The Murder of Crows

by Tarlan

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Disclaimer: Josiah Sanchez and all other Magnificent Seven regulars belong to MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy Entertainment. No copyright infringement intended.

Summary: Josiah contemplates the future with a little help from his crows.

Josiah heaved another piece of fallen debris aside, having set himself the task of clearing this small area before nightfall. He rubbed the back of his sleeve over his sweat-soaked face, glancing up into the cloudless blue sky, squinting against the brightness of the hot sun.

A shrill cry caught his attention and he scanned the sky until he saw the small hawk gliding high above, its head tilting from side to side as it searched for prey with its sharp eyes. It dived, suddenly, wings folded back tight against its body, turning itself into a sleek missile, like a bullet from a gun, as it hurtled at speed towards its chosen prey.

Josiah grinned as the hawk struck, swooping away with one of those damned black crows that seemed to hang around him, casting shades of gloom upon him. It was an omen, and he only wished he understood exactly what it represented. Once more he hoped it was the Lord's way of telling him that he was slowly working off his penance, a promise that he would be free of the terrible guilt he carried within his heart.

Since arriving in this small town on the edge of civilization, he had seen three of those crows, those harbingers of doom, fall prey to the forces of nature.

The first death had coincided with the arrival of Nathan Jackson. The oldest of those birds, the one that liked to peck carefully and precisely at its fallen victim, had dropped stone dead at Josiah's feet as Jackson rode up. Josiah had decided, there and then, to interpret that as a gesture from the Lord to welcome this stranger as he would a friend, and they had sealed their friendship with many hours spent around Josiah's campsite, sharing tales of the past and present. It was eerie to find a combination of compassion and bitterness in the dark eyes, a mixture that seemed to mirror the darkness in his own soul, but for different reasons. That shared darkness bonded them, giving Josiah his first sense of peace in many a long year, casting away one of his demons as surely as the old crow had dropped, lifeless, at his feet.

The second crow to meet its maker had settled, unwisely, beneath one of the few remaining arches of the old mission. The unstable stone had chosen that precise moment to topple, crushing the bird. Josiah had almost felt sorry for the bird and had picked away the small slabs to uncover it. He found it all broken, its wings wrapped around itself as if caught in a lover's embrace with death.

Josiah had set out for the town immediately, wanting to know if this second unusual death was connected with the arrival of yet another stranger who might become a friend. He had scoured the stores, the hotel and finally had entered the saloon but seen nothing more than the usual crowd of rowdy drunks. What had caught his eye was the genuine pleasure on the face of a working girl, her voluptuous body held in the strong embrace of a tall, well-built cowboy. The thick mustache had served to draw his attention to the laughing blue eyes and easy grin. The man was like a bear; big, strong and playful, and yet Josiah knew bears had a protective streak that could turn them into formidable opponents. He had sensed the depth of this man, had realized instantly that this was someone who would be fiercely protective of his friends and family.

As he had watched, surreptitiously, silently nursing a shot of whiskey, he had received a form of confirmation as the woman complained happily.

"Hold me tighter, honey. Wrap them big arms around me and crush the life out of me."

The man's answering laugh had been warm and affectionate, his hug bringing a squeal of delight from the woman and smiles to the faces of those close by. Josiah had simply nodded, drained the last of the whiskey from the glass and walked away. He had a sixth sense that forces were gathering and he knew the Lord would tell him when the time was right to make his formal acquaintance with this man.

His thoughts came back to the present as the hawk landed a short distance away, quickly tearing into its victim with sharp claw and beak. It was young bird; its layers of feathers giving the impression of a much larger and older creature. Those feathers were tawny; all shades of gold and brown, and its bright eyes were a startling shade of blue. Josiah marveled at the uniqueness of this bird, once more amazed by the variety of life that he had seen from one end of this earth to the other. Even the people came in all shapes and sizes, all colors of skin and eye, and each one was a small miracle.

As he gazed at the young hunter, Josiah wondered whether, somewhere nearby, the Lord had brought another person to help him complete his penance, and he had a strong feeling he needed to look out for someone young, sharp-sighted and lean with tawny hair and blue eyes.

Two days passed before the opportunity came to go into the town but Josiah saw no sign of anyone fitting the description, silently berating himself for his fanciful notions. In resignation, he headed to Potter's store to pick up the nails he needed. His eye was caught by the long brown curls of Potter's new assistant as the young man's quick eye spotted one of the Jefferson boys trying to steal candy from the jar. Josiah grinned as the assistant sent the boy on his way with a gentle reprimand and half a stick of candy in his pocket.

"Mighty charitable of you."

The young man turned and grinned, but all Josiah noticed was the eyes as blue as that hawk's. He had found his newest crusader and, after spending a few more minutes in polite conversation, Josiah tipped his hat and left with a renewed spring in his step, wondering when their paths would cross again.


The warning rattle brought Josiah's head up fast but the snake had found a more digestible victim, rearing back and striking at the foolhardy crow that had landed too close. The rattler had been quick-witted and cunning, confusing its intended meal with a slight of movement, then striking fast while the crow's attention was momentarily diverted.

The red of the setting sun struck the scales of the snake as it swallowed the last of its meal and coiled contently, reflecting a myriad of colors in deep red, brown and green, giving the rattler a gaudy appearance that would not have been there in normal sunlight. The snake seemed to give Josiah a self-satisfied smile as the shadows grew longer, concealing it from view, as if knowing it was in its own element, sitting and waiting for the next meal ticket to waltz into its lair.

Josiah pondered on this latest death of a crow, already convinced that it foretold the arrival of yet another sent to aid him in his quest to find inner peace. Tomorrow he would go into town, see if any new faces fitted the creature the Lord had sent as a sign.

That night he was awoken by the low growl of a mountain cat, the quick death of the largest of his crows only becoming apparent by the pile of feathers that he found in the morning. He tried to visualize this powerful creature that had used the cloak of darkness to conceal its sleek, golden form, using its speed and agility to overcome its prey.

Josiah grinned. Now, when he went into town later, he would have two crusaders to search for among the godless and godfearing.

A few hours later, Josiah picked up the remains of another of his crows, killed and consumed by another bird of prey, one even younger than the first he had seen. This inexperienced bird, with ruffled feathers of a far darker hue, brought a bittersweet smile to Josiah's lips. It seemed a little too young to be away from its mamma, had perhaps only recently left the nest, eager to try for its independence in this harsh land.

Josiah dropped the remains and looked around the small mission. He knew all his crows were not dead, knew that he still had much to pay for but, somehow, that burden seemed a little lighter to bear. He slapped away some of the dust and dirt that caked his sweat-stained clothing, deciding it was time to go in search for three new crusaders.

The sound of hooves brought his head up and Josiah sighed, seeing Nathan Jackson coming towards him. He listened carefully as Nathan told him about the Seminole village, how it was under attack from a group of ex-confederate soldiers; ghosts from the past. He sighed, looking around the shell of the mission. He had work to do here, he had a penance to perform and riding off for any old reason would not see that penance paid nor this mission rebuilt.

Three more riders drew near, and Josiah ignored the skip his heart took. One was the boy from Virgil Potter's store, another the large man who had brought such delight to the working girl. The last rider was clad in black with just a shimmer of golden hair visible beneath the flat-brim hat. The steel of watchful green eyes and the tightly-reined power exuding from the sleek figure made Josiah almost grin at him in welcome. This was his mountain lion; fierce and golden beneath the coverings of dark cloth, but under this material, beneath the flesh, Josiah recognized a spirit torn between darkness and light.

He turned away, unwilling to face these men, afraid that they were his destiny but uncertain whether he was ready to meet it. Nathan was disappointed in him but he had to back away, had to give himself time to ponder. He convinced himself that the time was not right, as only four of his crusaders had come to him.

The rest of the day passed slowly, the crows gathering in greater numbers than before, as if waiting for him to die so they could pick his bones clean. He glanced heavenwards.

"Going to have to stop talking in riddles, Lord. Thought you might be bringing me some help for rebuilding this old mission, but the group I've seen don't seem like the kind of men for that task." He sighed, bowing to the inevitable. "I have no idea why you want me to go with these men, but I hear your call and I'll be waiting for them."

When morning came, with decision made, he saddled up his horse and waited. This time there were five men in the party that thundered towards him.

The newcomer was a man all dapper, dressed in expensive, gaudy clothes, whose quick mind seemed to size up every man and every rock with each breath he took. He had the air of a gambler - and he was Josiah's rattler. Nathan grinned, pleased to find Josiah waiting for them.

"What made ya change your mind?"


"What's that supposed to mean?"


"Sign of what?"


"Whose death?"

"Probably mine."

Josiah grinned as he adjusted his poncho and hat. He nudged his horse onwards, accepting the outstretched hand of greeting from Vin Tanner, and gazed to the distance where he could sense a sixth man was hanging back, trying to remain unseen.

Destiny had come calling, and it was time to ride.


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