A Bad Way To Start The Day
Ezra hated the fact that he was laying here, bleeding from a gunshot wound to his side. He also hated the fact that he was trying to hide behind a rock that was far too small, in the direct sight of the sun that was boiling down on him. His hat was long gone, he had no water, his horse just a distant memory, but what he really, really hated was that the men who had shot him were still continuing to try and finish the job.
He had no idea why they had jumped him, why they had shot him. He was just returning from Eagle Bend on a simple delivery job that Chris Larabee has asked him to do. It was nothing controversial, just dropping off some letters that the Judge had left in Four Corners to the sheriff of the other town.
The attack had been swift and the first shot had caught him low in his side, throwing him backwards from his horse, which had fled into the morning light. He had managed to crawl to the rock that now protected him and, after returning fire, all had fallen quiet. He had waited a short while before carefully, with gritted teeth, popping his head above his protection. This was swiftly followed by more shots in his direction. He slumped back. They were still there.
Time slowly passed and the sun grew higher in the sky. He had tried his best to staunch the flow of blood, but he knew that his position was not good. The loss of blood was telling against him, and the sun with no water was making his eyes hurt and his throat raw.
He still had no idea why they had chosen to attack him but he knew that he had to move, do something if he wanted to survive this ambush. He also knew that he was in this on his own. No one in Four Corners was expecting him back for several hours, and then there was the time it would take them to get to him, if they even became concerned for several days, as he did sometimes stay in Eagle Bend if the cards played in his favour.
He slowly blinked sweat from his eyes and checked his weapons. He had several bullets left, but would it be enough? He moved again, and was unable to bite back the groan.
Again they fired at him, and he found himself curling up onto his wounded side to try to make himself smaller. This was so not good. They were still there, and they seemed determined on killing him.
Carefully he manoeuvred himself so that he could lie on his side and just peek out from behind the rock. No gunfire answered his movement, so he knew that his action had been hidden from his attackers. This worried him in case they had decided to move into a better position to kill him, but there was nothing he could do about that until he was actually fired on.
He fumbled under his body for the rock that was lying there, digging into his side. With a weak toss, he threw it as far away from him as he could. Bullets fired after the rock, tracing its path, and he got lucky as his own bullet hit the mark and a yell was followed by the sound of a body tumbling down the hill below him.
There was some shouting and then someone rushing down the hill. Ezra tried to shoot the second man, but he was stumbling and falling down the hill after his companion, and none of Ezra's bullets hit him.
Then silence descended. This lasted for several long minutes, then more noise came from down below: a horse not happy, and then someone riding off. Ezra was unable to move properly to see what was happening and, to be honest, he had reached a state now that all he could do was lay there and drift. It seemed so much easier. He heard the sounds of horses galloping off in the distance, but still he lay, his gun finally falling from his lax hand to lie on the dusty ground. The sun continued to beat down, and blood pooled around him.
Vin was up early that morning, sitting outside the jail, looking along the main street that made up the centre of the town of Four Corners. He felt restless and unsettled and, after finishing off his coffee, he looked up to see Chris walking towards him, a frown marring his handsome face.
"Morning cowboy," Vin offered, holding his empty cup up in a salute.
Chris tossed him a dry smile and moved past him into the small jailhouse, returning shortly after with his own coffee cup, and for good measure brought the pot back to refill Vin's cup.
"Something up?" Larabee queried as he moved to the seat next to his friend. He could tell that Tanner was uneasy, and that in turn fuelled the feeling that had woken him up that morning.
"Gonna be hot today," Vin informed him, taking a sip of the boiling hot drink and pulling a face. It was a strong dark brew, just as he liked it. He continued to look out in front of him, his mind taking in and calculating what was going on, trying to figure out what it was that had unsettled him.
"Something's not right," Chris offered, shooting Vin a sideways look from under his hat, his expression serious.
"You can feel it too," the tracker stated, shifting uneasily, the feeling not sitting well with him. "Nothing's wrong in the town," he added, "Buck just finished." He nodded back towards the jail door; Buck had been on the night watch at the jail and over the town. "Quiet night, he said."
"Something's still wrong," Chris stated, taking a sip of his own drink and not enjoying it as much as he should enjoy his first cup of the day. It seemed to settle heavily in his stomach.
"Ez still in Eagle Bend?" Vin asked. He was the only member of the team who was not in town, and out from under the others' watchful eyes.
"Should be back today..." Chris offered slowly, fully understanding what Vin was not saying.
"Only one out of town..." Vin ventured, taking another sip and looking steadfastly at his friend. This was the problem and, now that he knew it, he wanted to do something about it.
Chris looked down at his coffee and considered the other's words. Finally he looked up and asked, "Fancy a ride?"
"Good morning for it," Vin agreed with a smile of pure understanding.
As if a decision had been made, Chris stood up and said, "You get the horses ready; I'll get JD up to cover your watch."
With a nod, the tracker stood and tossed the rest of his coffee into the street.
They saw Ezra's horse trotting towards them first and soon caught up with the animal. Vin checked him out and stated, "He's been running hard... scared." The horse in question pranced as he ran his hands down from the sweat-soaked neck to the front leg.
Then Vin reached the saddle and his hand came away wet. He held it up to show Chris. "Blood," he stated, rubbing his thumb and forefinger together. It was still wet, and he noted with concern that there was more streaming down the side and back leg of the animal. "He fell off."
"Let's get going," was all that Chris said and, after checking that Vin was now saddled and ready to move, he set off. Ezra's horse was now attached to Vin's saddle horn and following behind them.
They rode hard for several miles and then came the distant sound of gunfire. Without a word both men slapped their horses into a faster gallop and rushed towards the sound of the shootout.
They came across the sprawled body at the bottom of the hill and in the distance saw another rider disappearing over the ridge. They gave this no consideration as they jumped from their horses and started calling out for Ezra, even as Vin checked the fallen man. "He's gone," Vin said, looking at the pathway the man's body had taken down the hill. He slowly began to follow it, looking intently at the ground as he followed the telltale signs of a trail.
Chris moved behind him, knowing that if Ezra had not answered their calling, then he was in serious trouble; maybe more serious than they could assist.
They came upon him curled beside the rock he had sought shelter behind. Vin fell to his knees and, with a shaking hand, reached out and felt for a heartbeat. He gently rested his hand on the unconscious gambler's chest then, looking up at Chris, he nodded in relief.
Chris turned and quickly made his way back to the horses, gathering both his and Vin's water canteen and the small bags of medical paraphernalia that Nathan insisted they all carry with them. They contained strips of cloth that could be used to clean wounds and as bandages, and herbs that could be made into a pain-dulling drink. Once again Chris thanked Nathan for his forethought. He hoped that it would be enough to keep Ezra alive until they could get him back to the healer in Four Corners.
Vin had got Ezra straightened out, his jacket off and shirt open to reveal the nasty-looking bullet wound in the side of his body. It was just above his hip and appeared to have gone straight through the fleshy part of his side and out the back. It was still bleeding, and Vin was trying to stem the flow of blood with part of the ruined shirt that he had ripped off.
Chris passed both the medical sacks to Vin and then quickly set up a small camp, lighting and fire and putting water on to boil. They had all treated bullet wounds on the trail before, and this was not outside their realms of treatment.
Slowly, carefully, Vin cleaned the wound once the water was boiled. The pain of this brought Ezra to semi-consciousness and he tried to twist away from the pain, but with Chris's firm support, Vin managed to continue.
"It won't stop bleeding," Vin muttered in annoyance. Ezra had already lost too much blood.
"Burn it," Chris stated. None of them liked to burn a wound closed, but if they didn't get the bleeding stopped, then Ezra would not make it back to Four Corners.
"Get me a bullet ready," Vin said, the decision already made. It was a painful way to treat a wound, but it was also effective and if it worked, then it could save the gambler's life.
Chris nodded and pulled a bullet from his belt. Moving back to his horse, he took out his gun-cleaning kit that also had his bullet-making tools with it. He carefully twisted the end of the bullet until it came apart and he could see the black powder inside; he then moved back to Vin and handed the open bullet over.
The tracker carefully emptied the black powder onto the entrance of the wound, then with a sure hand he took the burning twig that Chris had taken from the fire, holding it to the wound and the gunpowder. The black powder flared bright and Ezra cried out in shock and pain, struggling to get away from the sudden intense burning, but he was unable to move as both Vin and Chris had lent their support to holding him down. Swiftly Vin moved to pull Ezra on his side and, taking another open bullet from Chris, he repeated his actions, burning the hole on Ezra's back closed. Again the unconscious man tried to rear up, but again he was held securely between his two friends.
All three men were breathing heavily by the time they had finished, and the smell of burning flesh filled the air, making the two conscious men swallow hard. Vin swiftly checked that the cauterising had worked, stopping the bleeding, and then he bandaged the wounds tightly, laying in the few herbs that Nathan included in their little bags for such a injury. Hopefully it would stop infection.
Once they had Ezra settled back on their blankets in the shade of some rocks, Chris went to tend the horses and Vin began to brew the pain-dulling drink from the herbs that they had. It would be hard to get him to drink, but it was important that they got as much fluid into him as they could, as he was already starting to sweat and mutter incoherently with fever.
They spent the night where they had set up camp, taking turns in watching their fallen friend, bathing his fevered brow and getting him to drink water and the herbal brew.
By morning Ezra had woken, disoriented and trying to fight their help until Chris had shouted at him, threatening to shoot him again unless he settled down. Ezra relaxed back into unconsciousness, a slight smile tugging at his lips.
Vin and Chris made the decision to break camp and head back towards Four Corners. They were running out of water and Ezra needed to be in Nathan's care as soon as possible. They would take turns supporting Ezra in the saddle, with one of them sitting behind him.
It was a difficult journey, but they covered the long ride into town and arrived just before dusk. Their slow ride down main street, with Ezra slumped in front of Chris, was swiftly noted by the others and, before long, the injured gambler was laying on the small bed in Nathan's room.
Several days passed before the fever fully broke and Ezra's senses returned. As he slowly pulled himself towards consciousness, he was unable to work out where he was and why his side hurt. Slowly, he began to realise that he had been hurt, shot, and with it came the filtered memory of his journey from Eagle Bend and the attack that had him seeking shelter behind a very small rock.
"Ez, you there? Come on now... open those eyes," a voice said and he recognised Vin's tone. He fought to open his eyes and, turning his head, he saw the tracker sitting beside him. Glancing around, he could see the others also gathered in the room.
"What...?" he began, but Chris interrupted.
"You were shot... couple of boys from Eagle Bend thought you had money on you..."
"Money...?" He found it hard to believe that the one time he was down to his last dollar, he had been attacked and injured for money that he didn't have.
"You're going to be fine, Ezra. A few more days' bed rest, and I'll let you get back to your own room," Nathan offered as a prize for doing what he was told over the next few days.
Ezra closed his eyes and licked at his lips; they were dry but he didn't feel the bite of dehydration. He was warm, comfortable even, in the small bed, and the pain in his injured side was a dull throb, telling him that Nathan was right; he would survive. He had been well looked-after. He smiled at his friends and said in a whisper: "I fear there is a longer story here than you are telling me."
"That can wait until you're up and about Ezra," Nathan insisted as he started to move the other five men from the room. "You've all seen he's doing alright... now you can let me have some space to check him out, and get him something to eat. JD, Inez has broth on for him," he finished as he pushed the younger man out by his shoulder.
Ezra moved slightly and winced, gasping at the pain. He hated getting shot, hated that those men had thought that killing him was worth the dollar that he had on him, but looking up at the concern on the faces of his friends as he had gasped in pain, he realised that he liked the feeling that these men were there for him... that they had cared enough to come looking for, and found him. He liked that he had such good friends.
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