Word count 1,492
My first Lancer story. I hope you enjoy it. Written in response to the October Challenge for Lancer Writers – ‘Things Mother Told Me’. An episode Tag for Chase a Wild Horse.
Murdoch was worried about his younger son.
After everything that had happened with the Stryker family and Wes’s death, Johnny seemed too quiet and distant.
The boy did his chores, joined the family at meals, but was too quiet and too punctual. Neither Scott nor Teresa could interrupt his self-distancing.
Yes, Murdoch was worried that Johnny could leave the ranch and go back to his old life, the life of a gunfighter.
The father knew that he needed to settle things with him as quickly as possible, but finding the right way and words was difficult.
The rare times he tried to speak with Johnny, it always ended with raised voices and the inevitable slamming of doors.
At breakfast, Murdoch had a plan.
“Johnny, today, I have a job for you to do with me.”
“Murdoch, yesterday I began mending fences on the North pasture, that needs finishing.”
“It doesn’t matter. Clay can do that. I want you to come with me. I’ll wait for you in the barn.”
After meeting Murdoch in the barn, the two men headed out. Johnny wasn’t happy at all and rode tense and silent, behind his father.
Murdoch was nervous about today. This was going to be his last attempt at keeping his youngest son with him. He didn’t know what else to do and hoped what he said would make a difference.
They rode for almost two hours before Murdoch stopped and dismounted in a large, green clearing overlooking a valley. Johnny stopped beside him and dismounted. It was a breathtaking sight.
“Wowee nice view, but what are we doing here? What kind of work you need done up here? There is nothing …”
“You could earn your listening money,” Murdoch raised a hand to stop any grievance and continued, “and I am aware that you have never listened to me because I never had the courage to speak with you. “
Johnny looked at his father as if he was losing his mind. He opened his mouth, but Murdoch quickly cut him off, “I thought it would be if better if we talked outside the hacienda, too many ghosts there and… please let me finish before you choose what you want to say or do. Alright?”
“I have the distinct feeling that you’re thinking about leaving. I want you to know I want you here with Scott and me.
“I know you think I don’t want you here, but you’re wrong. I’m harsh with you and that’s true, but son, you have to understand that you are a mystery for me.
“I can’t understand you because I can’t imagine your past life, the way you grow up, or the choices you made. All these facts make understanding you very difficult for me.”
Johnny gave him a strange look. He only wanted to mount Barranca and run as far as possible from the stranger in front of him. At the same time, he was fascinated by the father he never knew.
Murdoch encouraged by the silence of the listener, continued, “Son, I always had a family in Scotland. One I loved and I knew loved me. I also had friends I left behind. Despite it being a dangerous journey during the voyage to America, I knew they wished me well.
“It wasn’t long before I made new and good friends in this country. In Boston, I met Catherine and we married. On the way to California, we were rarely alone. The first years here, I had Catherine by my side. When I lost Catherine and then your mother, I thought I wouldn’t survive, but I wasn’t alone, never, ever alone.”
Johnny tried again to intervene, but Murdoch quickly went on. “You…. you have spent all your life alone, growing up without guidance or many basic values most boys have while growing up. So, as I said before, it’s hard for me to understand how you see life.”
Johnny was without words, even thinking was difficult; he couldn’t believe his father could be so perceptive.
“Johnny, I feel that you want to leave, so let me ask a question. Why? Do you miss your life as a gunfighter – the danger, the violence, the killing? Or do you think you are losing your freedom? Please, Son, can you give me an answer?”
Johnny was petrified. He knew that his father deserved an answer because he put all his soul in the longest speech Johnny had ever heard.
“Losing my freedom? I’ve never been free.”
Turning his back, he couldn’t face the man. Hesitantly he started to speak, hoping he could explain it well enough so his father could understand.
“When I was young, and you’re right, I was alone. I saw how the border pistoleros lived and I thought it would be a great life. They all had money, nice horses, respect, and they inspired fear. They were free to do what they wanted and no one messed with them.”
Turning back to look at Murdoch, he continued, “It took a while to see the truth. Being a pistolero wasn’t being free. I found myself in a cage with only one way out; to die. I didn’t like it, but that’s the way it was. When I came to Lancer, I thought I’d finally found a way to be free. In a way, I guess I was.
“But to answer your question, now I feel the same, trapped. You have so many rules, so much to do at a specific time, so many… boring jobs. I feel like I’m locked in your fences without a way out. Sometimes, it gets to be too much and I feel like I can’t breathe.
“It’s times like that I want to get on Barranca and ride… ride anywhere that I don’t know what’s over the next hill.”
He looked at Murdoch, expecting to see anger and disappointment; instead, he found a slight smile.
“Did I say something funny?”
“Ohh, no Johnny, sorry, but, first they are our fences, don’t forget that, and second do you know how big a 100,000 acres ranch is? You know it would take a lot of time to discover all the land between those fences and all the hidden places we have. You heard me, son, I said we have!
“And as I said before, there are more horses on Lancer than you can catch and break in a lifetime. If that’s what you want to do, I won’t stand in your way. Of course, the cattle come first and all the other jobs that go into making a ranch work, including doing the books.”
He could see a small smile light up Johnny’s face as the boy thought of his words. “Johnny, there’s something else I want to say. I remember a phrase my father used to use when I started talking about my freedom and America.”
“My abuelo? What’d he say?”
“He said that those who demand freedom often don’t know what to do with it.”
Thinking hard, Johnny finally asked, “What’s that mean?”
Looking amused at Johnny’s astonished and incredulous face, and without losing more time, Murdoch mounted his horse and reined his horse around.
“Hey, where are we going now?” Johnny yelled, running after him.
“Down there.” Murdoch nodded to the valley below. “I thought you’d like to catch a stallion to start breeding the horses you’ve been talking about.” Murdoch pointed to the base of Black Mesa. “Look for yourself!”
Johnny watched as hundreds of wild horses ran free in the green valley. For a few moments, he couldn’t move, only watch the incredible view.
“Go, Johnny. Go,” Murdoch encouraged him.
Johnny grabbed his saddle horn and swung onto Barranca’s back. He started to ride away, but suddenly stopped and looked back.
With a dotting smile and sparkling eyes, he called out, “Hey, Murdoch, why don’t you come with me?”
Lost for words, Murdoch kicked his horse’s sides, following his youngest son down the slope into the valley. All he could think of was the little blue-eyed boy he’d lost and the man he’d become.
He’d give the boy his freedom, well as much as he could. He was sure Johnny would figure out what his grandfather meant. Johnny was finding out what he himself had discovered all those years ago when he first set foot on Lancer, what it meant to be free, really free.
Having your freedom and knowing what to do with it were two different things. You can have all the freedom in the world, but without a goal, without ties and without love, it is of no great value.
Murdoch Lancer built an empire with his freedom. He could only imagine what his youngest son would do with his.
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