the first town they’d come to, he’d found a seamstress who had been able to sew it up nearly as good as new. She’d even managed to get all the blood stains out.

"You boys gonna stay here all day or join the rest of us?" Chris Larabee asked from atop his horse.

Although Vin knew Chris had seen the package, he hadn’t asked any fool questions. Hell, Vin wasn’t even sure why he had Ezra’s red jacket fixed up. He didn’t even like the damn thing. But, he reluctantly had to admit, it did fit Ezra and his fancy way of dressing.

JD sent Vin a helpless shrug, then mounted up. Vin took Sire’s reins in one hand and walked over to Ezra who hadn’t made his way into the saddle yet.  

"Here." Vin thrust the package at him.  

Ezra reflexively took it and stared at it in puzzlement. "What, pray tell, is this?" he asked in his slow, indolent drawl.  

Vin lifted a hand negligently. "I just thought you might like it back."

Ezra’s brow creased as he tore open the brown paper. His eyes widened at the sight of his red jacket, and he raised his questioning gaze to Vin.

Vin shrugged embarrassedly. "It was nothin’. There was this lady back in town who was handy with a needle and thread."  

"That ain’t all she was handy with," Buck Wilmington spoke up, nudging JD with his elbow.  

"And how would you know?" JD demanded, then groaned at Buck’s upraised eyebrows. "How do you do it?"  

"You stick with me, kid, and some of that animal magnetism might just rub off on ya."

JD frowned and muttered, "If it does, I’m takin’ a bath."

From atop their horses, Josiah Sanchez and Nathan Jackson grinned at the two men’s shenanigans. Chris merely shook his head at the boys’ typical banter.

"Thank you, Vin," Ezra said softly, then he grinned and spoke loud enough that the other men could hear. "It seems one of you has been working on improving your social skills."

Vin smiled crookedly. "Does that mean I ain’t rude anymore?"  

"I wouldn’t go so far as to make that supposition, but you are trying, Mr. Tanner."  

Ezra’s twinkling green eyes belied his words, and Vin’s smile grew as he stuck his boot into the stirrup and hauled himself into the saddle. He watched as Ezra tied his red jacket to the back of his saddle, then slowly and still somewhat painfully climbed up onto his horse. Ezra wrapped one arm around his bandaged ribs and grimaced slightly, but he took his reins in hand and urged his horse forward.  

Vin slipped into line as they continued on the trail to Tascosa. If they hadn’t encountered those mountain lions, they would’ve been only a day or two from their destination. As it was, they hadn’t even gone a fifth of the distance, but Vin accepted the inevitable without regrets. He could’ve gone ahead by himself, but it felt right riding with these six men. With all the situations they’d run into in the past months since they’d hooked up, nobody had been killed, and because of that, Vin had come to think that as long as they stayed together, their luck would hold.  

After Ezra had recuperated enough to ride, they’d barely made it over the mountain pass before an early blizzard had hit. They’d run into some of it, but fortunately, hadn’t been trapped up there. After resting for a few days in a town four thousand feet below the pass, the seven men had set out once more. This time, however, they traveled through a semi-arid area – close to a desert but with a scant few more inches of rainfall in a year’s time. Scrub brush and cacti dotted the landscape, along with arroyos and dry washes. It was a harsh land that had no mercy for those who traveled through it. Fortunately, Vin had traversed the area a few times so was familiar with the terrain and knew where to find needed water.  

By the time the sun had climbed to its zenith, Vin noticed everyone had removed their jackets. He’d taken his off earlier, yet his blue shirt still had sweat circles beneath his arms. His scalp itched from the heat, but he resisted the urge to remove his hat – it gave him some protection from the sun’s rays. He kept a close eye on Ezra, as he knew Nathan and the others were also doing with surreptitious glances. The gambler was healing good from the cat’s deep claw wounds, but he’d lost a lot of blood and it would take some time before he completely recovered.

Chris pulled up, and the others followed suit. He shaded his eyes against the sun’s glare.  

"Vin, you got your glass?" he called back.  

Vin gave Sire’s flanks a light touch with his heels, and joined Chris. He turned in his saddle to dig his spyglass out of his jacket pocket, then telescoped it and aimed it at the speck on the horizon.

"Looks like a single wagon," Vin said. "I don’t see anybody around it."

"Indians?" JD asked, youthful excitement in his voice.

"If there are, they’re probably runaways from the reservation, and not too keen on the white eyes who put them there," Chris said. "Keep a sharp eye out."

No one questioned Chris’s decision to check out the abandoned wagon. It was as if they all knew it was their destiny to seek trouble, and they all accepted the inevitability of fate’s hand. He led them across the sandy ground, and the speck grew until they could see it clearly.  

They slowed a few hundred feet from the wagon which had three mules hitched to it, with the fourth one obviously missing from its traces.  

"What do you think?" Chris asked Vin.

"I think somethin’s not right."

Chris’s horse shifted beneath him nervously. "I think you’re right." He withdrew his Colt from his holster, and the other men followed suit.

He led them closer until they were only ten feet away from the end of the large Conestoga wagon. "Hello! Anybody here?" Chris called out.

The wagon’s canvas cover stirred and shifted slightly. Chris’s shoulders tightened and he could feel the others tense beside him. Then the slit opening at the rear separated and a rifle barrel made itself known. Seven trigger hammers clicked back.

"What do you want?" a decidedly female voice called out.  

Chris frowned and glanced at the others who appeared just as surprised as he felt.  

"We saw your wagon and thought you might need some help," Chris spoke up.

He could hear muffled voices from inside, then a "hush".

"How do we know you aren’t planning on robbing us?" the same voice asked.

"If we’d have wanted to rob you, we coulda done that by now," Buck replied impatiently.

Chris cast him a scowl, and Buck only shrugged, his dark eyes glittering with annoyance.  

"Look, we just stopped by to see if you needed help. Since you don’t, we’ll be on our way," Chris said.  

He eased his horse into a walk and began to move away from the wagon.

"Wait!" the woman hollered.

Chris paused, and the seven men ringed the wagon’s end. The rifle barrel disappeared, and a flurry of black skirts replaced it as a woman descended. She turned around to face them and Chris found himself staring into a nun’s determined face.  

"You say you want to help?" she asked warily.  

"If we can, Sister," Chris said respectfully.

"Sister Adrian," she introduced. "We lost our Tennessee stud."  

Chris’s mouth about dropped open, but he caught himself at the last moment. He glanced at the others, and almost laughed at Buck’s dumbfounded expression. He’d never seen Buck struck speechless by a woman before. The others looked almost as stunned.  

"Your, ah, Tennessee s-stud, Sister?" Buck managed to ask.  

"That stallion came all the way from Tennessee, and we’ve been entrusted to get it to Tohatchi, where our convent is located," she explained, either ignoring their nonplussed reactions or completely oblivious to them.  

Chris suspected the former by the twinkle in her eyes. He judged her to be in her mid-thirties, with spirit and courage enough for a couple men. And Chris found himself warming to her straightforwardness.  

"What’s so special about this horse?" Chris asked.  

"Its blood. Comes from a long line of champions. One of the church’s benefactors bought it for us, to begin our own horse breeding ranch at the convent," Sister Adrian replied, her unusual dark gray eyes glowing with excitement. Her expression sobered. "But if we lose that stallion, we may not be able to keep our convent open."

"Sister, can we come out? It’s hot in here and Nutmeg won’t sit still," a girl’s voice sounded from within the wagon.

"Excuse me," Sr. Adrian said and yanked open the canvas. "Come on out, girls, and I expect you to purport yourselves like young ladies."

One by one, the girls exited the wagon. Chris watched in astonishment as nine girls ranging in ages four to thirteen descended. All of them wore faded dresses except for the oldest who wore trousers – and an attitude.  

"Gentleman, I’d like you to meet my wards," Sr. Adrian began. She pointed to the youngest who held a ragged doll and sucked her thumb. "This is Nutmeg, she’s four. Then there’s Rina, Kristen, Misty, Kerry, Susan, Robbie, Judy, and Cal."

Buck dismounted, then swept his hat off and bowed gallantly. "Ladies, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I’m Buck, the stern-lookin’ fellah in black is Chris, the kid is JD, and that there’s Josiah, Vin, Ezra, and Nathan."

A few of the girls curtsied and bobbed their heads, but the one named Cal who wore the trousers only glared at them. The cold ice in her eyes surprised Chris, and he noticed she held her arm stiffly at her side.

"She hurt?" Chris asked, pointing to Cal.  

Sr. Adrian nodded. "She tried to stop the men who stole our horse. One of them hit her with his rifle."  

"Any of her ribs cracked?" Nathan asked.

"I don’t know. She won’t let me examine her."

"Nathan knows quite a bit about doctorin’. Maybe he could look at her," Chris suggested.

"Ain’t nobody gonna touch me, especially him!" Cal spat out.

Surprised by the vehemence in her voice, Nathan studied the girl closer. The boy’s clothes she wore hung on her frame and most of her brown hair was hidden beneath a stained slouch hat. He gazed into her sparking blue eyes and spied a touch of fear and hatred. What would make such a young girl so embittered and angry?

Suddenly, Ezra began to slip from his saddle, and Buck caught him before he hit the ground. Nathan quickly dismounted and hurried to Buck who knelt in the sand, holding Ezra’s shoulders. Nathan laid his ear against Ezra’s chest and was rewarded with a strong, but rapid heartbeat. He laid the back of his hand against Ezra’s cool, clammy forehead.

"What’s wrong with him?" Vin demanded.

Nathan glanced up to see the other men surrounding them. "It’s probably just the heat. He still ain’t healed good, so the sun’s gonna affect him more’n any of us. We need to find a cool place for him to rest."

"You can put him in the back of the wagon. It’s cooler in there out of the sun," Sr. Adrian volunteered.

"Thanks," Nathan said.

He and Buck lifted Ezra into the back of the wagon. One of the girls – Nathan thought her name was Misty – scrambled up ahead of them and moved some things around and piled a couple blankets for them to lay Ezra on. She placed a pillow behind his head then looked at Nathan.

"Maybe I can help. My pa was a doctor," she said.

He smiled at the girl who appeared to be about twelve. "Could you get me some water while I get my saddlebag?"

She nodded eagerly and slipped out to carry out her task.

"You sit with Ezra. I’ll get your bag," Buck said, his worried gaze on Ezra’s pale complexion.

He turned away and jumped out of the wagon.

"Ezra okay?" Chris asked Buck.

"I think so. Nathan’s gonna stay with him." Buck moved over to Nathan’s horse and retrieved the saddlebag.

Chris clenched his teeth. They shouldn’t have pushed so hard. Vin was right – Tascosa wasn’t going anywhere.  

"I’m sure he’ll be all right," Sr. Adrian reassured. "Your Nathan will surely take care of him, with a little help from God."  

Nutmeg tugged on Sr. Adrian’s black skirt. "I gotta go potty, Sister."

"Robbie, honey, could you take Nutmeg?" Sr. Adrian asked with infinite patience.

A blonde girl wearing a patched and faded blue dress with a mismatched bonnet hanging down her back, stepped forward and took Nutmeg’s hand in hers and led her away.

"I see you’re missing a mule. They steal that, too?" Chris asked.  

The nun shook her head. "Sister Katie went after them."  

"You mean a nun went after them by herself?" JD demanded in disbelief.

She smiled at him. "You haven’t met Sr. Katie. She can handle a rifle better than most men, plus she’s got a distinct advantage."

"What’s that, ma’am?" Vin asked.  

"She’s got God on her side."

Chris frowned in disapproval. "No disrespect Sister, but a man who would steal from women and children wouldn’t hesitate to shoot a nun."  

"Perhaps, but we couldn’t do nothing," Sr. Adrian countered. "Our future depends on that stallion. And remember, God helps those who help themselves."

"He also said ‘the wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion’," Josiah quoted.

Sr. Adrian looked up at Josiah in surprise, then her expression changed to humor. "Have you by any chance met Sr. Katie? You sound like you know her."

"No, ma’am," Josiah said courteously, "but she sounds like some other righteous I know."

Chris glanced at Josiah, and suspected who he referred to. He gave his attention back to Sr. Adrian. "How long ago did she leave?"

"About two hours ago. They went southwest," the nun replied.

"Would you mind if we left Ezra and Nathan while we go after them?"

"Heavens no. It’s the least we can do."

Buck returned from taking Nathan’s medical supplies to him. "Nathan said he and Ezra’d be fine."

Vin’s eyes twinkled when he looked at Chris. "Can’t imagine how he figured what we were goin’ to do."

Chris allowed a slight smile. "Can’t imagine. We’ll bring her back, Sister," he assured.

"Don’t forget the stud, too," she said.

JD turned to Buck and spoke in a low voice. "I don’t think she’s talkin’ about you."

"Of course she isn’t." Buck leaned close to the younger man, and his eyes danced with mischief. "I ain’t from Tennessee."

JD scowled, but Chris sent them both a glare, effectively cutting off any further verbal sparring.  

"Let’s go," Chris said.

"God be with you," Sr. Adrian called after them, and a few of the young girls waved.

The five men rode away, following the single mule’s tracks.  

Part 2