#1 in the Once Upon A Time series
Word Count 3,545
* The usual disclaimers. I don’t own them. Wish I did.
** Thanks go to Alice Marie and Susan for help with the beta.
Sunlight streamed into the Great Room through the open French doors. A gentle, cooling breeze coming through the doors pushed the smell of bread, fresh from the oven, through the entire house. In the kitchen, the sound of women’s voices could be heard speaking in Spanish as they hurried to finish dinner.
A grey-haired man relaxed with his pipe in a large leather chair in the room. On either side of the man sat two small children, a girl, and a boy. The little girl had golden hair, like spun silk and the little boy’s soft curly hair was as dark as a raven’s wing. Both children were eagerly waiting to hear the story the man promised to tell them.
The man looked down at the excited children and cleared his throat.
“Once upon a time, in a land far away,” the man began his story, “there were two brothers.”
“What were their names, Grandpa?” interrupted the six-year-old girl sitting on the man’s right.
“Hush. Let Abuelo tell the story,” the four-year-old boy said as he reached over and pinched the little girl’s arm.
“Ouch, that hurt,” the girl cried out. “Make him stop, Grandpa.”
“Young man, what have we told you about pinching your cousin?” the man asked with a stern voice and a severe look on his face. “Do you want to hear the story?”
The little boy lowered his head and slowly nodded, “Si, Abuelo. Lo Siento.” His bottom lip stuck out, and he looked like he was going to cry. “I want to hear the story. I’m sorry. I promise to be good. I promise not to pinch no more.” The boy easily switching between Spanish and English.
The boy looked up at his grandfather and then at the little girl. Reaching over, he gently stroked her arm where he had pinched it.
“There…,” he nodded his little head and continued to stroke her arm, “made it … all better. See Abuelo, Cathy all better now. Aren’t you Cathy?” He smiled up at his grandfather, “I be good. Now, can I hear the story?”
The man smiled and cleared the lump in his throat as he looked down at the two precious children. He hugged them both closer to him.
There were many times over the years he doubted he would ever have grandchildren, let alone be able to tell them stories. Now, with these two and the two small babies upstairs, the house was filling up. He knew he would be telling stories for many years to come.
“Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Once upon a time, there were two brothers. The oldest brother had fair hair and light blue eyes, much like yours, Cathy” the man looked at the little girl’s smiling face.
“The other brother had dark hair and dark blue eyes, exactly like yours, Juan,” he said to the little boy.
The two brothers were named Scott and Johnny.”
“Just like Father, Grandpa?” Cathy chirped in.
“Exactly like your Father, young lady,” Murdoch smiled.
He loved hearing the little girl call him Grandpa. When Cathy was born, her father wanted her to call him Grandfather. Murdoch cringed every time he heard the word ‘Grandfather.’ It reminded him too much of Harlan Garrett. They had settled on Grandpa, much to Murdoch’s delight.
“So, does that mean that the other brother was like my Papa?” Little Juan’s face lit up.
“Yes, Juan. Just like your Papa,” Murdoch answered watching a smile form on the little boy’s tan face, his dark blue eyes gleaming.
Murdoch felt a tingle of pleasure every time Juan called him Abuelo. When John Ruiz Lancer, Jr., was born there had been no doubt what he was going to be calling his Grandfather. Abuelo meant both Grandfather and Grandpa. Johnny had spoken both English and Spanish to the boy since the day he was born. The family had started calling the boy Juan when he was still a baby. Now the name had stuck.
“Were they knights, Grandpa?” the little girl asked with enthusiasm. “Like in the story Father reads us. You know, like King Arthur and Camelot.”
Murdoch thought for a second, “Yes, I do believe you’re right. The two brothers were knights.”
The little boy’s eyes grew large and a wide grin formed on his face. He loved the story his Tio read to him about Camelot.
“Is there a Black Knight?” Juan asked breathlessly as his little body snuggled closer.
“Yes, there is. There is most definitely a Black Knight, Juan,” Murdoch answered. “Now, settle down, and I’ll tell you how the two brothers saved the King and the kingdom.”
“Was the kingdom like Camelot, Grandpa?” Cathy asked.
Murdoch’s arms pulled them even closer. He felt his heart flutter as the two small children leaned into him.
“Where to begin?” Murdoch murmured, wondering where to begin the story he was making up as he went.
The little boy looked up at his grandfather and said in a small but serious voice, “At the beginin’. Everyone knows that.”
“You’re absolutely right, Juan. Always start at the beginning,” Murdoch agreed with a laugh.
“But which beginning?” he thought.
Murdoch sighed. Which beginning, indeed? The beginning where he had come from Scotland to start a new life or the beginning where he met and married Catherine or the beginning where he met and married Maria. There was also the beginning where he had spent years searching for…. No, he knew exactly where to start.
“So,” he began again, “The father of the two brothers was the King. The King loved his two sons very much even though neither of his sons grew up in…Camelot.”
“Why not?” Juan interrupted this time.
Murdoch almost didn’t stop to answer. He knew from experience that when this little boy started with questions, they never ended.
“Well, sadly, the two brothers were taken away, stolen, from the kingdom when they were babies.
“The elder brother, Scott, was taken away by his Grandfather and grew up in a land far to the east of the kingdom.
“The younger brother, Johnny, was taken away by his mother. He grew up in a land far to the south.
“For many, many years the King longed for the return of his sons.
“While the King waited for his sons to return to him, he started to build his kingdom. It was a vast kingdom with beautiful mountains and streams and lakes. The grass in the kingdom was the greenest green. The sky the bluest blue. Large herds of cattle and wild horses roamed the land.
“The only thing missing from the kingdom were the two boys. The King had built his empire for them. His only wish was for them to come home and claim their birthright.”
“Was the King sad, Grandpa?” Cathy asked picking up on the sadness in her Grandpa’s voice.
Murdoch smiled down at the little girl.
“Yes, Cathy. The King was very sad. You see, the King knew where his oldest son lived. He was safe in the land far to the east. It was the youngest son that the King worried about. The King didn’t know exactly where he was and he was afraid for the young boy.”
Murdoch looked down to see the expression on Juan’s face. The little boy was so much like his father. A multitude of emotions crossed the young face at one time. He remembered when Johnny would say, “Tell me a story, Papa. Tell me a story.” Johnny’s facial expressions had been much the same as Juan’s were now.
“What happened next, Grandpa? Did the King find his little boy?” Cathy asked, wanting to hear more of the story.
“Yes, well…, The King did find his … little boy, but that comes later in the story,” Murdoch continued. He cleared his throat again.
“Let’s see….as I was saying, the King built his kingdom and wished for his sons to return.”
“You already say that.” Juan looked up at his abuelo with a frown. “Don’t you ‘member?”
“Yes, Juan, I remember,” Murdoch laughed.
“So, what happen’ next?” Juan demanded.
“Impatient, just like your father,” Murdoch shook his head.
Murdoch continued his story, “Everything in the kingdom was quiet and peaceful for many, many years. The King continued to build his vast empire and waited for the day when his sons would come home.
“One day a Black Knight came into the kingdom.”
He felt Juan tense up next to him. The child was captivated by the story.
“The Black Knight was very evil. As your Papa might say, Juan, he was a lowdown, dirty varmint,” Murdoch said and watched the little boy’s eyes light up at the mention of his father.
“The Black Knight made it known that he wanted to take over the kingdom. The Black Knight’s name was Day Pardee. Pardee burned fields, ran off cattle and horses, and hurt the people of the kingdom. He tried everything to conquer the kingdom and take it away from the King.”
“He didn’t get it, did he, Abuelo?” Juan asked with a worried look on his face.
Murdoch smiled. “No,” he reassured the little boy.
He watched as Juan relaxed and blew out the breath he’d been holding.
“Finally, the day came when the King sent forth his….,” Murdoch thought for a second, “messengers. The messengers were called Pinkerton agents. One messenger was sent to find Scott, far to the east and the other went to find Johnny, far to the south.
“The messengers found the two brothers and offered them $1000 each. There was one condition though. To get the money, the brothers had to come to visit the King and spend one hour with him. You see the King hoped… no, he prayed that he could persuade the two brothers, in that one hour, to stay and help him fight for the kingdom. He desperately wanted them to stay with him in the kingdom and call it home.”
“Did they come, Abuelo? Did they?” Juan bounced up and down.
“Yes, Juan. The two brothers came,” Murdoch answered while holding the boy down.
“Was the King’s littlest boy a pistolero like my Papa?” Juan asked.
Murdoch hesitated. How in the world did the child know of pistoleros? Surely, Johnny would never talk about Madrid in front of the boy. He decided to talk to his youngest son about it later.
“Yes, Juan, the Kings’ youngest son was a pistolero. A very famous pistolero. The two brothers came home and listened to the King. He gave them the money just like he promised.
“And as he had hoped, the two brothers fought the Black Knight. It was a fierce battle, but finally, the Black Knight and his men were defeated by the King and his sons. The Black Knight was killed and what was left of the Black Knight’s men ran away.”
“Yippee,” the little boy clapped his hands.
Cathy smiled at her cousin’s antics.
“Yes, Juan, I think yippee is the exact word I would use.” Murdoch couldn’t help but laugh at the animation the boy was showing.
“Did they stay, Abuelo? Did the brothers stay with the King?” Juan asked. It looked like he was holding his breath again, waiting for the answer.
“The older brother, Scott, wanted to stay right from the beginning. However, it took a whole lot longer to convince the younger brother to stay but, stay he did.
“Yes, both brothers stayed with the King, and they became a family.
“The King and the two brothers had many adventures in the years that followed. The two brothers fell in love with two beautiful women, and they had even more beautiful children.
“And they all lived happily ever after.
Murdoch looked down at the two small smiling faces.
The front door opened. The sound of laughter and jingling spurs filled the room.
“Anyone home?” Johnny called out as he hung his hat and gun belt on the rake near the front door.
The two children scrambled out of Murdoch’s chair and ran to their fathers.
“Father,” Cathy squealed as she barreled toward Scott, who barely had time to get his gun belt hung up.
“Papa, Papa,” Juan screamed, lunging for Johnny.
Johnny picked up his son, with both hands, and tossed him in the air. The little boy giggled with glee as Johnny caught him and hugged him to his chest.
Scott lifted Cathy into his arms, smiling as she put her arms tightly around his neck.
“We thought we heard someone come home,” Teresa said as she came down the stairs holding her and Johnny’s baby daughter, Maria. Beside her was Scott’s wife, Margaret, holding their newborn son, Garrett.
Scott and Johnny put the two older children down.
“What’s all the excitement?” Teresa asked as she moved into the room and to Johnny’s side. He leaned over and kissed her and stroked baby Maria’s cheek.
“Aunt Teresa, Grandpa, was just telling us a story about how Father and Uncle Johnny saved Lancer and defeated the Black Knight,” the little girl spoke so fast that Scott almost missed most of it.
Murdoch pushed himself up from his chair. Both of his sons gave him a questioning look.
Juan looked at Cathy, putting his hands on his hips. “Cathy, Abuelo don’t say nuthin’ about Lancer. Him talkin’ ‘bout Camelot.”
“Children!” Cathy looked at her little cousin and shook her head. “Juan, you don’t know nothin’!”
Scott looked at his daughter. “Catherine Grace, you shouldn’t talk to your cousin like that, and it’s ‘you don’t know anything, not nothin’.”
“But Father, Uncle Johnny…,” the little girl started to say her Uncle said nothin’ all the time, but the look in her Father’s eyes cut her off.
Juan’s eyes narrowed. He gave his cousin a miniature version of the Madrid glare.
“I know bunches of stuffs. I know what Abuelo say. Him talkin’ ‘bout Camelot, like the story Tio Scott tells.”
“But, the story was really about Lancer.” Cathy turned to look at Murdoch. “Wasn’t it, Grandpa? You just made it into a story that Juan could understand, isn’t that right?”
Murdoch smiled. “That girl is smart as a whip,” he thought.
Juan looked at Murdoch with a frown. “Abuelo, that story really ‘bout Lancer?”
“Of course, it was,” Cathy answered before Murdoch could say anything. “You see Juan; Lancer is like Camelot and Grandpa is the King. Father and Uncle Johnny were the two brothers, the knights, that came to save the kingdom and defeat the Black Knight.”
“Black Knight?” Johnny asked with a grin. He couldn’t take his eyes off of his son still standing in front of him glaring at his cousin.
Juan put his hands on his hips again and looked up at his father, lifting his chin proudly, “Si, Papa. The evil knight was Day Pardee. You kilt that lowdown, dirty varmint, didn’t you, Papa?”
Scott cleared his throat and stifled a laugh.
Teresa hid the smile on her face as she looked at Johnny, wondering how he was going to deal with his four-year-old son.
Johnny looked at Murdoch and then back to his son. He scratched the back of his head. He had never lied to the boy, and he didn’t plan on starting now.
Johnny knelt on one knee in front of his son, “Juan, yes, we killed Pardee. It isn’t something we’re proud of but, it was something that had to be done to keep Abuelo, Mama, and Lancer safe.”
Juan grinned and threw his arms around Johnny’s neck.
“Do you understand, Nino,” Johnny asked relishing the arms around his neck.
“Si, Papa.” The little boy nodded as he buried his face in his father’s neck. “Papa, I so….so happy you and Tio Scott come home and saved Abuelo and the kingdom. I luv you, Papa.”
“I love you too, hijo,” Johnny said wrapping his arms around his son.
Juan pulled back and looked at Johnny. “Papa, can we stay with Abuelo forever and ever? You and me and Mama and baby Maria. Can we?”
Johnny looked up at his brother and saw the grin on Scott’s face.
“Si, hijo, we can stay here, forever and ever.”
“I promise, hijo and you know I never break a promise,” Johnny replied holding the small body close to him.
Johnny stood up, and Juan pulled away from him.
Juan looked around the room and hurriedly walked over to Murdoch. He reached up and took a small handful of Murdoch’s pants leg and tugged.
Once he knew for sure had Murdoch’s attention Juan craned his neck up and said, “Abuela, Papa says we can stay here forever and ever. Can Tio Scott and Tia Maggie and little Garrett to stay, too?”
He looked at Cathy with a frown and then thought for a second before looking back up at his grandfather. “Cathy can stay, too,” he huffed, “I guess.”
Murdoch looked at the little boy and shook his head, “That’s very generous of you, young man.”
Murdoch laughed as he watched the little dark-haired boy nod his head in agreement.
“Juan, Lancer is your home. Neither you or Cathy or anyone else will ever have to worry. Everyone is going to stay right here for as long as they want,” Murdoch answered his grandson’s question.
Cathy walked over to stand in front of Scott. She looked up at him with a hopeful look on her face.
“Father, Lancer, really is just like Camelot, isn’t it? Lancer is the beautiful kingdom Grandpa described and Grandpa is the King. You and Uncle Johnny… well, you’re the knights that protect it, and us. Isn’t that right?”
She looked at Johnny and then at Murdoch. “Isn’t that right? Lancer is like a kingdom, our kingdom.”
Margaret moved to stand beside Scott. Scott put an arm around her waist and leaned over to kiss the baby’s forehead.
Johnny picked Juan up as Teresa put an arm around her husband’s waist. A proud father watched as the dark-haired baby Teresa was holding yawned and went back to sleep.
Murdoch looked at his family. He was contented. All the years they had missed being together seemed to have melted away. What they had left was now and the future.
Murdoch turned his attention to his oldest grandchild and nodded, “Yes, Catherine Grace, Lancer is our kingdom and your birthright. Lancer will always be here for you and all the generations to come.”
“It was a good story, Grandpa,” Cathy sighed. “I didn’t want it to end.”
Scott and Johnny looked at each other and then at Murdoch.
Scott spoke up, “It really hasn’t ended… has it, Sir?”
Murdoch shook his head. “No, son. The story really hasn’t ended. In many ways, it’s just beginning.”
“I don’t understand, Grandpa.” Cathy looked at Murdoch with a wrinkled brow.
“Sweetheart,” Murdoch sat back down in his leather chair, “our lives are very much like a storybook, with many, many chapters and just as many beginnings and endings. Where one chapter ends, another begins.
“The book opens when we’re born. The chapters in the book tell the story, our story. Finally, when the last page is read, and the final scene is played out, the book is closed.
“If we’re lucky…, very lucky, someone, will come along someday, pick up the book, remember the story and tell it again.
“Each generation either adds chapters to the book or starts a new volume. In that way, the story is never-ending.
“Someday, it will be you and Juan, sitting in this room telling the story of Lancer to your grandchildren. The story of how…,” Murdoch looked at Scott and Johnny and nodded, “of how two brothers, like knights in shining armor, came to save the kingdom. Lancer will live on through you.”
Juan struggled to get out of Johnny’s arms. “Down, Papa. Down.”
Johnny lowered his son to the floor. Juan ran to Murdoch and crawled into the chair next to him. “You no worry, Abuelo. We tell the story. Won’t we, Cathy?” He wrapped his small arms around Murdoch’s neck and hugged it tightly. “I luv you, Abuelo.”
“That’s right, Juan,” Cathy said as she took her place on the other side of Murdoch. “We’ll tell the story.” She hugged Murdoch, “I love you too, Grandpa.”
Johnny felt a tug at his heart. He had a family he loved, and that loved each other. He had a future now, and a story he knew wouldn’t be forgotten.
“You’re right, querida,” Johnny said. “It’s a good story, and it’s worth telling again and again. It doesn’t matter if it’s 50 years or a hundred. As long as our story is told and retold, Lancer’s never gonna’ be forgotten.”
Scott looked at his brother knowing what he said was true. Each of them had chapters in their lives that were yet to be told.
Johnny moved across the room and knelt next to Murdoch’s chair, “Now, how did that story begin?”
Juan looked at his father and shook his head. He sighed, “Growed-ups sure had a hard time ‘membering stuff.”.
In a knowing voice, Juan patiently said, “Papa, ‘member, it begin’ – Once …upon… a… time…”
Lancer Lives On – 50 years and counting
~ end ~
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Once Upon A Time
Once Upon A Time
Once Upon A Time: Epilogue
2 thoughts on “Once Upon A Time by SandySha”
I love this beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it.
Wonderful series. I love seeing the family grow and learn The Story.