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The Choice Made by Southernfrau

Sadly, Southernfrau is no longer with us. Her stories are archived here for her friends to remember her by. Enjoy her legacy to Lancer.

Word count 895

An episode tag for High Riders

Answer to Carole’s Challenge Picture from GOGIII
Disclaimer: This is to qualify the criteria of repudiation of personal ownership and denial of profit acquired due to use of said copyright property…in other words, Hell no, I don’t own the Lancers and I didn’t make one damn dime writing this.
Author’s Note: Thanks to my writing partner and bossy second Ma for the quick beta and excellent suggestions and tweaks.
Author’s Note 2:  It’s amazing the things that occupy your mind and inspire you to write when you’re hand washing old china.  


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~

The sun beat down on the grave yard; the cicadas in the sunny top branches of the lone oak tree increasing the volume of their song, drowning out the footsteps of the cowboy slowly approaching one of the newer graves, one far apart from the others and marked with an unpretentious wooden cross. Kneeling at the simple monument, the youth removed his hat, swiping at the sweat that trickled down his brow with his shirt sleeve.

Reverently, Johnny Madrid’s head bowed; and even the golden horse, whose reins he held, hunched his head.  The young man was silent for a time, the pink tip of his tongue slowly emerging to wet his dry lips before finally speaking.  The words came softly; almost a whisper.

“Guess you’re surprised I’m here.  I can almost hear your voice, all cocky and suspicious like it was all those weeks ago: ‘Long time, Johnny Madrid.’ ”  He couldn’t stop the sigh.  “I almost ran out of time; and that’s the truth of it.  One of y’all got me in the back when I was ridin’ Hell bent for home.”

“I know it was stupid, turnin’ my back on you.  That’s one of the first things you taught me when we first hooked up.  But this time I had something more important I was runnin’ to.  And, yep, that’s what I was doin’, hombre ; runnin’ to something, not from you or your high riders.  You see, I had more to lose inside of that fence than outside.”

“Ya know, I never meant anything more in my life than when I said you were on my land and I wanted you off.  My land.”  The significance of those words caused his heart to beat even faster; his head dipping lower until his chin was resting against his chest, and he took a deep breath.  “Funny thing is, when I told you that, it hit me; hard, really hard.   I knew right then, more than protectin’ my land, what I really needed was to protect my family.

“Me and you, we go back a ways.  Can’t say we were good friends, we mostly just tolerated each other; kinda dancin’ around with a healthy respect of one another’s skill, not sayin’ it, but knowin’ how good we were at the trade, maybe even wonderin’ which one of us was…”  Stubbornly, he shook the thought away; clearing his throat.  “All I can tell you is, that day when I looked down on that big ol’ hacienda , suddenly I knew it was where I wanted and needed to be, the one place where maybe I could finally find some peace; because no matter what I had been, my Old Man said he was willin’ to let the past go.  Whether anyone else on that hill heard it or not, I knew I was bein’ called home… home to family and security.”  A wry smile touched his lips as an all too familiar twinge of pain reminded him he wasn’t entirely healed.

“Not that you made it easy for me.  Kind of looked like the dream had ended before it really began when that slug ripped through my back and threw me on the very ground I was fightin’ to keep.  But you know, layin’ there, feelin’ that land suckin’ the life right outta me, I knew without a doubt I’d made the right choice in sidin’ with family… with blood.”  The smile bloomed into a lop-sided grin.  “You see, that dapper lookin’ guy that came barrelin’ to my rescue, standin’ right over me, that was my older brother, Scott.  He’s the one that finished you off.  He’s a hell of a shot and a good man.  Proved right then and there he would always have my back.”  There was a chuffing sound as he chuckled.  “It’s in some big brother book of rules he kept tellin’ me about while I was recoverin’.”

He raised his head slightly, a barely conceivable nod indicating a place behind him.  “He’s sittin’ up on the hill now, watchin’ me; makin’ sure I’m all right.  Him and the old man are kind of protective of me these days and I’m findin’ I kinda like that.  In a way, you gave that to me, because you made me make a choice.  It’s a choice I can definitely live with.”  Reaching out, he touched the wooden cross; caressing it briefly with his fingertips, something final in his touch.  “Time to go.  Scott’s not goin’ to wait any longer; in fact he’s already on the way down here.”  His voice lowered.  “Bye, Day.”  

The palomino shifted, his hooves kicking up dry dirt; nostrils flaring as he blew out a sweet hay and oats breath.  He neighed out a greeting which was answered by the approaching horse.

Standing, Johnny Lancer turned towards the distant mountains and the setting sun.  The golden rays of the descending sun glowed on his face, still slightly pale from his convalescence.  Without hesitation, he moved forward, his steps quickening when his brother dismounted and started towards him.  The two converged, Scott wrapping a strong arm about his little brother’s shoulders.

“We’d just about given up on you, boy,” he stated, though his tight embrace denied that would ever happen.

The cicadas ceased their singing just as the soft sighs of contentment issued by the brothers floated heavenward on the evening breeze.    

~ end ~
June 2011

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