A Matter Of Life And Death by Robyn B

I do not own Lancer nor the characters of the story.  I do take them out for a run around the ranch on occasion.  The characters I create cannot be used without permission.  There is no rating for this story.

Word count: 8445

He laid in his warm bed longer than he should have.  But it was warm and comfy.  Soon, he heard the knock on his door, and it slowly opened.

He smiled and opened one lazy sapphire eye.  ” Morning Boston.”

” Brother, come on.  Murdoch has a surprise for us remember.  We don’t want to be late.”

Suddenly, a white fluffy pillow sailed thru the air, and smacked Scott in the back of the head.  He slowly turned, picked up the pillow and looked at his little brother.  Johnny was all wide eyed and innocent looking.

“Oops!  It sort of slipped!”

The pillow was returned to the bed, followed by a rousing game of tickling and hitting with pillows.

Finally, the older Lancer brother stood up and with as much dignity as he could muster, he walked to the door and over his shoulder he said, ” Five minutes little Brother.”

The dark haired man on the bed, sat on the edge of the bed, bare chested and bare footed.

” Right behind you Boston.”  The door shut softly behind the blonde brother.

Johnny rubbed his face, running his hand up into his tousled shaggy black hair.  Softly sighing, he slowly stood and padded across the room to the small stand that held a bowl and pitcher in shades of blue.

He poured water into the bowl and began his morning routine.  He dressed in his favorite pink shirt and pair of black leather pants.  It took him a few minutes to find one of his well worn boots, finally locating it in the corner of his room by his writing table.

The dark haired man, slammed his foot into the runaway boot, and then he bolted out the door and headed for the back stairs to the kitchen.

He got to the table as a platter of eggs hit the table.  Johnny soon found a hot cup of coffee sliding in front of him, and he lifted sapphire eyes to his brother in silent thanks.

Soon, all three men were eating very filled plates and Murdoch, after five minutes, wiped his mouth on his napkin and cleared his throat.

” Well boys, I have a surprise for you both this morning.  I’ve decided the three of us are going to go on a camping trip into the mountains.  I feel you both need a bit of a break before we get ready for the drive coming up in September.”

Scott and Johnny both exchanged looks between themselves.  Scott quietly said, ” Camping Sir?”

The elder Lancer looked at his sons and noticed his youngest was anything but thrilled looking.  Leaning back in his chair, Murdoch looked at his dark haired son, and in a quiet voice, he said, ” You don’t seem too enthusiastic John.  Mind telling me why not?”

He slid his fork to his plate and fixed a hard blue stare on his father.  It was a good five minutes before he said anything, and his voice was very soft, bordering on a whisper.

” Got all that fencing to repair, to say nothing of the two streams that have to be unblocked before they flood over.  I have all those horses to break for the army contract that’s due just after the drive.  I don’t think it’s such a good idea Murdoch.”

Murdoch turned to his oldest son and he said, ” Do you feel the same Scott?”

Before Scott could open his mouth to voice his opinion, Murdoch’s eyes took on a hard edge and he said, ” Well, I think it’s a good idea and we are leaving right after breakfast.”  He got up and took his cup of coffee with him and went into the Great Room and his desk.

Johnny and Scott sat at the table and just looked at each other.  Scott voiced his opinion first.  ” Well, that didn’t go as planned.”

Slowly, the younger brother leaned back in his chair and he said, with a sound like utter disbelief, ” Well, I guess that big poker game is cancelled.  And I was going to spend some time with Carla too.  She’s gonna be real disappointed.”

” It’s only for a week Johnny.  I’m sure Carla will understand, and you’ll have an extra week to hold onto your money.”

A soft sigh slipped from Johnny’s lips, and he quietly said, ” I guess so, but I’m sure she’ll still be disappointed Scott.”

A laugh came across the table as Scott said, ” It’s you who is disappointed little Brother.  I know you look forward to going to town to spend time with her.  There will be other weekends little Brother.”

As they finished their breakfasts, both brothers went up the stairs to their rooms.  They heard Murdoch humming while he was in the Great room.  They both laughed as they bolted up the stairs.

Johnny pulled his saddlebags out of his closet and began putting some clothes into the sides.  Extra shirts, pants, socks, and he threw his warm jacket onto the bed too.  He even pulled his fancy rifle with the scope out of the back of his closet.  He got the rifle from his father for his birthday.  Scott got the same rifle on his birthday.

Before he left his room, he pulled open the bottom drawer of his dresser.  He pulled out two full boxes of ammo for the rifle and two full boxes for his Colt.  These he jammed into the saddlebags too.

He picked up everything and went out the door, his spurs jingling noisily as he went down the hall to his brother’s room.

Scott had almost the same stuff on his bed.  He looked up as his brother came into his room.

” Might as well get this over with Brother.  You ready?”

They went back downstairs and found Murdoch was ready and their horses plus a pack horse were saddled and ready to roll.

The boys put their saddlebags on their horses, adjusted their sleeping bags and slid their rifles into the scabbards on their saddles.

Scott mounted up and Murdoch looked at his youngest.  When sapphire eyes lifted, a raised eyebrow greeted him.  A soft sigh and then a small bounce, and Johnny mounted up on Barranca’s back.

The four horses were turned and Cip came to tell them everything will be fine and to have fun.  Scott and Murdoch waved, Johnny pushed his hat tighter on his head, and followed his father and brother.

The three Lancers traveled at a good steady gait, and almost at the mountains, they had to stop for the night.  They tied the horses and Murdoch began a fire and put a pot of coffee to boil.  Scott and Johnny went in search of branches to keep the fire going all night.

As the brothers slowly walked, Johnny suddenly whispered, ” Hold still Boston.”  As Scott froze, Johnny pulled his Colt out of the holster, real slow.  Scott heard the hammer slowly pulled back and then the gun spit it’s fire out.

He watched as Johnny trotted over and he picked up a very large rabbit.

” Nice shot Brother.  Will make a good meal.”

Johnny smiled and said, “Maybe this trip will be fun after all.”

The brothers went back to the camp and Murdoch said, ” What were you shooting at John?”

He held up the rabbit and Murdoch smiled.

” I’ll make up a rabbit stew for supper.”

The boys dropped their loads of branches by the fire ring and Johnny squatted down and pulled his knife from his boot.  He skinned and cleaned the rabbit in fifteen minutes.

Meanwhile, Murdoch had gone to the pack animal and gotten a pot and went to the pond to put water in it.  Johnny plunked the rabbit into the water.

The boys watched their father cut up potatoes and some vegetables and add them to the pot.  He then covered it and left it to simmer for awhile.

While the stew simmered, they got their campsite situated. 

They took the saddles off their horses and put their sleeping bags out.  Johnny stayed by the horses and he brushed them out, giving extra attention to his spoiled Palomino.

As darkness was settling over the small campsite, the men had their rabbit stew, along with biscuits which Johnny cooked up in a skillet.

They sat around the fire, drinking coffee.  Murdoch looked across the flames at his sons, and a small smile graced his lips.

Scott noticed and said, ” Something on your mind Murdoch?”

” No, I was just looking at my sons and noticing how you have both matured into wonderful men that I am proud of.”

Even tho it was dark, he thought he could see pink blushes crawling up both son’s cheeks.

” Especially you Johnny.  I’m so happy the gunfighters have finally left you alone, and you can become a rancher like your old man.”

Johnny quietly sighed and he said, ” But the fact is Murdoch, they really haven’t.  They are still there, just waiting.  There is always someone faster.  I can’t ever be off guard.  Never!”

A sadness filled Murdoch’s heart as he realized, even after ten years of relative peace and safety, his youngest son still could not relax his senses and just be a rancher, son and brother.

” Ok, enough sad talk you two.  We are up here for a week of hunting and fishing and spending time together.”

Johnny snorted and said, ” Fishing!  Dios!  I hate fishing!”

The older Lancers both laughed at Johnny’s exclamation.

” Well, how about you focus on hunting little Brother.  I’m sure we can get along without you shooting the fish!”

After a good laugh, the three Lancer men settled in for the night.  Johnny took first watch, but he had a lot on his mind anyway.  Where the conversation went about always being alert, he wished he could relax, but he never could.

A few hours later, he was startled by a soft voice.

” You okay Brother?”

” Yea, just thinking Boston.  I’m fine.  You ready to take watch Brother?”

Scott poured a cup of coffee and said, ” Yea, get some sleep Johnny.  Busy day tomorrow.”

A soft sigh from Johnny and he said, ” Yea.  Good thing I can hunt, I don’t think I brought enough bullets for fishing!”

Scott laughed and Johnny laid down and waited for sleep to come and get him.  As he watched his baby brother soon relax into sleep, the older brother wished he could take some of Johnny’s anxiety away.  He deserved to be free of always looking over his shoulder.  He deserved a wife and children.  Hell, come to think of it, so did he!

The smell of cooking bacon and coffee woke Johnny.  He lifted his head and thru as yet unfocused eyes, he saw his father cooking over the fire.

” Morning Son.  Daylights wasting.  We have a busy day planned. “

The young son groaned and slid his head back under the edge of his sleeping bag.

Scott came over and pulled the top of the sleeping bag away from the dark head of hair it was hiding.  In his hand, was a steaming cup of coffee.  That worked!  Johnny’s head popped out from it’s hiding place and he reached for the cup.

Soon, Johnny was sitting around the fire with his brother and father, eating bacon stuffed into a biscuit.  It was filling and not bad tasting, he had three of the bacon sandwiches and three cups of coffee.

Murdoch said that he and Scott were going to try their luck with the pond nearby.  After he was just finishing with his information, Murdoch looked at his youngest.

” I imagine you are not joining Scott and myself John?  Would you like to tell me just what you are going to do?”

Johnny smiled softly at the gruff words, and he quietly said,  “Well, I don’t really like fishing, so I thought I’d go up into the mountains and see what I can find for meat.”

Murdoch, while disappointed Johnny wasn’t joining them, he knew his youngest would enjoy hunting more than standing around fishing.

” That will be fine Son.  But don’t stay up there too long.  It gets colder up in the mountains than it does down here.”

For the first time since they started this so called vacation, Johnny smiled.  His sapphire eyes sparked with the idea of not shooting fish all day.

They cleaned up the camp a bit and Johnny got ready to jump into the saddle, and Murdoch came over and handed him a small wrapped package.

” Left over biscuits and bacon.  Might get hungry up there John.”

He put them carefully into one side of his saddle bags, and then thanked his father.

” I’m gonna head for that meadow about half way up.  See what I can see for game.  I’ll be back by dinnertime, don’t want to be up there at dark.”

As he watched his youngest son ride off to a day of hunting, there was a moment that he had thoughts of something bad about to happen.

When Scott came up to him and asked if he was ready to head to the pond, he shook the feeling away.  The two of them walked to the pond and picked out their spots.

Johnny rode for most of the morning.  He saw plenty of rabbits, but he wanted to find a deer.  He bent back to open one of his saddlebags, and pulled out one of the bacon and biscuit sandwiches.  He sat for a few minutes and chewed, his eyes scanning the area, looking for signs of deer moving around.

By the time he was done with his sandwich, he realized he had to move to another area, there were no deer tracks nor any signs deer had even been there.

He gently nudged Barranca and they moved out again.  They were coming up on that meadow Johnny had mentioned to his father.  He slowed Barranca even more.

He steered his horse towards the wall of sorts that bordered the meadow.  He didn’t want to spook any deer who might be in the tall grasses.

As he moved under a ledge, he was suddenly propelled from the saddle onto the hard ground.  Foul breath and snapping jaws were heading towards his neck.  He tried to move the huge animal from his body, and he felt the animal’s jaws clamp onto his left arm.

The pain hit him hard and he yelled out.  The sound of his Master in distress, propelled Barranca into action.  His hooves and teeth attacked the huge wolf.  He kicked and stomped with forelegs that were determined to save his Master.

When one wolf left Johnny’s body, it’s mate, just as huge, would move into take it’s place.  The second wolf clamped onto Johnny’s thigh and was attempting to drag him away from the enraged horse.

Johnny’s body was on fire and he knew if he became unconscious, he was done.  His right hand, while trying to push the wolf from his body, reached for his gun.  Johnny had only enough energy to pull the trigger once.

As his hand fell to the ground, still wrapped around his Colt, in his muddled mind, he heard the yelp of pain and the pressure on his body suddenly left.

He opened his eyes, slowly, and began to take his injuries into account.  He saw his left arm was bleeding, as his sleeve was in shreds.  He didn’t think it was bleeding too bad, but boy did it feel like fire was building in there.

The injury he wasn’t so sure about, was the one on his thigh.  Those teeth marks were deeper and went almost to his knee.

He tried to tie the shreds of his pants around his thigh to stop the flow of blood.  He knew he was in trouble and he needed help, badly.

He heard Barranca off in the distance and he sounded winded.  He slowly moved his head and saw his golden stallion rearing and stomping on a non moving body of grey fur covered in blood.

He weakly called to Barranca, and the horse stopped his frenzied rearing and stood still.  Johnny called again and he slowly moved to where Johnny laid.

He blew warm breath across Johnny’s face and nuzzled his dark hair.  Johnny slowly moved his right hand and arm, and lifted it to caress the mighty stallion’s face.

His arm soon fell back to the ground, and he felt his Colt.  He wrapped his fingers around the cold steel and slowly slid it back into the holster, pulling the thong over it, so he wouldn’t lose it.

” I’m in trouble Pal.  I have to get in your saddle or I’m gonna bleed to death.  You have to help me Barranca.”

The smell of blood, both Johnny’s and the wolf’s was freaking the shaking horse, but he forced himself to stay by his Master’s side.  He somehow knew his Master needed him.

Johnny slowly reached for the stirrup and with much pain and much gritting of teeth, Johnny pulled himself up to collapse across Barranca’s broad back.

Johnny was panting furiously with the exertion and the pain, which had ignited in his entire body.  He laid against his horse until he managed to lessen the pain, at least to a tolerable level.

His strength was pretty well gone, just from getting up.  He had to get help or he was going to die up here.

” How the hell am I gonna get in this saddle?”  He looked around, but there wasn’t even a log to stand on so he could get on the horse.  He remembered the note pad in his saddle bag and dug in the bag.  Soon Johnny found the pad of paper and the pencil still inside.

Johnny’s usual crisp sprawling writing had abandoned him, as he wrote where he was and what happened to him.  He slid the pad back into the saddle bag and slid the tiny note under his saddle.

Johnny pulled Barranca’s trailing reins and pulled them up to the saddle horn.  He wrapped them lightly around it and reached for his canteen.

He slid to the ground, hanging on the strap of the canteen.  His head began to swim, but he fought off the dizziness threatening to take him.

He licked his lips and quietly said, ” Pal, you have to get me help.  Find Scott and Murdoch Barranca.  Find help Pal.  You’re my only hope.”

Barranca lowered his head and again nuzzled Johnny ‘s dark hair.  He closed his eyes and tried once more to get thru to the golden horse.

” Barranca, find Scott.  Find help boy!  Go Barranca!  Please find help!”

He lifted his huge head and his large brown eyes locked on Johnny’s sapphire eyes.  Johnny knew he could see the pain in them and then he softly neighed and turned.

Johnny could hear his hoofbeats and he literally prayed he was heading down to the campsite and help.

He laid on the cold ground and could tell it was getting colder.  He had to move to a shelter or something to maybe stay as warm as he could.  Johnny slowly, and with great bodily pain, dragged his bleeding body to the rock wall.  Feeling the warmth, he leaned his back up against the warm rocks.

Every now and then he heard the ping as one of Barranca’s shod hooves hit a rock.  ‘ Good!  He’s heading down the mountain.  Just have to hang on till Scott and Murdoch come.’

He had no way of knowing how long he had been up there, but he closed his eyes to rest, and felt his body as it slid down the rocks so he was on the cold ground.

Back at the campsite, Scott and Murdoch compared their catches as they cleaned them and got ready to cook them for dinner.

” Johnny should be coming back in a little while.  I imagine it’s getting cold and dark.  Even Johnny Madrid can’t track in the dark.”

Murdoch chuckled softly and poured a cup of coffee.  They had the cleaned fish in a pot of water, waiting to be cooked as soon as Johnny came back into the camp.

About thirty minutes later, they both heard pounding hooves heading to the camp.  Scott reached for his rifle and Murdoch had his hand on his rifle, when the golden horse barreled into the camp.

He reared and neighed loudly and was very agitated.  It took Scott ten minutes to calm him enough to grab his bridle.

Barranca’s eyes were huge and he was snorting loudly.  That was when Murdoch saw the dried blood on the horse’s forelegs.

“That’s not Johnny’s blood Sir.  Look.”  And he pulled a piece of grey fur from the horse’s leg.

” Is that wolf fur?  Do you think Johnny was attacked by a wolf?  Why didn’t he get on Barranca and come back down?”

Murdoch turned and began saddling his horse, Scott followed after he cleaned Barranca a little bit and tied him to the picket line by the pack horse.

Murdoch pulled all the stuff from his saddlebags, and began putting the medical supplies into the sides.  Scott followed suit.

They were ready to head out and Scott asked his father,  “Where would Johnny be up there?”

” He told me he was heading to that meadow about halfway up.  We’ll head there.”

He heard the worry in his father’s voice and he said, ” He’ll be fine.  Johnny is a survivor Murdoch.”

Murdoch looked up at the mountain and mounted Hannibal. 

Both Lancers took off with the intention of finding the missing member of their family.  Slowly, they began their ascent.  Each praying in their own ways that they will find Johnny alive.

Up on the hill, Johnny jolted awake and the sudden movement once again flared the pain in his body.  His eyes opened slowly, only to see he was still on the ground by the wall of rock.

It was almost dark on the mountain, and Johnny strained to hear any sounds.  But all he heard was silence.  He could still see the outline of the wolf.  ‘ Man, my horse sure did a number on him!’

As Johnny laid there, he thought of what Barranca had really done.  He had killed a wolf to save him.  He’d never seen a horse do that before.  Then he thought a few more minutes and said softly out loud, ” Barranca really loves me.  He’d do anything for me.”

That brought a smile to his face and he felt a tear slip from his eye.  He never thought he’d ever find a horse who actually killed a wolf in order to protect him.  Any other horse would have bolted.

He was starting to get the shakes.  His mind told him, ‘ Shock, blood lose and the cold temps.”

” Come on Scott and Murdoch.  I don’t want to die up here alone.”

Without even being aware he was doing it, he started to pray out loud.

” I’ve done a lot of bad things as Johnny Madrid, but I’ve thought by being Johnny Lancer for the last ten years would have balanced the books a little bit.  At least I hope it has.”

He laughed a sad little laugh and he continued in a soft quiet voice, ” You know, I always thought it would be a bullet with my name on it, not some damn wolf!  Imagine me, Johnny Madrid, good at my trade, taken out by a wolf!  If it wasn’t sad to think of, it could actually be funny.  At least I hope Scott and Murdoch will think so.”

Johnny got quiet and he felt that darkness calling to him again, and he was too weak to fight it.  His last thoughts, were for Scott and Murdoch to find him before it was too late.  The darkness claimed him and Johnny slid into the void.

Scott and Murdoch were picking their way slowly up the mountain.

Scott could hear Murdoch swearing up ahead of him, and he too wished they could go faster.  He could feel his brother needed him, and he was so far away.

‘ Just hang in there Brother.  We’re on our way.  Don’t leave me Johnny!’

He lifted his hand and wiped away the tears that suddenly were sliding down his cheeks.  Ten years isn’t enough time!  Don’t take him yet God!

When they came to an even pathway, Scott saw his father picking up the speed.  Let us get there in time.

Johnny again clawed his way out of the dark pit and he was dizzier than before.  Suddenly, he felt angry.  Angry at himself for not being more aware of the surrounding area.  Especially with it being new to him.  Dammit!  He wasn’t going to lose this battle to a damn wolf!  He was not going to let that wolf win.  He had too much in his life now.  Murdoch, Scott, the ranch.  He wasn’t going to just lie here and let that animal win.

” No! I’m not going to let my life not matter, because of a damn wolf!  I’m worthy of having a home and family.  I will not let that wolf win.”

All that yelling into the darkness made his headache worse, but it actually felt good to fight again.  If he could hang on till help came.  He just had too!

He was feeling very tired and tried to keep his eyes open. 

” Come on Madrid!  You can do it!  Wake up and fight!”

Johnny heard a sound that caused his unfocused eyes to move.  He wasn’t sure, but it looked like Murdoch and Scott.  He couldn’t focus and he thought his mind just made them up.

As his eyes were starting to roll into his head, he was suddenly gripped in strong arms.

” Don’t do this Johnny!  We’re here!  Hang on Son, we’ll get you help.”

Scott was already pulling the supplies from the saddlebags.   “We need to get a fire started Murdoch.”

Soon Scott had a fire burning and they moved Johnny as close as they could.  Murdoch began to assess his injuries. Softly, he went to look at the leg wound and began to pour antiseptic on it.  That illicited a small moan and Murdoch quietly said,  “It’s okay Son.  Papa is here.  Gonna fix you up and then get you home.”

Johnny weakly opened his eyes, and Murdoch saw the pain his youngest was in.  ” Papa?”

” Yes Son, it’s Papa.  You’re gonna be fine.  We’ll get you to Lancer real soon Son.  You just rest.”

A soft smile came to Johnny’s lips and his unfocused eyes slid shut again.  Murdoch’s hand gently pushed his son’s inky black hair from his face and caressed his cheek.  He still felt so cold, so he went to his horse and pulled his sleeping bag and wrapped it around Johnny’s body.

The wounds had been looked at, cleaned and the deeper ones were stitched then wrapped with the white gauze bandages.

” How is he Murdoch?”

” Resting for now Scott.  Those bite marks are really bad.  He’s lost so much blood. It’s like he was already leaving us.”

Scott and Murdoch sat by Johnny’s side, wiping the sweat from his face, each lost in their own thoughts.  Johnny’s fever was rising to a dangerous level and without a doctor to help, they were unsure of what to do.

” What about taking him back down to the campsite now Murdoch?  We can put him in the pond and lower his fever that way.  We don’t do something, we are gonna lose him!”

Murdoch looked down at his youngest as he once again began to thrash around.  Softly, crying out in Spanish.  He put his huge hand against Johnny’s cheek and very softly said, ” Easy John.  Papa will make it better.  I promise.  Just please hang on Son.  I can’t lose you.”

He lifted his light blue eyes and locked on the silver blue eyes of his oldest son.

” We have to ride him out of here now Scott.”

” That could kill him Murdoch!”

Running his hand thru his graying hair, Murdoch’s voice rose in volume.

” We have no choice Scott!  He’ll die if we stay here.  At least down at the campsite, he could stand a better chance.”

Scott’s eyes grew worried and his voice sounded tired and full of worry for his baby brother.

” We’re gonna have to travel slow Murdoch.  How much will he be able to bear with the jostling?”

” As much as he has to.  He needs to fight Scott, and if he can’t we will fight for him.”

They readied Murdoch’s horse and he slowly swung up into the saddle.  Scott gently picked his brother up, sleeping bag and all, and carefully handed him to his father.  Murdoch wrapped his arms around his son’s body and pulled him tight against his hard body.  Soft whimpers of pain slid from Johnny’s lips.

He lowered his cheek to the top of the dark silky waves of hair and gently closed his eyes.

” Hold on Johnny.  Please don’t give up.  Please!”

Scott mounted up and reached for the lead rein of Murdoch’s horse.  ” Just hold on to Johnny Murdoch.  Keep him from moving too much.  I’ll lead Hannibal down the mountain.”

Before they moved out, Scott closed his eyes and lifted his head towards the heavens.  He prayed for a miracle, any miracle to help them bring his brother safely down the mountain.

As his eyes opened and he lowered his head, the moon came out from behind the clouds.  It was a full moon and easily lit the rocks.  ‘ Thank God!’. He gripped the lead rein tighter and slowly started them moving.

He heard the sigh from his father and he knew he too was grateful for the moon coming from behind the clouds.  As if a miracle was working to help Johnny.

Slowly, and with such care, the Lancers rode down the mountain, careful of their precious cargo.  Johnny seemed to have lapsed into unconsciousness and was quiet most of the time.

It seemed the ride back down was never ending, but soon they came to the campsite.

Dawn was just coming to the valley and the two elder Lancers were glad to see the pack horse and Barranca still tied to the picket line.  Scott jumped from his horse and went to his father’s side.  He lifted up his arms and took his brother from his father’s arms.

He carried Johnny to his sleeping bag. He placed him gently on the material and began to stoke up the fire once again.

Murdoch came over to where Johnny laid and opened his sleeping bag, which covered his son’s body.  He pulled the bandages away to look at the wounds on Johnny’s arm and thigh.  They looked even worse in the light of day.

He put his hand on Johnny’s forehead and was surprised at the heat coming off his son.  He was pale and grey at the sane time.

Scott took a pot and went to the pond and brought some cool water and together he and his father bathed Johnny’s face and chest with the cool water, in an attempt to lower his fever.

” We have to get him to a doctor Murdoch.  He’s not doing good at all.  I don’t know how he’s made it this far.”

Murdoch watched his son’s chest rise and fall, and it seemed so shallow.  He closed his eyes and caressed his son’s forehead softly.

” He’s a fighter Scott.  One of us has to go to Lancer and get a wagon for Johnny.  He won’t make it on horseback.”

” I’ll go Murdoch.  Charlie is pretty good at this distance and he can run a long time.  I’ll have Sam waiting at Lancer for us when we bring Johnny home.”

He went to give Charlie a pat and said to the animal, ” I know you can do this Pal.  This is for Johnny.  It’s not too far to run.”

Charlie bobbed his head up and down and stomped his foreleg, as if in answer to Scott’s firm words.  Murdoch handed him a filled canteen and quietly said, “Don’t fail your brother Scott.  I’m counting on you.”

Scott mounted up and he looked at his brother’s pale face.  “

” Hey Brother, don’t go leaving me just yet.  I’d hate to make this trip twice and you not be here waiting.  You’re a fighter little Brother, do me a favor and fight while I’m gone.”

He looked at his father and saw a look he’d never seen in Murdoch’s blue eyes.  Trust.  He turned Charlie and took off towards Lancer.  He wouldn’t let either of them down.

Murdoch watched his oldest son galloping away.  He was hopeful Scott wouldn’t fail.

He made a pot of coffee to drink while he waited.  He would wipe the cool rag across Johnny’s face, his neck and his chest.  Trying to lower his fever.  But at the same time so concerned at his pale complexion.

The few times Johnny seemed to come around, he got some water into him.  His fever was sucking the liquids up faster than Murdoch could replace them.

” Johnny, I meant what I said that first night around the fire, I am proud of you.  For the man you have become.  I have missed so much of your life John, I don’t want to miss anymore.  I want you to open your eyes, so I know you are in there fighting Johnny.  Please Son, I need you to fight.  Please!”

Murdoch continued to talk to his silent dark haired son.  About anything.  Just trying to engage his son’s mind into listening.

He talked about his childhood in Scotland, about his Da and his brothers and how he had decided to go to America for a better life.

Suddenly, he saw Johnny’s head moving and a soft moan lifted to Murdoch’s ears.

A soft, very whispery voice said, ” Papa?  I hurt everywhere.”

The father, who waited for hours to hear his son’s voice, said, quietly, ” I know you do John.  I have a bottle of laudanum, please take some.  You need to relax so you can rest.”

Johnny’s eyes squeezed shut and he began to move his head with more agitation.  Murdoch wiped the cool rag on his face and then cupped his chin.

” John, listen to me Son.  I know, oh God how I know you hate pain medicine.  But I’m here and you know I’ll protect you with my life.  Please, just a little, so you can rest without the pain.”

The young man, who was in so much pain, forced his eyes open.  Such pain could be seen in his blue eyes, it broke his father’s heart into a million pieces.

” Stay Papa.  Don’t go.”

” I’ll be right here Johnny.  I won’t leave your side.”

Johnny closed his eyes for one brief second, then opened them again and fixed his father with a glassy eyed look.

One word was said, and it brought some relief to both older and younger Lancer.

” Okay.”

Murdoch put some laudanum into a cup of water, and lifted Johnny’s head up to help him take a couple sips.  When he had swallowed three or four swallows, Murdoch laid his head back down and pulled the sleeping bag up over his chest.

He pushed Johnny’s sweaty hair from his face and watched as the pain lines slid away from Johnny’s face.  Signing gently, Murdoch leaned back against his saddle and watched his young son sleep in a relaxed state.

He began to wonder where Scott was and if he’d gotten to Lancer yet.  He prayed he would hurry back with that wagon, so they could get Johnny back to Lancer.

Scott was riding Charlie hard, not to the point he was gonna falter, but he could see flecks of foam on his neck.  He rounded a corner, and saw the white archway just up ahead.

He pulled Charlie back a little bit, but still raced into the yard. 

A ranch hand came to take care of the horse.  Scott patted his neck and silently thanked his faithful horse.

Cipriano came out of the barn.  ” Where is your hermano and Papa Senor Scott?”

” Johnny had an accident Cip.  A bad accident.  I need the wagon set up with lots of padding, send someone for Sam and I’ll be ready to go in five minutes.”

Scott raced into the house and went to the kitchen and told Maria what happened and he asked her for her other brown bottle of laudanum.  Maria ran to the cupboard to retrieve what Scott needed.

As she handed it to Scott, she very softly said, ” Is Juanito hurt badly Senor Scott?”

Scott looked at her with sadness filling his eyes and he quietly said, ” It’s touch and go Maria.  He’s hurt badly.  I don’t know how he is.  I need to get back with the wagon.  Be back as soon as we can.”

As Scott bolted out of the house, he saw that Cipriano was also mounted up and waited beside the wagon.  Scott gave him a silent thank you and lifted his tired body into the seat.

They started off at a good gait and Scott tried to tell Cip how badly Johnny was hurt.  He saw the sadness sweep over the Segundo’s face.  Scott knew the older man held his brother in great affection, and knew it would be hard for Cip to see Johnny so hurt.

As they rode, Scott kept up the praying in his mind, that Johnny would hang on until they got him home to Lancer.

Murdoch looked up at the sun as it climbed even higher into the sky.  It was, by his watch, almost four hours since Scott rode out towards Lancer.  He kept up his praying, as his older son was doing on his way back to the campsite.

He wiped the cool cloth across Johnny’s face, neck and upper chest.  He saw that the lines of pain were slowly etching their way back onto Johnny’s face.

Softly, the elder Lancer said to his still unconscious son,  “Hang on Johnny.  Scott is on his way back.  Just a little more Son.”

As he turned to dip the cloth into the cool water and then turned back to his son, he was held mesmerized by a pair of pain filled sapphire eyes.

He reached for a cup of water and Johnny eyed it suspiciously.  Murdoch chuckled and said, ” It’s just water John.  Trust me.”

He took a few sips and the cool water soothed his dry throat. 

“You stayed.”

” I promised I would Son.”

He put his hand on Johnny’s forehead, pushing his shaggy bangs back, but actually checking to see how hot he was.  He sighed quietly when he felt that the fever was a little lower.  He also knew his son was not out of the woods, not by any stretch.

He put the cup of water to his son’s lips again, and John took a few more sips.

” How does it feel John?”

” Well, I could lie and tell you I feel fine Murdoch.  But I hurt everywhere.  They feel infected, are they?”

Johnny didn’t need to hear his answer, he could see it in his eyes, that they were.

His eyes closed and Murdoch got the small brown bottle and put a couple drops into the water.  He held it to Johnny’s lips and without question, Johnny drank the water.

His sapphire eyes lifted to his father and without voicing his concerns, Murdoch said, ” I’ll be here when you wake up Son. Just as before.”

He relaxed and felt Murdoch’s huge hand caressing his cheek, softly and with such love it almost chocked Johnny up a little.  Despite his intense pain, Johnny softly smiled at his father and slowly closed his eyes.

Scott and Cipriano were moving at a good gait, when Cip reached over and lifted the medical bag from the seat next to Scott’s hip.

” You keep up Senor, I’ll get these supplies to the Patron.” 

And he kicked his horse into a gallop.  Scott hoped and wished he could travel that fast, but this wagon was old and he felt it would rattle apart.

Thirty minutes after he left Scott, Cip was barreling into the camp.  For a big man, like Murdoch, Cip jumped from his horse before he even stopped.

” Medicine and supplies Patron.  Senor Scott is coming, but the wagon slows him down too much.”

He looked at Johnny, who even tho he was sleeping, still looked as tho the pain was evident once again.

Together Murdoch and Cipriano cleaned the worse of the wounds.  Murdoch winced as he saw that some of them were indeed infected.  With the supplies Cip had brought, they were able to clean most and rewrap bandages around Johnny’s thigh and forearm.

Murdoch got up and walked down to the pond to stretch his back out and Cipriano sat by Johnny’s side.  He gently caressed his dark black hair and slid rough work callused fingers across his cheek.

There was a look of intense sadness on his face and he started softly talking to Johnny in Spanish.  Murdoch was too far to really hear him, but when he turned around, he saw that Cipriano had tears on his cheeks.

He did catch one word that Cipriano softly said to Johnny.  Tio.  Was Cip telling his unconscious son that he was Johnny’s Uncle?  He tried to remember if Maria ever told him about her family.  Nothing was coming to his mind, but he would find the answers.

Johnny’s fever spiked once again after they cleaned his wounds, and Murdoch knew he had to get his son medical help, or he was going to lose him for good.

His body clenched in unconsciousness with his increasing pain, and soft whimpers of pain could be heard coming from Johnny’s lips.

Murdoch was back at his son’s side and it was breaking his heart, that he couldn’t do anything to ease his son’s pain.

The cool cloths were again going on Johnny’s body and Murdoch lifted his head at the sound of harnesses jingling.  He breathed a sign of relief that his son finally got there.

Together, the three men dismantled the campsite.  They lifted Johnny’s hurting body into the wagon bed and Murdoch climbed in next to him.  He pulled his son’s head to his chest and held him in his arms, relishing the feeling of having his son in his arms once again.  Even tho Johnny was unconscious, and probably not even aware his father’s arms held him close.

They started out, this time heading to Lancer.  It seemed the trip took ages for Murdoch, and soon the white archway came into view.  The sigh of relief came to Murdoch’s lips and he seemed to melt into the bed of the wagon.

Cipriano managed the gentle unloading of Johnny, and the men carried him to his bed, where Sam was waiting.

The horses and wagon were taken care of, and Scott poured his father a tall glass of whiskey.  He sat heavily in the chair behind his desk.  His head in his hands.

” I don’t know what I’ll do Scott if I lose Johnny….if we lose Johnny.”

Scott rubbed his eyes and took a sip of his glass of whiskey.   “Johnny is tough Murdoch, he’ll be fine.  It will take a while, but I think those wounds aren’t as bad as we think.  Sam will clean the infection out and he’ll be fine with lots of rest.”

Sam came downstairs around two hours later.  He sat on the sofa, leaned his head back on the cushions and pulled his glasses off.  As he rubbed his eyes, Sam heard Murdoch’s plaintive questions.

” How is he Sam?  Is he going to make it?”

Sighing, Sam put his glasses back on his nose and leaned forward, his arms resting on his thighs.

” Some of those stitches had to be opened and then cleaned out.  I didn’t stitch any up again, in case I have to clean out infections again.”

Scott listened and quietly said, ” Is he going to be okay Sam?”

” I don’t know Scott.  He’s very sick even after cleaning those wounds out.  What did this?”

” From what we can gather, from a huge grey wolf that was pretty much stomped into the ground by Barranca.  I’d never heard of a horse protecting his Master like Barranca did.”

Sam thought for a while, and said, very quietly, ” Well, I’ll tell you this Murdoch.  If it hadn’t been for that Palomino, I’m afraid Johnny would have died before you got there.  The wound on his thigh is a drag wound.  Either Johnny shot it off his body or it got away when it’s mate was under Barranca’s hooves.”

Sam went to rest in the room they reserved for him and Scott sat on the couch and closed his eyes.  Murdock went up to Johnny’s room, and was very surprised to find Cipriano sitting in the chair by Johnny’s side.

He stood slowly and said, ” He is resting now Patron.  He will get well soon.”

Murdoch put his huge hand on his Segundo’s shoulder and said, ” We’re hoping and praying Cip.  Go get some rest and I’ll see you in the morning.”

As the old Segundo moved to the door, he turned and looked at Johnny’s still body on his bed.  His brown eyes closed and Murdoch thought he saw tears forming.

Murdoch sat by the side of his son’s bed and gently caressed Johnny’s cheek.  He was cooler, but still unconscious.  Murdoch picked up his son’s right hand and held it in his warm ones.

He prayed and he talked to Johnny thru the night.  His young son began to rouse at about two in the morning.  He was fairly lucid and drank water that Murdoch held out to him.

” Papa?”

The smile that caressed Murdoch’s very tired face was spontaneous.

” I’m here Son.  You’re home in your room.  Sam cleaned out the bite marks.  You need to rest and drink lots of water John.  Don’t worry about anything.  Let me and your brother do the worrying.  You only need to rest and heal.  Okay Son?”

Johnny licked his lips and very softly said, ” Hurts Papa.”

” I know Johnny.  Let me get Sam and see if he can give you anything.”

He was just going to the door and Scott came in.

” Sit with your brother, keep him calm.  I’m going to wake Sam.”

As Murdoch left to go down the hall, Scott sat by his brother.

He wiped Johnny’s face with a cool cloth and Johnny sighed and very softly said, ” Feels good Boston.”

Scott smiled at his little brother and quietly told him to rest. 

Sam came in and examined him and pulled out the now very familiar brown bottle from his battered black bag.  He mixed some into a glass of water and Johnny drank it without any back talk. Scott’s eyebrow went up as he saw his brother drink the pain medicine without so much as a bat of his long black lashes.

While Scott and Sam were in Johnny’s room, Murdoch had made his way into the barn and stood in front of Barranca’s stall.  The great massive head lifted and Murdoch gently scratched his cheek.

” I wanted to come out and thank you myself for what you did for Johnny.  I’ve never seen a horse do what you did Boy.  I’m forever grateful you were with Johnny that day.  You kept my son as safe as you could.”  He patted the strong golden neck and felt the golden head rest on his shoulder.  Tears filled Murdoch’s eyes.  He’d only seen Barranca bestow that honor on his young son.

His actions with Barranca had been silently observed by his oldest son.  A soft smile graced Scott’s lips as he watched his father and Johnny’s beloved horse engage in mutual love for the one who was fighting for his life in the upstairs bedroom.

Three days later, Sam came down from Johnny room, to two very anxious Lancers.  As he reached for a cup of coffee, a smile fell to his lips.

” Sam?  How is he?”

” He’s gonna be fine Murdoch.  I want him to rest as much as he needs and no, and I mean NO, breaking horses.  At least until those stitches have a chance to set.”

As the days went forward, Johnny got more and more antsy. 

Finally Murdoch could stand it no longer, and he all but ordered his sons into town for the weekend.

Johnny’s sapphire eyes lit up and he said, ” Great!  I can’t wait!  Ready when you are Boston!”

The boys raced to the barn and saddled two very surprised horses.  They raced out of the yard and headed to town. 

Scott had heard there was a great poker game and Johnny was bound and determined to be in that game.

After Johnny lost eight hands, he was pretty disgusted.  It was at that moment that Carla passed by Johnny.  She caught Johnny’s eye and the next thing Scott knew, he heard his brother’s spurs as they climbed up the wooden stairs.

Once in Carla’s room, she began to take Johnny’s shirt off.  She saw the still healing bite marks on his forearm and ran her fingers down the raised scar.

Johnny’s eyes glittered with his rising excitement and he began to take off his leather pants.  When Carla saw the marks that ran almost the length of Johnny’s muscular leg, she raised her eyes.

” I know you have a good story about where you got these horrid scars Johnny, but tell me anyway.”

They both sat on the bed and as Johnny pushed her hair from her bared shoulder he quietly said, ” It was a life and death ordeal Querida.  I was attacked by two huge wolves.  And I survived….I survived.”





Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or Email Robyn B. directly.


4 thoughts on “A Matter Of Life And Death by Robyn B

  1. Robyn, This is an excellent story showing the depth of love Johnny’s family -Barranca and Cip included-has for him. Poignant and well done. Thanks for sharing.


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