The fine spring grass was a couple of inches high and the soft sprinkling of rain had turned it from bronze to a light effervescent green as it rippled in the warm wind. Tall cottonwoods surrounded the bubbling creek that separated the twenty-five hundred acres of rolling hills and deep chasms; it was perfect haven for the small band of horses that roamed here freely.
Eight men stood on a craggy knoll and watched as spindly legged foals frolicked with each other and mares, some still with large rounded bellies from foals not yet born, grazed on the lush sweet grass. One young dark haired youth stood apart from the rest, a multitude of emotions flashing over his face as he contemplated the graceful animals below him.
Chris made his way over to stand beside a lanky rancher. "Thanks for doing this Mac...the kid needed something to smile about."
"I've a great life Chris, but there's not many things I get more pleasure from then watching a new batch of foals hit the ground every spring."
It had been a difficult few months for the seven, in particular for their youngest member. Chris wondered if Tom Cooper had any idea how much pain he was going to cause when he threw that lariat around the hard running stallion's legs those last few seconds of the race. The outcry of anger had been instantaneous from the local residents; any talk of the seven leaving ended the second Windy and JD went down in a tumbling mess across the dusty road with Tom Cooper's rope tangled up around them.
Now in a show of support the rest of the group, made the trek from Four Corners to Santa Fe with Chris and JD again. They almost lost a still slightly limping Vin, Nathan and Josiah at Betty and Jeb's ranch. The three fell under Betty's spell and she was in her glory with all these handsome and appreciative men to cook for. But out of loyalty for Chris and JD they mounted up with the others, hoping the others appreciated the divine sacrifice they thought they were making, and the seven continued on the journey.
In Albuquerque they almost lost Buck and Ezra when they stopped at the hotel saloon where Amber and Ruthie worked. Ezra found his match in Amber who turned out to be a hell of a card shark and Buck just found a whole group of beautiful women who thought him to be irresistible. Chris had a great laugh when Amber told him, she and Ruthie had ended up staying three more days with Betty and Jeb. Betty taught them how to cook some more complicated meals and the girls taught her how to play poker; in fact they had been invited to come back and spend Easter with the older couple. Chris said he might just join them.
Ruthie and JD had disappeared alone together for a couple of hours, but no matter how much Buck pried, JD would not tell him where they had gone. In the early morning Chris physically dragged their resident conman and lady lover out of the hotel and assisted them onto their horses and the seven continued on the journey.
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Chris waited until Buck had disappeared with JD into Nathan's clinic, then brought the rifle up to his shoulder and looked down the sights right into the stallion eyes. Chris felt like a bolt of lightening struck him, as the stallion seemed to gaze right into the very core of Chris's soul. He remembered those few brief minutes he had been privileged to sit on this noble creature as he and JD had thundered across the plains on the stallion's back. The magnitude of his power had been breathtaking and Chris knew he would never again sit on such an animal. And still...yet again...this horse was fighting a losing battle for survival.
"Aughh!" Chris yelled out in anger, drew a bead on Wind's head and pulled the trigger.
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JD woke up hurting and confused in Nathan's clinic. His arm was burning with excruciating pain, and his head throbbed unmercifully, but JD ignored those sensations...something else hurt worse...but JD wasn't sure he wanted to remember what it was.
Moaning, he slowly sat up, fighting the nausea that threatened to overtake him. Buck lay on a cot beside him in a deep exhausted sleep. JD held his head as jumbled pictures assaulted his mind, and images flashed in the back of his eyes, almost blinding him with their severity.
Shaking his head, he rose from the bed onto very shaky legs...he had to get out of here, but he wasn't sure where he needed to go. He just knew he couldn't stay here a minute longer.
For a brief second JD wished he had put on a shirt as the early morning chill hit his bare chest, but he needed to go somewhere...he ignored the cold like he ignored his body's physical pain.
In bare feet he padded down the boardwalk, not knowing where he was going, just being pulled in this direction.
Chris saw the small figure dressed only in britches head down the street from inside the saloon, where he was warming up with a cup of coffee after being up all night. Chris moved towards the batwing doors when Josiah's voice reached him. "Leave him Chris...give him some space and time alone before you go to em!"
Chris looked with uncertainty at the preacher then to the back of the retreating youth. With a resigned sigh Chris returned to the table.
JD felt so tired and so scared...but he didn't know why he was feeling this way. The further he walked the more his heart filled with dread. Down the worn path he stumbled, ignoring the stones that cut into his feet. A corral, with a three sided shelter and pond partially fenced on the bottom half came into his view. JD felt his lungs contract, and breathing became painful as images of a red horse galloping freely over the plains settled into his memory. With a strangled cry he remembered this horse and the sudden terrifying end to his life.
JD stood frozen to the spot...he wanted to scream at the unfairness of it all and beat on something to rid himself of the pain that ripped through his chest and tore at his heart. But he just stood there and stared at the wood fence.
Then the sweet melodic sound of a horse reached his ears...anger washed over him at the thought of another animal in Windy's paddock so soon after his horse had been taken from him and destroyed. Coming out of his daze, he stormed over to the corral and with fumbling fingers undid the rope holding the gate shut, to release the animal someone dared put in Wind's corral.
The familiar quiet nicker stopped the boy short...it couldn't be...JD looked up through tear filled eyes and saw a red horse tied in the shelter, with giant sling under his belly to hold him up.
"JD...don't get your hopes all up now...it's been almost three days since you both got hurt and we still doubt your horse has a chance in hell of making it out the week." Nathan appeared from the backside of the shelter, holding bloody rags in his hands.
"He's real bad JD...we doubt he will ever be able to stand on his own again. His neck was crushed horribly bad in that wreck not to mention a bowed tendon and severe lacerations." Ezra came out from the other side of the horse when he heard the gate rattling.
With wonder filled eye's JD approached his horse and lovingly touched Windy on his neck, the horse blew soft, warm air down JD's chest.
"Tell me I ain't dreaming, Ezra?"
"You are in fact very much awake Mr. Dunne, but please take heed of what we just said and don't get your hopes up!"
"I thought Chris was going to shoot him...I heard the rifle shot?"
"Our industrial leader blow the hell out of the water trough...I would hazard a guess that on your recovery you will get to test your ability with hammer and nails when you reconstruct it." Ezra handed JD a bottle of ointment on his way out of the corral.
"Your horse has a persuasive way about him JD...he kinda told me himself he wasn't ready to give up yet." Chris came and leaned against the corral.
"Yeah...he told me the same thing back at Coopers, when he was hurt last year." JD gently stroked the big horse, then walked over to Chris.
"Thank You!" He said looking at the man he respected above all others, his face shining with sincerity
"Don't thank me yet JD...you heard what Nathan and Ezra told ya...this horse shouldn't still be alive now, I don't hold out much hope that he will make it much longer." Chris reached through the fence and gave JD shoulder a quick sympathetic squeeze, wondering for the thousandth time if he made the right choice in trying to keep the stallion alive.
With typical JD confidence, he answered in a strong clear voice. "Oh...he'll make it Chris...there's no doubt about it!!!"
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JD stroked the stallion's soft velvety cheek. "Now I know Buck is annoying sometimes, but he really does seem to know what women like...so I hope you were paying attention to all his lectures on the way here. You be nice to all those ladies down there and help make lots of nice babies...ya hear me!"
JD buried his head in the horse's long mane and inhaled Wind's earthy fragrance. JD was returning the stallion back to a place where he belonged and to where he could finally be happy. "So why do I hurt so bad?" Thought JD, touching the horse's warm neck for the last time.
To the amazement of everyone, Windy made a miraculous recover under JD's meticulous care, just like the youth said he would. Except that he would never be able to stand the weight of a rider on his back again.
The whole town celebrated the horse's recovery, but JD felt the horse slowly pull away from him. Everyday the youth would find the stallion staring off across the plains as if remembering the times when he ran free over them. Chris had been the one to come up with a solution, and contacted Mac in Santa Fe.
Reaching up JD slipped the halter off the horse's head. "Well don't just stand there, ya big idiot...you're free, go down to your mares!"
Windy snorted, as he smelt the mares below him; uncertain of what was expected of him, he rubbed his head against JD. "Go on...your free...get out of here!" Wetness filled JD's eyes as he shouted at the big horse and waved the halter at him.
Windy jumped away from the youth and snorted louder this time, then with a squeal he ran back towards the other seven men, flashing out with a hind foot as he moved past Buck. "Hey, ya big old knot head!" Buck squealed as he dove out of the way.
With aloud trumpet Windy spun down the hill and cantered towards the mares in his new twisted ambling gait. Mac and Chris came and stood by the kid. "It's to bad he'll never be sound to ride again, but he's going to produce some awfully fine offspring JD. And next spring you have first pick of any of his foals."
"Thanks Mac...he's going to be happy here, I couldn't keep him in that corral back in Four Corners for the rest of his life...but I sure miss him already!" JD said with a sad sigh, feeling like someone just reached down his throat and removed his heart.
The eight men watched as the small herd of horses disappeared into a chasm, the stallion running free amongst them.
"Parting is such sweet sorrow." Ezra slapped JD on the back as he walked past. Slowly each of his friends walked by him, all reaching out to offer comfort.
JD took the reins Buck offered him and with a last glance behind him, swung up onto Seven's back. The rest of the men mounted up as well and followed their youngest back towards Mac's ranch house.
"I don't know why ya have such a long face JD." Buck smiled at JD, as he rode up beside his young friend. "From where I'm sitting that, old horse has come out of this deal smelling like a rose...just him and fourteen lovely ladies...who could ask for anything more!"