by Heather F.

Disclaimer: Not mine, no money made.

Challenge: July 05 Challenge (kind of) by Rowan. Put the guys in the desert and injure them (or something to that effect).

This story was actually kick started by a song I heard while heading home from work. I’ve heard the song 3 times within a few days and the same scene kept kicking into my head.

The lyrics listed with this story is not the song. These lyrics fit better though. I found them while googling for the other song.

The song inspiration: Renegade by Styx

The lyrics accompanying the story: Gallows Pole by Jimmy Paige and Robert Plant

Characters: Ezra, Chris and small bits of the others

Thanks: Mitzi, as always.

July 5th 2005

Hangman, hangman, hold it a little while,
Think I see my friends coming, Riding a many mile

He shuffled up the steps, his right upper forearm rubbing against the makeshift handrail in an attempt to keep his precarious balance. His head remained bowed, his bruised and cut chin resting heavily against dirty and torn cloth of what remained of his once white ruffled shirt. His left stocking foot stuttered to the next wooden step. The sock hung over his toes dragging itself up under the arch of his foot. His right leg burned in fierce agony as it was forced to take the weight of his body while he stepped upward. Instinctively and without any ability or notion to stop himself, he leaned heavily against his right forearm transferring his weight to the hastily constructed handrail. It warbled precariously. With wrists leather bound behind his back he had no choice but to use his right elbow and upper forearm despite the swelling and discoloration of the limb.

The high afternoon sun beat down on him, heating the back of his neck. The sun bubbled the skin and dried it to the point of almost bleeding. The white shirt collar had fallen to ruin, much like the gambler. The once pressed collar lay wrinkled and mis-shapened under the collection of dust, dirt and long lost sweat. Its ends lay limply frayed and torn.

“Git a move on,” a rough voice spoke behind him. A joyous if not belittling tone laced the man’s gruff command. He didn’t bother touching the gambler, it would do no good. He did not wish to garner any of the Southerner’s weight or aide him up the short flight of quickly fastened stairs.

The gambler gave no heed to the words but continued to climb the uneven knotted steps of the gallows. Heated breath labored over cut and chapped lips. He stared through sunken, red eyes at the rough grain of the wood which never saw a sander’s plane. Bark still clung to the underside and edges of the steps. Its constructors were too busy to take the time to peel the wood.

Ezra hiked a hip and lifted his right leg up onto the next step transferring his weight to his left leg. His good leg. What was left of him that was good.

He didn’t bother trying to manipulate the thin leather strips that bound his wrists with blood crushing intensity. The fingers of his left hand had ceased to work when the bones of his forearm were snapped with brutal efficiency. He couldn’t feel his fingers but imagined them to be purplish blue, thickened and curled like the bloated corpses left behind on a summer battle field. He couldn’t feel the flies that walked along his thickened fingers but he could visualize them; rubbing their legs, dipping their heads and laying their eggs on skin stretched and swollen so far that it threatened to split of its own accord.

The pain of his forearm matched and beat with the same intensity of his lower right leg. The pin stripe pant leg rubbed ruthlessly against the swollen leg, pulling on hair which seemed anchored to fiercely firing nerve endings. He wouldn’t be able to run away again. Escape a second time. His captors had made sure of that. At least he had both feet, at one point one had threatened to cut half his foot off.

They feared he would bleed to death before they could hang him. He was thankful for the stay of amputation, but only for a short time.

His leg had been snapped with the same careless abandon as his arm. His sharp scream of pain of only a day ago had gone unheard by sympathetic ears. He had lain in his stone floor cell and withered and twitched like a bug staked under a gleeful child’s stick. He had bitten through his lip, maybe even his tongue. He had spit blood at his captors, cursed them with unholy vehemence and promised dire retribution upon them when the other peacekeepers of Four Corners came riding through town.

When they came riding to his rescue like the apocalypse Josiah so often spoke about.

Except, the others wouldn’t show in time.

Things had moved too fast, he was too far away, too far off his supposed route of travel.

What did you bring me, my dear friends, To keep me from the Gallows Pole?
What did you bring me to keep me from the Gallows Pole?

Standish shuffled up the last step and carefully raised his head. His vision swam and he nearly lost his balance. He kept still, trying to catch his breath, regain his balance and uncover some hope.

He raised his chin off his chest and stared straight ahead.

He ignored the tall black hooded hangman that stood to his right. He disregarded the dirth of town’s people that couldn’t be bothered to drag themselves from their dirt hovels to stand in the street under the brutal intensity of the sun to witness his hanging.

He ignored the sweating, pitiless man that stood behind and to his right that relished in breaking his bones and denying him food, water and basic care.

Standish ignored all of them. He focused only on the horizon, on the only glimmer of fading hope that might possibly lead to the saving of his life.

He stared straight head, over the connected, jaggered string of shacks that lined the rutted path that passed for a main street. He overlooked the grey, dried planked wood of the shops which appeared to melt and sag under the shimmering curtain of a high desert sun.

A tinderbox waiting to erupt in flames should a match be struck. Hell was only a lucifer away. Standish, for a brief moment, wished for the match.

He’d love to drag these bastards down with him, but he knew the citizens of this little dust hole would not care. They’d simply shuffle away to eke out a pitiful existence in another make shift Hell of their own creation.

His green eyes stared off into the distance. He searched the surrounding bare hills, through the glittering cascade of heat hoping to see six riders crest the surrounding hills.

A breeze swirled, twirling small dust devils in the road, kicked dust off the gallows floor and attempted to lift the oily, blood caked hair of the gambler.

Standish stared into the horizon hoping for a miracle.

“Git movin’.” A leather handled crop prodded his right shoulder, forcing Standish to step quickly with his left foot to retain his balance, an action based solely on instinct.

Standish limped forward, heavily favoring his right leg, dragging the toes of his socks under his feet.

They had taken his boots, his coat, hat, vest and watch fob. They had tried to take Chaucer from him but the beast had proven more agile and fierce than any rope or man that held it. The quarter horse cross had kicked, bit and charged his way to freedom leaving his rider surrounded and fighting for his own freedom.

Standish smiled slightly. Chaucer could be a real bastard. No different than Ezra’s cousin.

The watch fob. It had started almost two weeks ago. It seemed a life time ago, a different world, where water ran, cool breezes blew, and where physical pain didn’t exist. It started with Chris’s mother’s bible. Had it only been two weeks ago? Two weeks ago that Josiah, thumbing through Chris’s family bible and studying the family tree had managed to turn Ezra and Chris’s world upside down?

Cousins. It was laughable. Almost as laughable as Josiah asking Ezra if he had a family bible. Perhaps Maude kept one? Standish laughed until tears streamed from the corners of his eyes and stomach ached as abdominal muscles clenched relentlessly.

He had laughed himself silly, drawing chuckles from the other men. Maude and a bible, in the same room --- Fer shame.

Standing on the gallows, facing the hills, Ezra smiled. Maude and a bible. A chuckle rolled forth. It disappeared quickly as thoughts of the last few weeks sparked the reality he now experienced.

A joke really, for a few days Ezra had taken great delight in calling Larabee, “cousin and cuz,” and all sorts of familial names. It was in jest, all in good fun, because there was no way in Hell that anyone would believe that Chris Larabee and Ezra P. Standish were blood related let alone Cousins.

The watch fob had taken the humor from the situation. The watch fob Chris Larabee had one day slowly spiraled into Standish’s open hand had wiped the gleeful smile and cocksure attitude off the gambler’s face.

The watch fob had belonged to Ezra’s father, the last piece of his father he had, but lost at a cousin’s house when he had fled the homestead to spare himself a frightful beating. He had run as far and as fast as eight-year-old legs could carry him and never looked back. He ran from the farm and its older boys and father, he ran from the relatives that lived only a few miles down the road. He had never gone back to that house where he had stashed his most precious belongings in a crawl space in the house belfry. He had left his father’s watch fob behind to save his own skin.

Ezra had never seen it again until just recently. Larabee simply strung it into his hand, spiraled it into a cool pile in the middle of his suddenly sweating palm.

It had been then that Standish stared at Larabee. Stared into the man’s hard hazel eyes and noticed the dark blond hair that was a speck too long and dirty. The gambler looked into the face and finally saw the older boy that lived down the dusty lane, the older boy that never taunted him, or tormented him but never truly lifted a finger to aide him either. He saw the silent strong older ‘cousin’ that watched and remained detached as a war raged between the young southerner and his ‘cousins’ Maude deemed fit to care for him for a summer.

The suspected relationship between gambler and gunslinger had lost all its humor. It had become real and fact and was no longer amusing.

It lost all humor when Mary Travis felt it prudent to report the new finding in her newspaper. Genealogy and all.

Local gossip swirled and grew like a building storm.

Standish had ridden out of town not three days later on an errand for the Judge. A simple job; pick up a parcel and bringing it back to Four Corners. A fruitless, needless, endeavor but one Ezra jumped at to escape town and the whispers of the townsfolk, the speculation and disbelief that someone like Larabee would be related to someone like Standish. The whole family line must have been comprised of ‘bad seeds’.

He had left with the intention of coming back. He never planned on being ambushed. Who does? He never planned on standing alone on a wobbly gallows, far from home, beaten and alone suffering the revenge of someone wishing to hurt Chris Larabee.

Standish’s bleary eyes squinted under the harsh light of the afternoon sun and scanned the roof of the sagging store fronts hoping to catch a glimpse of Vin and his rifle.

There was nothing.

Storm clouds rolled from the west.

Another breeze ghosted through the town, ruffling the pants leg of the town drunk, the only one to come witness the demise of the gambler.

Ezra limped shuffling forward and stood on the closed trapped door, ignoring the gently swaying noose that dangled before him. It had the proper thirteen throws. It would be sure to snap his neck if placed correctly.

He hoped the silent hangman to his left knew his job.

He let his eyes drift to the horizon. Hope didn’t simmer to his chest, or quicken his pulse. He stood stocking footed waiting for the inevitable.

Chaucer wouldn’t have made it home yet. Even if he had, the others would still have to track his path. He had been dragged and marched miles off his intended course.

The sun had been hot then too.

The sun scoured the gallows, baked his head and burned his skin through the remnants of his shirt.

The potbelly monstrosity that passed for a sheriff asked if he had any last words, any last wishes.

Standish ignored the man, as he had for the last twenty-four hours and stared at the empty hills just behind town. His throat was raw, his tongue dry and swollen. His eyes searched the vacant horizon.

The others wouldn’t make it in time. He would die here alone, twitching and kicking at the end of the rope with no one to care.

He lifted his chin to the greying sky. The storm clouds had rolled closer, kicking up the wind, creating a steady breeze and threatening a storm. He wondered if it would cool the area or only create a more steamy heat. It was anyone’s guess. He could probably lay odds; 6 to 1 that it would cool the air and sooth the blistering ground. JD wouldn’t be here in time take the bet, to jump to the bait and lose another nickel to the gambler.

Standish lifted his face heavenward and closed his eyes, wishing the clouds would break and wash the dirt and blood from his face, wash the regret and disappointment of a life time from his shoulders.

The wind curled around his body, cooling his exposed skin and lifting small strands of hair that seemed to have escaped the dry blood and dirt that caked his head.

He had nothing to say, not to this sheriff, not any of them, not to the unseen faces that pulled the sheriff’s strings as if he were a marionette. The brutal sheriff was not the mastermind behind this execution, he was not the devious mind that had dragged down Larabee’s cousin in hopes of exacting revenge on the gunslinger. They had been there at the ambush. Those faceless shadows had swarmed into his cell, had whispered harsh threats while fisting his hair and exposing his neck. They had lashed out with vicious feet. Seemingly countless men, occasional haggard women more cruel than any man Ezra had met. They were around, in the shadows watching. They had access to his cell, they had access to the town. They were everywhere but never truly visible.

Standish ignored the bloated sheriff. He remained silent because it was all that he had left. He had screamed when his arm was snapped, he had cried out in his cell when his leg gave under the brutal flashing force of a swinging pick handle. He had nothing left to deny. He and Larabee were not cousins. The Four Corners newspaper and its editor were only trying to make up for lost revenue.

He had repeated and used the very words of denial that Larabee had used weeks before in the quaint dusty town of Four Corners. Under the guffaws and laughter of those distant days, JD finally asked the inevitable question, “Would Chris have to call Mrs. Standish, ‘Auntie Maude’?” Larabee had stared daggers at a bemused Standish while Buck and the others roared with laughter.

The laughter had stopped the next morning with the watch fob. It was the solid proof in Ezra’s eyes, that Larabee was indeed a relative. Another relative that denied his relation. It was no longer amusing.

Standish had rode out of town quietly fingering the once lost chain and reliving the flashing startling clear memories of his father --- and his own hasty retreat from a cousin’s house, leaving behind the only remaining keepsake he had.

No, he had no words. No words that would make this sheriff change his mind or stop the proceedings. He would not ask for a headstone with his name on it. He would not ask that Maude be contacted and told of her only son’s untimely and violent demise.

Standish stood rooted on the trap door staring over the flat roof tops across the street to the sage patched hills behind the town.

They would send his body to Larabee draped over a horse, bloated and blown with flies, as an act of revenge.

Standish never broke his stare at the horizon as the hangman stepped forward.

The dark storm clouds rolled into town pushing a steady breeze before it. Ezra tilted his chin back slightly hoping to feel the cool splatter of a rain drop on his face before his life was ended.

He ignored the hangman as the noose was fitted around his head. He kept his eyes closed as his head was forced forward, chin to chest and the knot placed directly in back of his skull.

Standish sighed and shook his head slightly. The hangman did not know his job. The noose would not snap his neck like a dry twig. With the knot directly behind his head he’d merely suffocate and perhaps dislocate his jaw. His death would be painful and gruesome.

Part of him hoped he kept his bowels and bladder under control.

There was nothing dignified or gentlemanly about a hanging, nothing clean. Ezra hoped to be spared this last humiliation of soiling himself in the final moments of his life.

The hangman eased back and clutched the crude bark covered lever that rested just out of Ezra’s line of sight.

The gambler prayed that it would work smoothly and not require the stomping of the sheriff or hangman or both on the trap door to release it.

Standish opened his eyes.

The rooftops remained bare. There was no Vin, or Buck; no Josiah or Nathan.

No one lingered on the warped boardwalks. JD didn’t come bursting through the livery doors shouting ‘stop!’ or fanning his guns.

He lifted tired eyes and stared once again at the hill tops. They remained bare. Mr. Larabee and the others wouldn’t be riding to his rescue in the nick of time.

Not this time.

“Do it.” The sheriff’s orders were careless and bored.

Hangman, hangman, upon your face a smile,
Pray tell me that I'm free to ride,
Ride for many mile, mile, mile.

The hangman shifted the lever, just as three familiar riders exploded over the hills outside of town. A black duster billowed in the building breeze from the center horseman.

A small crooked smile transformed Ezra’s face. They had come for him. They’d be too late, but they had come.

The trap door gave and Standish dropped like a stone with the falling door.

The clouds burst with a violent clap of thunder.

Ezra felt himself fall. He suffered the rope pulling up sharply under his jaw and cinching mercilessly around his neck, snapping his head forward and too the side. He felt his skull crack against the edge of the platform as he fell and thanked Josiah’s God for small mercies as the world around him went dark.

But now I laugh and pull so hard And see you swinging on the Gallows Pole
Swingin' on the gallows pole!

+ + + + + + +

Your brother brought me silver, Your sister warmed my soul,
But now I laugh and pull so hard And see you swinging on the Gallows Pole
Swingin' on the gallows pole!

He heard voices first. He couldn’t feel anything, couldn’t see anything. His body refused to move. Through the muted grey that swirled and seemingly engulfed him, Ezra heard voices.

“Josiah, lift his leg a little so I can get it wrapped,” Nathan’s voice rang solid and true.

It sounded beside him but far away. Ezra tried to roll his head, to open his eyes, to call out. Nothing seemed to work.

“Hey, I think he’s movin’,” JD’s voice sparked the mist that encompassed the gambler, breaking through the din and noise.

Standish wanted to focus on it, tried to find it. Find JD. Buck and the others would be close by.

Sudden pain radiated from his leg. He heard someone cry out. It sounded familiar. He fought for breath desperate to fill his lungs with air, so he could run. The noise increased in crescendo with the searing pain shooting through his leg and hip. He heard another desperate cry of pain and realized it was his own strangled voice he was hearing.

Things faded and dimmed.

+ + + + + + +

“Oh Shit! Quick! Roll’im on his side,” Buck’s voice broke through, startling Standish. The gambler felt hands on him, shoving and pushing on him. He tried to fight them to no avail. His stomach suddenly and violently heaved. His head exploded with pain.

+ + + + + + +

He had wanted his father’s watch fob. He wanted to go back to the house under the cover of night to get it. The small boy stood in the deep shadows cast by rows of corn and stared down the dirt lane lit only by the sliver of moon that seemed too high in the sky to cast any light.

The boy squatted down in the shadows leaning on corn stalks. He stared into the gloom of the night trying to make himself head back to the house he had fled only hours before.

His Uncle would be sure to tan his hide. Blowing the old man’s outhouse down had been one thing but up rooting the fruit trees might have been a little over the line. His cousins weren’t bad people nor was his uncle, but he was indeed an outsider and unfavorable and the detested chores had fallen to the southern raised cousin who had no one to stand up for him. Not that Ezra P. Standish needed anyone to defend him. He could defend himself; Just not four against one and certainly not all at once. His older cousins had learned quickly that revenge was indeed a dish served cold and little Ezra Standish was a mastermind in the revenge department. The three older boys had felt remorse when their prank had turned sour and led to the fierce tanning of their littler cousin. They felt remorse but certainly not enough to confess to their father that he had just set the razor strop to the wrong child. Little Ezra had been sick for two days afterward. It had been cousin Chris, who lived down the lane with his family, that had come by to help his uncle and found the young southern boy sick and helpless in the belfry. It was Chris who sat by the kid’s side with cold compresses held to the angry welts that crisscrossed the child’s tender back, rump and upper legs. And it was cousin Chris that had silently threatened his three younger cousins about teasing their visiting relative.

Ezra squatted in the corn rows and stared down the lane, wanting to go back to the house to get the only possession he had of his late father. He squatted in the corn with tears streaming down his face because he knew he was too much a coward to sneak back into the lion’s den, just as he had hid behind trash in a dirty alley while his father died.

The boy squatted in the dirt with tears pooling in his eyes until his leg burned with fierce agony and his arm stung with blinding pain. His head pounded with each frantic beat of his heart. Tears spilled over his lower lashes and rolled down his cheeks.

“Buck, look.” The shocked dismay in JD’s voice had young Ezra trying to hold his breath.

Ezra couldn’t figure out how JD got there. He couldn’t see JD in the corn rows or on the dirt road. JD hadn’t been with him when he lived with his cousins. Ezra’s leg hurt, his arm hurt, he wanted his daddy’s watch fob.

Tears streamed down his dirty features.

“It’s the fever JD. Go git some rest. I’ll watch’im for a bit.”

Ezra tried to swivel his head, tried to find Buck. Buck would help him. They’d come up with a plan, maybe even light a stick of dynamite for a diversion while they hid by the barn wall. Maybe Josiah would ride to the rescue, drunk, but to the rescue none the less. They’d help him. Except they weren’t with him. They weren’t there.

“Hang in there Ezra, we gotcha now.” Buck’s voice sounded so close.

Why couldn’t he see him even in the thick blackness of night? Why couldn’t he see him through the corn rows? Ezra felt a cool cloth wipe his face and wash over his eyes.

“Ain’t no reason to fret. We’ve got ya hoss,” Buck’s soft words faded.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra’s eyes blinked open before he truly realized he was awake. His body felt unduly heavy. Nothing wanted to move. Everything hurt.


Ezra followed the sound of the voice and found Vin’s blurry features staring down at him. He blinked, once then twice. Vin was still there. It was dark out. He could see stars. Light flickered from somewhere to the tracker’s left casting dancing shadows over everything.

A cool breeze swirled around them, stirring dirt and dry sage.

“Fever ‘s done broke,” Tanner smiled and leaned forward. Ezra felt a cool cloth wash across his forehead. It felt good. “We’ll have ya back in town some time tomorrow.”

Ezra stared at the tracker and felt the cool cloth wash down the side of his face and to his neck. His head hurt much like his leg and arm.

“You’ve been out solid for about a day ‘n half,” Vin continued to speak and wipe the gambler’s face and neck. “Ain’t got nothin’ to worry about. Ain’t nuthin’ left of that ole town.” Tanner chuckled, “Josiah just about dismantled that gallows by hand, shoulda seen the look on that sheriff’s face when that old drunk suddenly sobered and rushed the gallows.” Vin’s quiet chuckle eased Ezra’s fear and apprehension.

If Tanner noticed he ignored it and continued, “Buck played a hell of a hangman. Damn good thing he didn’t tie down that rope…didn’t count on the rope catching on itself or you smackin’ yer head though --- real sorry ‘bout that.”

Ezra watched as Vin turned away for a moment and then turned back. The cloth rested on his chest. It felt cooler and more damp. It soothed the burning pain he hadn’t known ached his chest. Standish tried to raise a hand, unsure what he wanted to accomplish with the move.

It didn’t matter, his hand hadn’t moved and Tanner didn’t seem to notice the effort. The tracker kept talking softly as if Ezra understood every word he said.

“Chris and I took care of those bastards that busted ya up. Sons of a bitches sent a telegram sayin’ they had Chris’s cousin---was gonna hang’im,” Vin held the cold cloth to Ezra’s bruised jaw near his ear, “Guess they didn’t figure on you escapin’ and makin’ a run for it---slowed’im ‘n their plans down a bit---good thing too.”

Ezra watched as Vin slowly reached out and turned his head gently to the left. He found himself staring at the folded seems of Buck’s rough coat. The cold cloth then rested on the rope burn just behind his ear. It soothed the terrible burning he had not noticed until the cold cloth smothered it. He sighed and found his eyes drifting closed.

“Ain’t no one gonna be picking on Chris’s cousin and livin’ to tell about it.” Vin smiled gently as he rolled Ezra’s head back to the center of Buck’s folded coat.

Standish’s eyes fluttered open. His focus locked on Tanner’s blue eyes.

The tracker smiled reassuringly, “JD’s been takin’ real good care of Chaucer. We found’im wander’n around jist ‘fore we found you.”

Ezra watched Vin, only able to center on the tracker’s eyes, barely making sense of his words. Tanner maintained the small grin, reassuring and confident, “Go back to sleep Ezra, we got a busy day come mornin’.”

Ezra complied and merely let his eyes close of their own volition. He missed Vin’s soft chuckle.

+ + + + + + +

“JD, go help Josiah hook up the team, I’ll watch’im.”

Ezra hadn’t realized his eyes had opened. He noticed Larabee staring down at him. “We can’t be cousins,” Chris’s soft denial had Standish blinking again and furrowing his brow.


Ezra felt Larabee lift his right hand and open his palm. Once again, as just a few days or maybe weeks ago, Larabee spiraled the watch fob into Ezra’s open palm and then curled his stiffened swollen fingers into a loose fist.

“I’m gettin’ a bit tired of returnin’ this to ya,” Chris smiled again just as he had smiled the day the hay loft had given under his other cousins sending the trio to the barn floor. Young Ezra had peeked around the barn door entrance to enjoy his handiwork and caught the much older boy’s eye. Cousin Chris lived down the road and was an enigma, one best left alone. At first the little southerner had been frightened until the older blond had merely smiled and shook his head in disbelief and ignored the curses and growls of the three brothers that crawled and pushed their way from the collapsed hayloft.

Little Ezra had tipped an imaginary hat brim at the older blond and disappeared around the corner again to enjoy his victory over his cousins.

“You with me?” Chris’s voice brought him back. A pink, grey sky lit the area behind Larabee.

“Where?” Ezra had wanted to ask but his throat hurt, his jaw flashed with pain at the movement and his head pounded. He realized he lay on the ground, in someone’s bed roll. It felt like morning. His leg hurt, worse than his arm, almost.

“’Bout a morning ‘s ride from Four Corners,” Chris answered, “Vin said yer fever broke just before sunup. Git some sleep, we’ll git ya home.”

Standish closed his eyes and tried to curl his fattened fingers around the fob in his palm.

+ + + + + + +

“He awake?” Josiah’s voice boomed through the room as if scattering the gentle breeze that swirled the small area.

“Been drifting in and out, ain’t said much though,” JD answered. He stood from the rocking chair and stretched.

Ezra listened to the sounds of the voices. He felt his soft feathered mattress under and around him. He felt his head nestled and surrounded by his feathered pillow and relished in the feel of clean sheets over his body. He shifted a leg and relieved the tension in his lower back muscles. A sigh escaped his lips as his eyes fluttered open.

He recognized the night stand and then the bureau, he caught the flutter of billowing sheer curtains near the open window. It was his room above the saloon.

“Welcome back,” Josiah’s voice had Ezra swiveling his eyes back toward the side of his bed near the night stand. Normally his peripheral sight was much better. Today it seemed he only saw what he directly looked at.

“Inez made you some soup,” Josiah placed the tray on the night stand moving the lamp to the side, “you up for it?”

Ezra just continued to stare at him.

“That’s all he does,” JD answered instead, worry and frustration coloring his voice.

Ezra continued to stare at Josiah, watching the man’s every move, trying to glimpse JD to the side but his vision refused to expand outside its simple focal point. His sight seemed to mimic his mind.

“Its all he’s got to do for now John Dunne,” Josiah had turned to look at JD for only a moment and then back at Ezra. The big preacher reached behind himself and dragged the rocking chair forward to the side of the bed.

Ezra kept his eyes focused on Josiah’s features and missed the preacher’s big lumbering hand that reached out and rested on the top of Ezra’s head. He felt the callused thumb rub his forehead and somehow felt comfort in the contact.

He truly must be ill. What had happened still eluded him. Flashes and moments of time sparked behind his closed eyes when he slept and memories fell into place pieces at a time but still a whole picture of what had transpired since leaving Four Corners eluded him.

Ezra continued to stare at Josiah and unknowingly leaned slightly into the hand that rested on the top of his head. He relished the comfort and warmth without understanding why.

“Inez made you some soup, think you’re hungry?” Josiah asked.

Just as Ezra tried to shake his head ‘no’ and rasp out a negative reply. His stomach grumbled with a will all its own.

“I thought so,” Josiah turned and faced JD, lifting his hand from the gambler’s forehead. Ezra missed the contact. He continued to stare at Sanchez’s profile.

“JD, want to give me a hand getting brother Ezra situated?”

“Yeah, sure Josiah.”

Ezra felt the bed dip and groaned as his ribs protested for the first time that he could remember.

“Sorry, it’ll only be for a second,” JD apologized and explained as he quickly stuffed pillows behind Ezra’s shoulders and neck while Josiah held the gambler somewhat up right.

The light blankets slipped from his shoulders, revealing the bruising on his chest and midsection. Standish stared at the array of colors recalling his short time in the stone lined cell.

Josiah eased Ezra back into the pillows, leaving the sheet and blanket pooling at his hips.

“You doin’ okay, Ezra?” JD asked sitting on the bed resting against the headboard next to the slightly slumped southerner.

Ezra wanted to roll his head and look to JD but couldn’t quite coordinate the strength to do it. Standish continued to watch the preacher.

“Looks good enough to me JD,” Josiah answered instead.

Ezra lay quietly and watched Josiah’s features unable to focus on the bowl and spoon on the night stand.

“Slow and easy son,” Josiah coached as he brought the spoon to Standish’s mouth.

“Ya gonna be okay Ezra,” JD spoke from somewhere behind him. Ezra focused on Josiah, watching the man’s every move, and swallowing small bits of soup intermittently. He focused on the scrape of the spoon in the bowl, the sound of the soup gently lapping against the sides. He concentrated on watching the spoon until he couldn’t see it anymore.

It hurt to swallow, but not enough to keep his stomach from growling for more.

He didn’t recall falling asleep with a spoon full of soup at his lips. He didn’t feel JD and Josiah settle him back onto the mattress or remember his half hearted attempts at helping them. He didn’t hear JD express his concerns about Ezra’s silence and lack of animation.

Ezra missed it all, but somewhere in the back of his subconsciousness he leaned into the calloused hand that came back to rest comfortingly on his head.

Brother, I brought you some silver,
I brought a little gold, I brought a little of everything
To keep you from the Gallows Pole.
Yes, I brought you to keep you from the Gallows Pole.

+ + + + + + +

“Well, well, well, look who finally dragged his sorry ass out of bed,” Buck Wilmington’s laughing tone had Ezra cracking open both eyes and stifling a yawn.

“Might’ve dragged his sorry ass out of bed, but sure as Hell ain’t all awake,” Vin Tanner’s drawl was masked by the scraping of chairs against the boardwalk.

“Well, hoss, what brings you out on such a lovely day?”

“Hot,” Ezra answered. His jaw still ached from where the hangman’s noose had nearly torn his mandible from his head. His head still ached from the blow after hitting the floor of the gallows and the noose knot had left a ‘hell of a lump’ to use Buck’s wording.

“Nathan know ya dragged yer busted up self down here?” Vin asked.

Ezra merely raised an eyebrow in askance as if it really mattered. Fact remained he was on the boardwalk out of his stifling room and enjoying the gentle breeze of a summer afternoon.

“Where’s Josiah and Nathan?” Buck asked settling into his chair just to the right of the gambler while Vin tilted his chair back against the saloon outdoor wall on the left.

“Mz Wells residence,” Ezra answered leaning his head back against the high back of the padded rocking chair.

“How’s the arm?” Vin asked as he turned in his chair and rapped his knuckles against the thin pane of glass of the saloon window. He then held up three fingers.

“Much better, thank-you,” Ezra responded turning his attention to his arm and hand and watched his stiffened fingers gently straighten and curl under his direction.

“Nathan and Yosemite sure do make a good team,” Buck pointed out. He reached up and took the three beer mugs Inez brought out to them, “jist put’em on Chris’s tab, darlin’,” Buck singsonged.

Inez smiled indulgently at Wilmington. She stood for just a moment, letting her soft brown eyes linger on the gambler for just a moment too long, dallying with a start of impropriety.

Ezra didn’t miss it, and wondered how much longer it would be before he would be able to answer some of Inez’s needs with more strength.

Vin smiled into his beer and figured Standish was healing just fine under Inez’s nightly attention, certainly better than any concoction Nathan brewed.

“How’s the splint holdin’ up?” Vin placed his beer on his upper leg and rested his heels on the same crate that supported Standish’s bandaged leg and stocking feet.

Tanner smirked thinking on how the bottom of Standish’s injured foot was getting increasingly dirtier and dirtier. The first few days the foot had remained as cleaned as the day Nathan had scoured it with soap and warm water while the Southerner had drifted in and out of fevered delirium. With the passage of time, Ezra was testing his leg, testing the amount of weight he could put on the injured limb. Unfortunately he could not quite lean forward enough to dust the evidence away.

Nathan was getting wise to him. The splints Jackson and Yosemite had devised were amazing. Tanner still marveled at watching those two working over the hot forge pounding the metal and shaping it much like one would forge a sword.

“Quite well,” Ezra sipped from his beer, his mug wavered only slightly. He dropped his gaze to his wrapped arm. Between the bandages thin plates of shaped steel braced his arm much like a bulky wooden splint, but these were much lighter and fit to the contours of his own forearm. They kept the limb immobile as well as protected. He could already shuffle a deck of cards with both hands, but still lacked strength and could not tolerate any type of carefree movements in the injured arm. It would come with time. Nathan had promised him.

His leg was much the same. He wiggled his toes in an experimental manner under his sock and felt a twinge of pain shoot up his leg, but nothing like it had been days ago. A set of splints fashioned by Yosemite at his forge under the direction of Nathan, graced Ezra’s leg. Jackson had assured the gambler and the others, that only the small thin bone on the outside of his leg had been broken. Given time it would heal with no residual limp.

“And where is Mr. Larabee?” Ezra asked. All the jokes about being cousins previous to capture had disappeared. There was no mention of the relation between the two men.

“After chewing on Mary’s ass and the Judge’s about what she printed in the paper and the responsibility she might have in all this mess, he headed out to his place for a bit,” Buck answered. It had been a hellacious but deathly quiet meeting between Chris, Judge Travis and Mary. No one was privy to what was said or what had transpired and none of the others regulators asked. In the end, in the next edition of the Clarion, a small retraction had been printed correcting the mistake about a possible blood relation between Mr. Christopher Larabee and Ezra P. Standish.

Ezra had read it only a day ago and felt a twinge of disappointment and the cold sinking of loneliness that herald back to his childhood. It was nothing new to be disowned and denied by relations. He had hoped that maybe Mr. Larabee would have been different.

And after thinking on it for a bit, and feeling the painful, cramping, twinge in the thigh muscles of his broken leg and the ache in his elbow of his damaged arm, he understood why Chris denied their lineage.

Standish understood it and found comfort in it.

It was so much different than Maude denying the existence of her only son for the sake of a successful con.

Ezra leaned back in the rocking chair, his right leg propped up on pillowed crates and closed his eyes.

He must have drifted off for a bit, because when he opened his eyes again, the sun was setting, his beer mug had been removed from his hand and just a few feet away, Chris Larabee played a quiet game of checkers with Nathan Jackson.

Ezra closed his eyes again, feeling the lethargy of a midday nap soak his muscles and smiled when he thought about Chris Larabee calling on his “Auntie Maude.”

The End


Hangman, hangman, hold it a little while,
Think I see my friends coming, Riding a many mile.
Friends, did you get some silver?
Did you get a little gold?
What did you bring me, my dear friends, To keep me from the Gallows Pole?
What did you bring me to keep me from the Gallows Pole?

I couldn't get no silver, I couldn't get no gold,
You know that we're too damn poor to keep you from the Gallows Pole.
Hangman, hangman, hold it a little while,
I think I see my brother coming, riding a many mile.
Brother, did you get me some silver?
Did you get a little gold?
What did you bring me, my brother, to keep me from the Gallows Pole?

Brother, I brought you some silver,
I brought a little gold, I brought a little of everything
To keep you from the Gallows Pole.
Yes, I brought you to keep you from the Gallows Pole.

Hangman, hangman, turn your head awhile,
I think I see my sister coming, riding a many mile, mile, mile.
Sister, I implore you, take him by the hand,
Take him to some shady bower, save me from the wrath of this man,
Please take him, save me from the wrath of this man, man.

Hangman, hangman, upon your face a smile,
Pray tell me that I'm free to ride,
Ride for many mile, mile, mile.

Oh, yes, you got a fine sister, She warmed my blood from cold,
Brought my blood to boiling hot To keep you from the Gallows Pole,
Your brother brought me silver, Your sister warmed my soul,
But now I laugh and pull so hard And see you swinging on the Gallows Pole

Swingin' on the gallows pole!

Gallows Pole
-Jimmy Page & Robert Plant