Emilia by Olley

Word Count 16,472

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Set 2 years after High Riders. Johnny has just turned 21 Scott is 26.

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Chapter 1

Murdoch Lancer was startled from his bookkeeping by the sudden arrival through the French doors of a small figure. His first thought was an Indian, an Indian!

There were a few Indians local to this part of the San Joaquin, but this was not a local one. This youngster had the look of hard travelling.

A large wide brimmed hat pulled low, hid the face and a cloud of dust motes dancing around the figure gave it an un-earthly otherworldly appearance.

The slight figure approached his desk, drawing out from a shirt pocket a letter. Murdoch sat still. He instinctively knew that his usual loud bluff manner was not needed in this situation.

The figure spoke in Spanish, “Read.  You must come, there is little time, read,” the voice low and gruff with tiredness and desperation.

The figure stepped back from the desk, head tilted towards the French doors but moved sideways with a quick glance towards the main door. Alert, listening, “Read, there is little time.”

Murdoch took the letter and addressed to him, puzzled and curious but not sensing danger. He opened the letter and read, his heart skipped a beat and his life changed.

The figure spoke again with urgency, “You will come now.” Not a question, a demand.

As the front door swung open, the figure was already moving towards the French door. Johnny appeared through those very doors, crouched low, gun drawn as Scott came in through the front door, his gun also drawn.

The youngster stopped as still as a cat watching a mouse, even as Johnny took a step into the room.

“Johnny. Scott, no need for guns.”

Johnny kept his gun levelled at the figure. “Saw a hard ridden pony half-hidden behind the barn.  Who is this Murdoch?”

At that, he stepped forward, holstering his colt until he was immediately in front of the figure and quickly tipped the hat from its head.

Raven black hair escaping from a long braid falling down was a surprise, but it wasn’t the fact this was a young girl; it was the deep sapphire blue eyes reflecting back at him that took his breath. “Dios Murdoch, who is she?”

The knife that appeared pricking at his belly came from nowhere. He looked down. It was a large hunting knife, the hand holding it, although small, was not trembling.

“Whoa.”  He held his arms out in surrender as he looked into the face of the girl.  Under the grime, she was mixed like him with high cheekbones and he saw in her, his past.

She spoke, holding his eyes, “It’s you, he found you. The lost prince.” At that, her eyes rolled back and the knife fell to the floor as she passed out.

Johnny caught her as she fell forward into him. Scott stepped closer to look at her.

“She’s a child.  Who is she, Murdoch?  What does she want?”

Murdoch rose from his desk and stood over Johnny and gently moved the girl’s hair and ran a thumb down her face tracing the outline.

“Her name is Emilia Louisa,” he paused and looked at Johnny, “Valquez Orteza. Her mother is very ill and wants to see me.”

Johnny was holding the girl close to his chest. “She a relative on mine ole man?”

Murdoch let out a breath. “Please take her to a guest room, son. I’ll get Maria to take care of her and then we will talk.”

Scott nudged Johnny tipping his head towards the stairs, silently telling his brother to please do this.

By the time Murdoch had spoken to Maria and Johnny was back down, Scott had poured drinks, Scotch for Murdoch and himself and tequila for Johnny.

Johnny ignored his drink, his fingers tapped against his leg as he paced in front of the desk, spurs jangled in the silence.

Murdoch sat behind the desk, drowned his drink, and rubbed his hands through his hair. He held the letter out.

“This is from Louisa Estella Valquez Orteza.  She’s a cousin of your mother, Johnny. When you would have been five years old, I was sent word you and your mother were in Morales. I left immediately, leaving Paul O’Brien and Cipriano in charge of the ranch.”

“Dios Murdoch, you crossed the border and went into those badlands. A gringo going into Carlos Estovez territory.  Were you crazy?” Johnny stopped his pacing and stared at his father.

“Yes, son, crazy to get you back and ask your mother why she’d taken you and left, and it damn near killed me. I ran into Estovez and his men, he laughed and boasted of having Maria and you under his protection.”

Johnny cursed in Spanish and kicked the desk in anger, memories of that part of his childhood buried, never to be spoken of.

Murdoch was watching Johnny.

“They beat me and when I came to, I was in the desert, no horse, no water, no hat, no boots. I would have died except I was found just in time by Louisa and her father, Juan Vittorio. She nursed me back to life. She and her father were hiding out from Estovez and his Comancheros in a small village.”

Johnny picked up his drink and looked over at Scott. “Ugly place, ugly people. You know what Estovez would do to his enemies or even just for fun to intimidate the peons? He would take a family and make the father choose just one member, the others he would kill just like that.” Johnny made a chopping motion with his left hand and drowned his drink.

Scott looked at his brother and father, the pain from those long-ago years still raw.

He topped up the drinks, Murdoch sipped his. “This letter is telling me Louisa is dying.  She tells me this girl, her daughter, is mine.”

Scott coughed on his drink, “Yours. You’re her father?”

Murdoch nodded but kept his eyes on Johnny. How would his young son react? For a notorious gun hawk, the boy had a heart that was too easily hurt.

Johnny turned to Madrid to keep his emotions under control. “Knew it, soon as I saw her eyes. You couldn’t find Mama an’ me, so took the next best thing.”

“No, son, believe me, it wasn’t like that. I was in such a bad place and Louisa was kind and understanding. She knew I loved Maria and you, but …. I, we, it shouldn’t have happened. She deserved better and when I left ready to continue my search for you, I wasn’t aware she was with child. I am not sure what to say to you, either of you.  I am a man and not perfect. I have made many mistakes in my life, but I will not call a child a mistake. I believe that girl is mine and she is here asking me to visit her mother. But there is more.”

Scott looked up. “We find we have a sister, you a daughter you knew nothing about, and there is more.”

Murdoch nodded and finished his drink. “Johnny, please son, stay put, I want you to promise not to go riding off being a one-man army. You are not in any way to take the blame.  I need your word on this.”

Johnny blinked and put his anger to one side to really look at Murdoch. His father had aged, the strong, unbending man had a look about him that spoke of if not fear but worry, real strong worry.  “‘Kay.”

“Louisa is in a village just over the border too ill to travel, afraid she will die before I get to see her. She wants me to take the girl and keep her safe. But not just her, you as well, Johnny. Estovez has re-emerged. He has heard that Johnny Madrid was not executed by that firing squad but is alive. That Maria Lancers’ son is back home with his father. It seems he is putting a gang back together to come here to kill me and you and to take back Emilia.”

“Madre Dios Murdoch, it was his brother Bernardo Estovez who killed Mama and I killed him. Hell, once I was good at the trade, I went out’ta my way to pick fights with his men or take sides against him. I damn near killed him one time, but he turned tail and ran off to Mexico City. Hoped that son of a bitch was long gone. How can I not be responsible? I can’t let him near here. I won’t.”

Murdoch stood and crashed his fist down on the desk. “You gave your word Johnny and it’s not just you. It’s me. I escaped from him and from what this letter says, so has that girl upstairs. He and his gang held her and Louisa. He’s crazy Johnny, a cold-hearted murder. This is not just your fight. We are Lancers and Lancers look after their own.”

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Chapter 2

Johnny listened to Murdoch and Scott deciding on tactics and safeguards. Cipriano to be informed he had family in Mexico who would send word if they heard of Estovez moving northwards. Val Crawford to be told of the possibility of trouble heading to San Joaquin so he could contact the other lawmen in the valley. Murdoch said he would contact the members of the Cattlemen’s Association and wire contacts in Sacramento he would be discrete about the private family details, but if Carlos Estovez did get to California, it would be bloodier than the days of Day Pardee.

Johnny had nodded and agreed with them both and kept his true thoughts to himself because when it came right down to it he would be there to end the threat to his family.

That night he went out to the barn to check on the pony the girl had ridden hard to get to Lancer. It was a good sound, honest pony but not ready for another hard ride any day soon. He patted its neck and spoke softly as he led it out to the home pasture and then slapped it on the rump.

“You deserve a nice rest brave pony.” He found a halter and picked out a pinto from the remuda and put it in the stall next to Barranca. The girls’ saddle and bridle lay on the ground at the stall gate. “Well, Barranca, when she takes off, it will be on a healthy cow pony that won’t drop dead on her and be easy to track.” Barranca snorted and pushed his nose into Johnny as his ears were rubbed in just the right way. “You’re a good fella. You let me know when she leaves.”

That night Johnny looked in the room Emilia had been settled in. Maria had undressed and cleaned her, she looked so young about 15 years old. Johnny felt sick to his stomach knowing she had been under the control of Estovez. When he and his Mama had been his prisoners, it was on the Estancia de la Morales. Estovez had killed Don Louis Morales and all his family and installed himself and his Comancheros there as the base for terrorising the towns and villages for miles around. It was a terrible time every single day being afraid for his Mama and she for him.

Johnny looked down at the sleeping girl and knew in that moment he would fight to the death for her. She was his sister, his kin and they shared more than blood they were true kindred spirits. He closed the door of her room, taking a small pebble from his pocket to put it under the door. It would make a small scraping noise if the door opened.

He left his own door slightly open, kicked off his boots, and lay on the bed fully dressed. All his instincts told him she would go back to her mother. She would not stay with strangers even if she had been told of them, she would go to her mother to be with her just as he had done as a boy.

It was pre-dawn when he heard the door and the footsteps. He didn’t try to stop her. He tugged on his boots and watched at the window as she ran to the barn. He heard Barranca whinny and smiled, “Good fella.” He went into the corridor and shouted, “Scott Murdoch wake up she’s running.” He knocked on their doors and put his head around Scott’s, “Scott, she’s taking a pony and leaving. I’ll saddle ours get Murdoch moving.”

Scott was up and getting dressed in a sleep haze as he heard Murdoch moving around.

By daybreak, Johnny had found her trail the Lancer notch in the shoe of the pony she was riding easy to spot. He reined Barranca up. She was riding hard he could have caught up to her but held back waiting for Murdoch and Scott. They were about an hour behind him, so he would wait. He made a quick camp and had coffee ready for them when they did reach him. The habit of his pistolero years ensuring basic supplied were in his saddlebags coming to good use.

“Johnny where is she?” Murdoch was more concerned than angry.

“On her way back to her Mama, she is on a Lancer cow pony riding fast, so I reckon about ½ day ahead of us. She knows about horses an’ will ease up some ’bout now.”

Scott sipped the hot coffee, “You know this, how?”

“That pony she rode in on, well it had been pushed hard but not to the point of breaking down. Its feet and legs were good. The village where she left her Mama is a good 3 day ride across country, so she ain’t no novice and took care of it as much as she could.”

Scott looked at Murdoch, “Are you going to be okay with this ride, Murdoch?”

“Of course, I’m more concerned about John crossing the border or running into Estovez.”

Johnny looked down and scuffed the dirt with his boot toe; it was still a shock that this own welfare was so important to his father.

“I’m guessing from the letter that my Tia doesn’t think Estovez is ready to be this far north. Leastways I’m hoping that. I’ve not heard anything of him looking for me and I’ve kept my ears open for that for the last 5 years.”

Murdoch and Scott looked at each other so much of Johnny’s life as Madrid still unknown to them and they had both noticed his use of the family description for Louisa.

“I’ll go with your analysis, brother. You are the expert here.” Scott smiled and put his hand on his brothers’ shoulder.

Johnny grinned a lopsided smile, “Not sure about my an-lis, just my gut instincts. Let’s head south.”

It was as Johnny had said, a 3 day ride. On the morning of the third day they had crossed the border, he pulled up and leaned down, studying the tracks, biting his bottom lip.

“What is it, son?” Murdoch rode up next to him.

“She is going hell for leather Murdoch. Not sure if she thinks she is being followed by us or Estovez, but she is riding flat out. I’m going to take off after her. She is heading southwest to the village her Mama is at. Scott can track me easy, but I really do feel I should try to get closer.” Johnny held his hand up. “Now before you start I’ll stay out’ta trouble if I can, but I can’t let her get herself into trouble.”

Murdoch was shaking his head. “I don’t like us splitting up even if Estovez isn’t hereabouts there maybe Rurales and you are wanted by them.”

“Hell, Murdoch I’ve scouted out enough border towns to know what I’m doing. Trust me on this. If there is any danger, I’ll fire 3 shots.” With that he wheeled Barranca round and set off at a fast canter.

Murdoch watched his young son worry and pride in equal measure written on his face. Scott shifted in his saddle. “Are you okay, Sir?  It’s been a hard ride and your back?”

“I’ll manage the ride, Scott, but what of the future? What am I to say to this woman and her daughter. Not able to be a father to you boys and now this?”

“Sir, you will do what is right, I know you to be honourable and as you said, Lancer looks after its own.”

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Chapter Three

Johnny approached the dusty village, not down the main street but quietly around the rear of buildings. It was a poor place, a small mission church, a cantina, a huddle of adobe houses around the village square with its well. There was a livery stable which Johnny approached. He lightly dismounted and slung Barrancas’ reins around a post and patted his neck. He drew his colt but held it loose by his leg, his senses on high alert. He entered the stable through the rear door. There was one horse and two mules and a young boy in the white peon clothes hunched over a saddle with a cloth who hadn’t heard him. Johnny paused that could have been him as a child, he spoke quietly to not cause alarm, “Hola boy.”

The boy turned in surprise, “Senor.”

Johnny smiled and holstered his gun as he walked over to look through the front onto the village square. “I’m here to find a girl and her Mama Senora Orteza. The girl would have ridden in earlier. I mean no harm; I’m here to help.”

The boy studied Johnny. “Si Senor, the Senora is sick she is in the home of Mamacita Ruiz.” The boy joined Johnny at the stable door and pointed to an adobe house across the road. Johnny saw the Lancer pony tied in the shade at the side of the house.

Johnny reached in a pocket and took at some coins. “Here boy, you go fetch that there pony over here and take good care of him. I’ll get my own horse.” Johnny ruffled the boys’ hair. “My horse can be a mite picky, so watch your fingers ’round him. Comprende?”

The boy took the money and smiled, “Si Senor.”

Johnny put Barranca in a stall and told him to be good. He put his saddle bags over his shoulder and went over to the house where his aunt and the girl, not only his half-sister but a cousin of sorts, were to be found. They were his family and needed his help.

An old lady showed him into a small airless room, a figure lying on a bed the girl knelt at the side holding a hand.

“Emilia querida?” Johnny tried to keep his own emotions under control as he looked down at the woman in the bed. Death was so close; he was transported back to seeing his own Mama, the light of life dying in her eyes as he held her.

Louisa Estella Orteza lay still, her long black hair spread over a pillow, her deep chocolate coloured eyes sunk low in her face. Her lips a thin line, an indication of the pain she was in.

He knelt by Emilia, putting his hand over hers.  The woman looked at him, “Juanito, it is you?”

“Si Tia, I chased the girl back here. I promise I will look after her.”

“Ai Maria’s hijo, so like your abuelo.” Louisa reached up with her other hand to touch his cheek.

Johnny fought to keep tears from falling, this dying woman, so like his own Mama, whose life was destroyed by the bandit Estovez. “Murdoch is on his way. You just rest easy.”

Louisa smiled as she closed her eyes to sleep.

Johnny waited to be sure then turned to Emilia. “Girl riding off like that, you could have said and I would’a come with you. I have some laudanum. Does your Mama need any?”

The girl dragged her eyes from her mother. “She is brave about the pain, but she asks for the padre and he will not come.” There were no tears, but her face and eyes betrayed her distress.

Johnny rocked back on his heels and pursed his lips as that old helpless sick feeling washed over him another echo of his childhood. “Murdoch will speak to the padre. Our father is a good man Emilia, tough, but trustworthy.”

Emilia looked into Johnny’s eyes and saw the truth. She nodded and turned back to her mother.

Johnny stepped out and looked across the village square towards the mission. He was tempted to go there and confront the priest, but he knew his anger would get the better of him. He sighed, wishing Murdoch and Scott would get here. He shook his head, “Dios Johnny boy, when did that happen, wanting your father and big brother to fix things?”

Instead of the mission, he went over to the store, a poor thing but the only one in the village. He knew Senora Ruiz in whose home his Tia lay dying wouldn’t accept charity, but he could buy basic supplies to replace those freely given.

He returned with coffee, flour, bacon, beans, and sugar and spoke quietly to the Senora, “Por favor Mamacita I have medicine, laudanum. I can see Senora Louisa is beyond help, but it may ease the pain if it becomes too much to bear.”

Estella Ruiz was elderly and past being afraid of any Rurales or padres. The woman and girl had arrived just over a week ago. The village had watched at first they had been mistaken for Indians, but the girl had looked at her and asked for help as if knowing it would be offered. And now this young man, another mestizo but one to be wary of, an air of danger about him, a pistolero with that low worn gun. He was though respectful of her and gentle and quietly spoken with the sick woman and the girl. She instinctively trusted this young man.

Johnny knelt on the other side of the bed. The girl had her head bent low, her black hair falling forward to hide her features. She was reciting a prayer slowly in Spanish and her mother was silently mouthing the words, her hand clutching at her neck. Johnny realised she was searching for a rosary of perhaps a religious medallion. He reached over his head and removed his chain and medallion of Our Lady of Guadalupe and placed in the woman’s hand.

“Emilia, you should rest, I reckon you haven’t slept much in a long while.”

Emilia looked up, blue eyes matching blue eyes. “No if I do I will not be with her.”

“I’ll watch over you both and wake you if needed, please, Emilia.”

She regarded him and nodded. It was only a few minutes before she was asleep, her head on the bed by her mother’s right hand.

Johnny added a small spoonful of laudanum to a cup of water ready for when it was needed. He took a cloth and dampened it in a bowl of water and wiped the woman’s’ face, all the while speaking softly in a mixture of Spanish and the Indian dialect he knew.

The old senora looked at the scene and made the sign of the cross; death was so close and waiting. She took her rosary from her pocket and muttered her prayers.

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Chapter Four

Murdoch and Scott approached the village in the late afternoon, a small boy greeted them. “Hola Senor’s Lancer?”

Murdoch looked at the peasant boy, long black hair falling into his eyes but a welcoming white smile. “Si Chico.”

“Senor Johnny, he waits for you at the casa of Mamacita Ruiz. I will care for your horses.”

The boy turned and trotted to the stable with the two Lancer men following.

Scott scanned the village, no sign of trouble or anyone for that matter.

The boy took their horses and pointed out the small adobe house they were expected at. An old lady stood in the doorway to greet them. “Senor Lancer, the woman has been waiting for you. There is not much time.”

It was such a small place, hot and stuffy, the curtain separating the bed from the room was pulled open. Johnny kneeling at one side of the bed, turned to look at his father and brother relief showed for a moment then he turned to the woman in the bed.

“Tia, Murdoch is here.”

Murdoch approached as Johnny got to his feet to make room for him at the bedside. Time turned back for him even on her death bed Louisa Orteza had a gentle beauty. As he knelt where his youngest son had been she opened her eyes, slightly unfocused her tongue licked at her dry lips. “Louisa, I’m here.” Johnny passed him a cup with water for him to offer to the woman holding her head up slightly.

She sipped the water laced with a little laudanum and sighed. “Murdoch, I do not have much time. You must make me a promise, to take our daughter to keep her safe from Estovez, he will come for you and your children.”

“Louisa, I promise.  If only I had known.”

“No Murdoch, it wasn’t to be, but now is the time.” She coughed her eyes shut against the pain.

“Mama oh Mama,” the girl on the other side of the bed took her hand and held it against her own breast. “Not yet Mama por favor.”

Emilia looked at Murdoch. “The padre will not give her the last rites. She will go easier if he will come. Can you do that for her?”

Murdoch frowned as he looked from Emilia to Johnny. Johnny shook his head, “Seems like the local padre disapproves of an unmarried mother and her mestizo child who have lived unchristian lives.” His face was closed down, his eyes dark with anger.

Murdoch understood, his knees creaked as he slowly rose, both sons moved to help him. “I’ll talk to him.”

Murdoch Lancer was a man of his word within the hour he returned with the padre. He owed the debt of his life to Louisa and now the responsibility of a daughter. He knelt by the bed and gently stroked the dying woman’s face, “Louisa, the priest is here, he will marry us so our daughter will be recognised and my dear, when the time comes, will perform the last rites.”

Scott who had remained quiet and in the background let out a small gasp and looked towards Johnny to see what his reaction was. Johnny was kneeling close beside the girl, his eyes on his father. “Johnny, are you okay?”

“Yes, Scott, this is the right thing to do.”

The padre performed a shortened version of the service as Murdoch and Louisa exchanged vows, her voice fading as she moved her head from looking at Murdoch to her daughter. “Emilia, my dulce nino, I am leaving you in the care of your Papa.”

Johnny looked at the padre. “Now say the words.”

The burial in the mission grounds was a subdued affair with no tears from the young girl who simply laid her hand on the mound of earth in a gesture of farewell.

She rose and turned to look at these men who were now to be her family.

Chapter 5

Sam Jenkins sighed with pleasure his visit to Lancer had resulted in a safe delivery of twin boys, and now a drink of Murdoch Lancer’s best sipping Scotch followed by an invitation to dinner. He reported to Murdoch and Scott that his rounds through the three townships of Green River, Spanish Wells, Morro Coyo, and the outlying ranches had been uneventful with only the usual sprains, cracked ribs and broken bones.

Scott handed the drink over. “You look tired Sam, two weeks to cover your rounds plus emergencies it’s taking longer and longer. With our communities growing, perhaps a doctor based in Spanish Wells would be something worth considering. I think you deserve this drink.”

Sam nodded, not wanting to admit his tiredness, so changed the subject, “Tell me how the girl is settling in?” He glanced across to Murdoch, who was sat behind his desk looking down into his drink.

It was Scott who replied. “It’s like having a ghost in the house.”

Sam raised his eyebrows. Murdoch shook his head. “At least with Johnny, he went from being as quiet as a cat watching my every move to exploding with a temper so like his mother. Emilia, though, hardly speaks except to Johnny and Maria and then only in Spanish. I suspect she understands English from the way she watches and reacts, but I’m unsure if she can speak it. Maria tells me she is happy to help with the domestic work and has knowledge of gardening.”

Murdoch moved to sit in his favourite chair and downed his drink. “She is good with horses and spends a lot of time in the barns. Johnny talks to her in that quiet way he uses when gentling a wild horse or injured animal. She responds to him. The other day he found her wearing that blue shirt of his.” Murdoch shook his head, “He scolded her and she laughed and joked with him saying it suited her better. For a few moments, there was a glimpse of the young girl she could be. Then she saw me and that mask came down.”

Scott agreed with his father. “She is almost as good as Johnny for putting on a mask. Her eyes narrow just like his when he turns to Madrid. I don’t know why Sam, but my attempts at friendship and charm are lost on her.”

Sam sipped his drink. “It is very early days Murdoch and from what you have told me, she has had a very difficult childhood. Patience, old friend, not a quality you are famous for but what is required where she is concerned. Tell me where is she at this moment?”

Scott rose and topped up the drinks. “Johnny and Cipriano’s boy Matteo have taken her with them to round up some wild horse for the army contract Johnny is working on.”

Murdoch relaxed back into his chair. “Johnny wouldn’t agree to her going with them if he didn’t trust her horse sense.” He ran his hand through his hair, thinking it’s getting greyer and thinner by the day. If learning how to be a father to Scott and especially Johnny was an emotional journey, he was still travelling knowing how to deal with Emilia was a complete mystery to him. “Sam, I’m at a loss on how to reach her. I wish Teresa was still at home. I seemed to know what to say to her.”

“Now Murdoch, you know Teresa is having a wonderful time at that college in Baltimore. She is an intelligent young lady who deserves the chance you have given her. It has only been 6 months. You cannot ask her to return.” Sam reached over and patted Murdoch’s arm.

Scott had every sympathy with his father. He too, didn’t understand the new arrival into the family. “She seems to believe in some Indian superstition, she has these …..beads and pebbles which she scatters and moves around. Maria says it is old magic for telling the future.”

Murdoch shook his head, “Runes, we called them in Scotland.”

Sam looked from one to the other. “Is there any harm if it gives her some comfort? Does she try to influence anyone else?”

At that moment, Jelly put his head through the French doors. “Boss, Johnny is back with some of those wild horses.”

Johnny and Matteo Ortez, Cipriano’s youngest son, were amigos as well as cousins. They had been toddlers together playing and squabbling over toys, but neither could remember that time. What they had now as young men was a gift with horses, Matteo, though would be the first to admit he wasn’t a true mustanero like Johnny.

They had agreed that Emilia should ride out with them, having recognised her skill and pleasure around horses. Johnny had said it may be a way of her feeling more at home; it still helped him when the pressure of being Murdoch Lancer’s son became a burden he needed to escape from.

The weather was near perfect as the three rode out to black mesa. The plan was to round up half a dozen of the wild horses. Johnny had worked hard to convince Murdoch that having a contract with the army for sound mounts was good Lancer business. Scott had quietly offered advice and support but had kept in the background. This was an opportunity for his younger brother to prove himself to their father.

The riders came to the long meadow and Matteo challenged Johnny to a race. Emilia rode as well as any boy and, without thought, joined in. Her riding style testament to the years spent with the Navajo. Fearless and low over her pony’s neck, she wasn’t left that far behind. Johnny and Matteo turned to watch her fly after them and, without speaking, slowed down to allow her to catch up.

All three were grinning through the dust. “Whoee chica good riding.” Johnny was not surprised she was a good rider, but the delight she obviously had in the ride gave him a thrill to see her happiness. They allowed their mounts to cool down before walking them towards the canyon Matteo had scouted the day before.

The small herd was grazing, the stallion a little apart standing guard. Emilia stood in her stirrups and pointed at a young grey in the main herd. “Oh see Silver Cloud.”

“You want that one chica, then you shall.” Johnny adjusted his hat.

He and Matteo worked as a team. Johnny rode down the stallion, Barranca in tune with the needs of his rider. The lasso fell over the stallions’ neck and Johnny quickly had the rope around his pommel. The stallion wasn’t going to be taken, Johnny would leave him with half the herd to carry on breeding wild horses.

While Johnny and Barranca were busy getting the stallion out of the way, Matteo was cutting out half the herd and he smiled over at Emilia on her pinto who was working on the opposite side. It was she who threw the rope over the grey to claim it as hers.

Murdoch, Scott, and Sam Jenkins stepped out to the courtyard to watch the riders approach with the horses. A couple of the hands had the gate open and waved their hats as the horses raising clouds of dust cantered into the corral.

Johnny and Emilia trotted over to the hacienda and dismounted. “Hey there, Murdoch, what’cha think? They should make good mounts for the army. Me an’ Matteo can start on them tomorrow if that’s okay with you?” Johnny looked up at his father for approval.

Murdoch was aware of how badly his youngest son wanted his horse trading venture to succeed and was prepared to allow him the opportunity. “Good idea Johnny, I’m sure you and Matteo will do a fine job with them.” He stepped forward to get a better look at the horses now milling around the corral. “Aggie Conway is coming over for diner. She’ll try to offer you a deal on any that take her eye. She’s a canny one son you watch out.”

Johnny frowned, his father still refusing to use her married name, “I hope Buck Addison ain’t coming.”

“No son he’s away on a business trip.” Murdoch was sharp in his reply to close down any further conversation. “You two had best get cleaned up before Maria chases you for dragging dust through her clean floor.”

Scott patted Johnny on his back, “I’ll see to Barranca and the pinto.”

Johnny nodded, “Thanks Scott, an’ the pinto is called Milo.”

Emilia stood silent, listening watching.

It was almost six o’clock when Johnny put his head around Emilia’s door “You ’bout ready, chica?”

Emilia was sat at the dressing table, studying herself in the mirror. Maria had left out for her a plain black silk skirt and a soft white traditional white blouse it was gathered at the neckline with a number of thin coloured ribbons that were knotted below her throat, the loose ends falling down in a waterfall of colour. Maria had brushed her hair until it shone and pinned it up loosely with a silver slide. Her hair, instead of scrapped back into a braid, now falling in waves past her shoulders.

Johnny blinked. He spoke to her in English, “Emilia, you look like your Mama and mine, so pretty.”

Emilia smiled at him, speaking in Spanish, “I see Mamacita left out clean clothes for you. We look like true haciendados don’t we?”

Johnny ran his fingers through his hair and nodded and walked over to look out of the window. His finger traced a pattern on the glass, “Em, when you first saw me, you called me the lost prince, you remember?”

Emilia got up to stand by him. “Yes, that is what I thought you were. My Mama used to tell me stories in the quiet of the night when it was just the two of us. She told of how this brave gringo was searching for his lost son. She made it sound so noble.”

Johnny snorted, “My life was never noble.”

Emilia saw Johnny had his head down, his jaw clenched to keep his emotions under control. “Your Mama she never spoke of Murdoch Lancer or your family?”

Johnny shook his head. For six years of his young life, he and his mother had been held by first Carlos Estovez and then his brother Bernardo. His mother turned into a whore by drink and drugs and he having to take beatings and listen to the taunts of how he and his mother had been thrown out by a gringo. “No, my Mama never spoke of the past. She was too busy surviving day to day.”

Emilia reached over to put her hand on his arm, “My Mama was a quiet survivor your Mama, I was told, was a fighter. Estovez had to break her spirit, but it lives on in you, Johnny, I can see it in you.”

Johnny put his head against the glass and felt Emilia hold onto his hand. The girl had a gift for reading him and probably most everyone she came across. Not magic but a skill he had employed to help save his life on more than one occasion.

“Your Mama said I looked like our Abuelo” Johnny turned his head his blue eyes matching hers. He had a deep longing to know his own history, to feel the threads that bound him to a family. His mother not talking of it and Murdoch never saying much of his Scottish background.

Emilia gazed out at the land and smiled, “Our Abuelo came from Spain with a noble man called Don Alfredo Sebastian de Castilla. Our ancestor was his distant cousin and the master of the horses. If war and politics had not damaged Mexico, our family may have been landowners.”

Johnny laughed, “And there I was fighting with the peons against the Dons.”

“And here you are now. It was always your destiny.”

At that moment, Scott knocked and opened the door. A wave of jealousy washed through him when he saw the two stood so close together. Johnny his long lost brother who at first had been so cold and distant. It had taken time, but slowly he had gained his trust and their relationship had strengthened. But this girl, she and Johnny it was there, an immediate connection an unspoken understanding.

“Hey, you two the dinner deadline approaches and we do have company.”

Two sets of blue eyes turned to him. They looked like siblings with their black hair and blue eyes. Maria had set out a white shirt and black trousers for Johnny, so he was dressed to match Emilia. Scott was even more aware of the differences that separated him from them.

Emilia let go of Johnny’s hand and spoke for the first time in English to Scott, “Please, who is this Buck Addison?”

Scott blinked in surprise and raised his eyebrows at Johnny, “He my dear is the husband of our charming neighbour Aggie Conway. He is not our father’s favourite person, so it is best his name is not mentioned over dinner.”

Emilia frowned. She would have to ask Mamacita about this.

Emilia listened to the dinner table conversation. She was aware of being watched and kept her head down. Years of not drawing attention to herself had served her well.

At the end of the meal Aggie spoke up, “I was inspecting those horses you rounded up, Johnny. I particularly like the grey, would you consider a deal on it?”

Emilia’s head came up, her eyes narrowed as she looked from Johnny to Aggie Conway.

Johnny drawled as he played with a spoon, well aware Emilia was watching him. “Well Ma’am, that there grey is Emilia’s. She is gon’na do the gentling before me, or Matteo put a saddle on him.”

Johnny smiled at the group, “Emilia here has the making of a fine vaquero.”

Murdoch frowned. “I’m not sure about this, is it safe.”

“Sure, Murdoch, me an’ Matteo, we trust her and it is a fine horse.” Johnny was challenging his father to allow this.

Emilia took a breath and spoke slowly and quietly in English, “I can talk to this horse. I was taught the skill when I lived with White Wolf and his family.”

Everyone at the table except Johnny was stunned. The girl who, until then, when she did speak used Spanish, her English was halting but clear.

It was Aggie who recovered first. “My dear girl tell me more. I have seen Johnny with horses and know he is a natural mustanero, do you have the same skills?”

Emilia glanced over at Johnny, who had his head down, a slight smile on his lips. He was embarrassed at the compliment.

She shook her head. “I do not know. All I know is what I was taught. That some horses they talk to you and you should listen to them, become as one with them.”

Everyone at the table was quiet, waiting for more.

Johnny reached out across the table to touch his sister’s hand, and spoke softly in Spanish, “You have made a start Em tell your story.”

She held his eyes, knowing some of what she told would be his story as well.

“I was born on the Estancia Morales. It was controlled by Carlos Estovez. It was a place of cruelty and abuse. Mama did her best to keep me safe, but he knew who we were, my eyes could not be hidden from him.” She stopped and looked from Johnny to Murdoch.

“Mama would talk to me in the quiet hours. Tell me of the tall gringo searching for his lost blue eyed son. Tell me of her family, tell me to have the courage to be quiet, to be patient, that one day we would be free. Mama endured and suffered at the hands of Estovez. He is not a man; he has no honour he is…” She paused searching for the English words, “He is inadequate.”

There was an audible gasp from Aggie and the men all looked grim.

She continued, “Estovez needs to bully and intimidate and he uses violence and alcohol and drugs.”

Johnny was clenching his fists under the table, his face stiff to hide his feelings. He glanced at the girl, his sister, and nodded his agreement to her continuing.

Emilia closed her eyes and licked her lips, “Mama waited until she thought I was old enough and strong enough to escape. We waited until the men were celebrating a victory of some kind. They were drinking, so we added drugs and it was then I killed my first man.” Emilia stopped, there was horror on the faces of the adults. “I was 8 years old and I used a knife and I do not regret it; it was necessary to save Mama. We took two horses and then set the stable alight. That I regret, but that too was necessary. Eventually, we reached the lands of the Navajo.”

She looked directly at Murdoch. “Not all Indians are savages. We were taken into the family of the tribe’s shaman White Wolf. His wife had died and he and Mama were good together. We were for a time safe and happy.”

The people around the table waited as the girl gathered her thoughts, “But then the ranchers and settlers came and wanted the land. The tribe were prepared to negotiate, but the army came, the tribe was to be imprisoned, taken from the land that had been their ancestors. The braves fought to keep what was theirs, but there was bloodshed and death.”

“White Wolf said his family would not be taken. We disappeared into the badlands and borders. We heard tell of the young revolutionary Johnny Madrid of how he had cheated death. But then we read the signs of the return of Estovez, of his thirst for revenge.”

Murdoch saw Scott had the same expression of shock that must be on his own face. Emilia, his fifteen-year-old daughter, was so calm in telling her story. There was bravery and intelligence, but an undercurrent of steely resolve so at odds with the quiet young girl sat at the table.

“Emilia, if only I had known of your existence.”

“No, no, it is the past and gone and cannot be changed. I was taught only to learn lessons from the past, not to regret it.”

Scott and Johnny exchanged glances, the echo of their father denying the past at their first meeting springing to mind.

Emilia stood, “I will with your permission, say goodnight.”

Murdoch nodded his consent, “Thank you, Emilia, we can talk more tomorrow.”

Without speaking to his sons or his guests, he went to the drinks cabinet and poured himself a large scotch, his hand shaking downed it in one gulp.

A little later, when reactions had settled, Scott was playing chess against Sam Jenkins with Aggie Conway watching. Johnny had taken a drink of tequila outside and stood leaning against a pillar, watching the stars finding solace in the sounds of the evening.

Murdoch joined him, “Johnny, are you doing alright, son?”

Johnny didn’t look at him his voice so low Murdoch had to move closer. “I figure Mama an’ me got moved out’ta the estancia to work in the borders when you got to close.” Johnny kept his head down, afraid his father would read in his face the shame. “Bernardo Estovez was in charge of us, to keep Mama under control he got her into peyote and booze, used to beat us both. She didn’t choose to be a whore, Murdoch.”

Murdoch stepped forward and put his arms around his youngest son. He felt Johnny stiffen and make to break free. “Son, you must know I love you. I always have and always will. I cannot change the past but believe me, I am not ashamed of you. I admire your courage in overcoming all that pain and cruelty. You needn’t speak of it if you don’t wish to, but I will always listen without judging you.”

Johnny relaxed into his father’s body, trembling with all those long buried memories never to be spoken of. The two held on to each other until the high emotions had been released.

Murdoch took a breath it wasn’t only Johnny’s childhood that had been tainted by Estovez, but now he was aware Emilia shared some of the same experiences. There was a rage in him, an urge to find this Estovez and kill him. “Johnny, do you believe Estovez is going to come after us?”

“Yes, Murdoch, not tomorrow or even next week. But all my instincts trust Emilia and tell me he will try. I swear I’ll give my life to keep you an’ Scott an’ Emilia safe.”

Johnny was pacing up and down the courtyard his spurs loud in the evening calm.

“Son, we will fight this together and as a father, I swear to you I will defend you and my family to the last breath in my body. Lancer will look after its own”

.

Chapter 6

It was Saturday morning and the three Lancer men were drinking coffee waiting for Maria to appear to prepare breakfast.

Raised Spanish voices burst through the early morning peace, Maria’s voice loud and fast was followed by silence followed by the front door slamming shut.

Murdoch raised his eyebrows. Johnny eyes were wide open, his lips curled in a grin. Scott needed help, the Spanish had been so rapid he had only picked up a few words. “Something about the hacienda not being a stable?”

Murdoch looked over towards the doorway, expecting Maria to appear, “It appears Emilia has upset our housekeeper.”

Johnny grinned, “Maria was complaining the whole hacienda will smell of horse ‘cos our little sister is sleeping with Silver Clouds horse blanket.”

At that moment, Maria appeared and glared at the three of them muttering under her breath about unruly children and clattered the pans on the range as she started the breakfast.

Johnny got up and stood behind Maria and quietly asked if he could help, “I can cook the eggs, Mamacita.”

“Ai Ai, what is to do with the Nina one day a girl the next a wild thing sleeping with the horse!” Maria shook her head and waved her wooden spoon.

“I’ll speak to her, Mamacita” Johnny leaned over and kissed her on her cheek. Knowing he was her favourite and could charm her out of the cross mood. He winked at this father and brother; no good comes of having a cross cook.

Murdoch smiled. The black haired blue eyed boy of his could wrap the housekeeper around his little finger. He had a flash of a memory of his own younger brother Ian who had that same innate talent with their mother.

Later that day, Murdoch was working on his books, earlier he and Cipriano had watched their two youngest boys make a start breaking the wild horses. The two cousins worked well as a team, he and Cipriano had exchanged proud looks. Scott returning with a crew from clearing a blocked creek had observed the scene from a distance trying not to be jealous, knowing that if Johnny had always lived at Lancer this would have been his life not that of a gunfighter. But he could not imagine it for himself, to have not been brought up in Boston to have experienced that lifestyle and education.

Scott had offered to help with the books, but Murdoch had waved off the help. “No son, you have earned your time off. Clearing that creek would have taken twice as long if not for your excellent surveying and planning. It was a good job; the men appreciated the extra hours to get ready for their night out.”

Scott found he was embarrassed by the praise so genuine and unexpected. He had just inclined his head in acknowledgement unable to find any words, instead found a book to lose himself in and sank into the sofa.

The sound of spurs and then the thud of boots hitting the ground announced Johnny sliding down the bannister. Murdoch and Scott both looked up. Johnny had cleaned up and was wearing his favourite blue shirt the concho’s on his trousers polished.

“What ya’ doing Scott, you not ready for town.”

“I thought I would finish this book and maybe write to Grandfather.”

“Ya’ can’t be doing that on a Saturday night, Scott. Me an’ the vaqueros are going to Morro Coyo ya’ got’ta come and give us a chance to win back that money you took off us at poker last week.”

“I’m settled here now, Johnny.” Scott frowned at his brother.

“Aw Scott, the senoritas in the cantina sure will be disappointed. They think you’re the prettiest thing west of the Mississippi.”

Johnny was stood behind the sofa and reached over to ruffle his brother’s hair.

“I’m sure they won’t miss me once you and Matteo and the rest pay them attention.” Scott’s voice had got that annoyed tone in it.

Johnny frowned and the grin on his face faded. “Ya’ got ‘a come Scott it’s your duty as the older brother to keep me, your younger brother out’ta trouble. Ain’t that right Murdoch ain’t it some rule?”

Murdoch smiled at his two sons, “Johnny is right Scott, it is a fact that an older brother does find he is responsible for the younger. I found it at times a trial as mostly it was my brother Ian that led me into misadventures.”

Both Scott and Johnny were watching and listening to one of the very rare stories their father shared of his childhood. His face relaxed a faraway look in his eyes.

Scott relented his recent feelings of losing his connection with Johnny vanished. “Okay I will do my duty as the big brother. Give me a few minutes.” Scott rose from the sofa and made his way upstairs.

Johnny skipped to the bottom of the stairs and shouted up, “Scott, all ya’ need is the money I’m gon’na win off ya’.”

Murdoch had walked over to Johnny and put a hand on his shoulder, “Thank you son.”

Johnny looked puzzled, “What for?”

“Just being you son, just being you.” And Murdoch gently squeezed his shoulder. He knew Johnny had recognised Scott was feeling isolated and his natural good nature couldn’t allow that. In that moment, Murdoch realised how much the family being united meant to Johnny.

Scott returned downstairs, hair freshly combed and clean shirt on. Johnny tilted his head and sniffed the air and patted Scott on his belly, “Smelling real pretty, Scott but it ain’t gon’na stop you loosing at poker.”

Murdoch regarded his two sons, “Now boys watch out for each other, tomorrow I’m going to take Emilia to the morning service at the mission in Morro Coyo, then we are having lunch at Aggie’s. You two are invited.”

Johnny frowned, “Addison still away?”

“Yes son he is.” Murdoch’s face gave nothing away.

Scott changed the subject by asking, “Where is Emilia? Has she moved into the stable?”

“No Scott she made a genuine apology to Maria and has offered to do some of the mending that has piled up since Teresa has gone to school. The girl is trying. I just wished I could see some happiness in her.”

Johnny shuffled his feet making his spurs jangle, “Gon’na take a while Murdoch.”

As Scott and Johnny rode out under the Lancer arch, Johnny adjusted his hat pulling it low over his eyes. “So what you make of our father and Mz Conway, who is actually Mrs Addison?”

Scott looked over, but Johnny was facing straight ahead, neither of them liked or trusted Addison but even so, “Well, they have always been friends.”

Johnny snorted, “One of the lessons I have learnt was not to be too friendly with another man’s wife.”

Scott grinned, “One of those lessons learnt the hard way, little brother?”

Johnny’s teeth flashed white, remembering that conversation, “Yep but I was young and foolish.”

Scott couldn’t help but laugh, “You little brother are still young and foolish, but our father is neither young nor foolish.”

Johnny nodded, “Reckon we should go to lunch at Mz Conway’s and maybe pick up on the gossip.”

“You mean you will flirt with her cook” Scott reached over pushing Johnny’s hat off his head to hang down his back and kicking Charlie into a gallop raced ahead.

Murdoch had been pleasantly surprised at Emilia’s acceptance of the interest she created amongst the mostly Mexican congregation at the Morro Coyo mission. She had dressed modestly with Maria providing her with a lace shawl which she had draped over her head during the service.

Now in the socialising afterward, Cipriano’s wife Senora Eleana had taken her under her wing, introducing her to the other women and girls. She was of great interest as news of her existence and arrival had been eagerly discussed not only on the Lancer ranch but in Morro Coyo and the outlying farms and ranches.

Murdoch watched to ensure his unexpected child was not distressed by the attention. He could see her mother in her, a quiet strength and dignity. As if she was aware he was watching, she turned around and found his face. He thought a small smile flashed across her face, but was gone in an instance.

Padre Jose-Miguel stood by his side, “The girl has knowledge of the teachings.”

Murdoch pursed his lips he liked the Padre a practical man who understood the land and the people and not one to judge harshly. “I know her mother found strength in her faith and Emilia loved her mother very much. But the extent of her schooling is a subject I have not yet discussed.”

The Padre patted Murdoch’s arm, “See Murdoch, your sons have come to escort you.”

Murdoch looked down the road to see his sons walking shoulder to shoulder leading their horses towards the mission. At least they looked like respectable ranchers, sons of the Patron of Lancer, not disreputable cowboys who had been up all night.

As the two young men reached the steps of the mission, they raised their hats in greeting. Scott gazed over towards the small crowd with Emilia being fussed over. “Is our girl coping with the attention?”

Murdoch smiled, “She seems to be holding her own Maria and Senora Eleana are keeping her close.”

Johnny was satisfied there was no reason to worry. “Have you had any word from Mexico Padre?”

“No, Juanito, all is quiet, perhaps too quiet.”

Scott frowned, “It’s good isn’t it that there is no news of Estovez re-emerging?”

“No Scott, the folks in those border towns and villages they may be hunkering down, keeping quiet and out’ta harm’s way. The poor peons they either join the banditos or try to disappear. I got’ta feeling like I do when a storm is due.” Johnny’s fingers drummed against his thigh, his jaw tight.

Murdoch stood up straight and adjusted his hat, “It won’t be today, will it, son, so I suggest we go and enjoy a Sunday lunch with Aggie. She has taken a shine to Emilia and is looking forward to the visit.”

Johnny and Scott exchanged a knowing glance and then a grin behind their father’s back.

The lunch at the Triple C was excellent as usual and afterward, Murdoch and Aggie sat on the porch sipping lemonade as they watched Johnny leading Scott and Emilia to a paddock that held a mare and foal high stepping around.

Murdoch found himself smiling. It was so peaceful a scene, so like he had once imagined his life would be like. Watching his children, enjoying a Sunday afternoon visiting a neighbour. He sighed, “I have found myself lately thinking more and more of my family in Scotland. Johnny does remind me of my brother Ian. I see Ian’s mannerisms, his way of charming those he comes across.”

Aggie turned from watching Johnny with the foal to study Murdoch. She had seen him at his worst, angry and afraid when Maria had left with the infant Johnny. Strong and un-yielding in his determination to fight off land pirates, then almost brought down by the death of Paul O’Brien and the bullet Day Pardee had put in him. The last two years had been tumultuous and he had shared with her his hopes and fears that neither of his sons would stay and the ongoing underlying worry that Johnny’s reputation as Madrid would bring trouble. But even with the current threat of the Mexican bandit she could see in him a sense of fulfilment, as if this quiet girl that had so dramatically arrived in his life had completed his family.

“Have you told your children this, Murdoch? Your Scottish heritage is something they have in common. You had mentioned Scott was perhaps feeling the odd one out with Johnny and Emilia sharing Mexican roots. As for Emilia, it seems to me her experiences with Anglos has not been very positive, and she doesn’t quite know what to make of you and Scott.”

Murdoch rubbed his hands through his hair. He had worried for a time about Scott accepting the girl as a sister but had not considered how Emilia would view Scott. “You think she sees me as no better than the ranchers who drove the Indians off the land and Scott she associates with the army pushing the tribes into reservations?”

“Yes, Murdoch, I do, so talk to them, tell them of their shared history. Strengthen the ties that hold the Lancers together.”

Scott and Emilia stood side by side, watching Johnny pet the foal. Scott spoke without taking his eyes of his brother, “Are you not going to join Johnny? That’s a good looking foal.”

Emilia sighed and relaxed her shoulders. She was so tense all these new people and how to act amongst them it made her headache. She longed for solitude, that company only of horses who expected nothing but her quiet kindness. “I would like to, but am afraid Mamacita will scold me for getting horsehair on these clothes.”

“Surely, you’re not afraid of our sweet housekeeper?”

Emilia turned to study him and very solemnly shook her head but smiled, “Maybe just a little, she threatened me with a wooden spoon.”

Scott laughed out loud, “She has used that spoon more than once on Johnny. Our brother’s sweet tooth leads him into all kinds of trouble where chocolate cake and cookies are concerned.”

Emilia pursed her lips, this Scott Lancer he had a stillness about him that intrigued her and Johnny had told her he was loyal and trustworthy. “It is difficult having the Patron as a father. I am not sure what is expected of me. Senora Eleana and Mamacita tell me it will take time. It took time for you and Johnny to take your places as the heirs to Lancer.”

At that moment, Johnny joined them with a wide smile lighting up his face, “Whoee that is a fine foal with good blood lines; she will make a good broodmare in a few years. What you two talking ’bout?”

Scott blinked; why was he always surprised by his brother’s sudden change of subject, “Well, first we discussed our housekeeper’s skill with her wooden spoon. Then how to live up to the San Joaquin resident’s expectations of Murdoch Lancer’s offspring.”

Emilia was confused, the wooden spoon she understood, but all those other words, her grasp of spoken English required her translating into Spanish and she was lost.

Johnny could recognise her bewilderment, “Don’t worry Em, our big brother can’t help but use $5 words.”

He grinned as he poked Scott in the ribs, “It’s been two years for me an’ Scott and this here greenhorn from back east he’s starting to shape up real well as a cowboy with my help.”

Scott playfully punched Johnny’s arm, “Emilia, it has been hard work and continues to be so keeping my little brother on anything like the straight and narrow road expected of the Patron’s son.”

Johnny laughed and flung his arm over Scott’s shoulder. “The Lancer natural charm will win folks over Em, don’t you worry, we’ll have your back.”

The three turned to walk back to the house where Murdoch and Aggie were sat on the porch. Johnny’s voice got serious, “Speculation is Aggie has sent Buck Addison on his way. Seems his big business empire might be in trouble ‘cos Aggie caught him borrowing money against her ranch.”

Scott raised his eyebrows, “That gives one pause for thought.”

“So our Papa is to be friendly with Mrs. Addison?” Emilia put her head on one side, “If I were she I would take care he has no good luck with wives.” With that, she continued to walk forward as both Johnny and Scott stood still and looked at each other, mouths open.

“She’s smart, ain’t she Scott?”

“Yes, brother she is.”

Later that evening, after the Lancers had returned and enjoyed a supper of cold meats, Murdoch decided now was as good as time as any to speak to them. He cleared his throat, “I would like to talk to the three of you.”

Scott who was about to pour after dinner drinks for the three men, stopped and glanced at Johnny silently asking why.

Johnny who was almost asleep on the sofa, snapped his eyes wide open and sat up immediately on the alert.

Emilia was set to go up the stairs to her room, paused her eyes narrowed as she stared at Murdoch.

“There is no need for you to look so worried, please come and sit down. I have been thinking recently more and more of my family in Scotland.” Murdoch took an envelope from his desk and went to sit in his chair by the fire.

“I’ll have a brandy please, Scott.” He smiled at his family as Scott passed him his drink, then poured a tequila for Johnny and another brandy for himself.

“Come along, Emilia. I want you to hear this as well, my dear.”

So there they sat together on the sofa; Scott in the middle, Johnny to the right nearest to Murdoch and Emilia tense on the left of Scott. Murdoch gazed at the three, his tall handsome fair haired eldest son whose expression was one of interest. So like his late mother, Catherine, not just her fair completion but in temperament strong willed with a readiness to find the goodness in people. His two black hair sapphire blue-eyed children, Johnny the only one he had held and nursed as a baby, his heart had hardened when that beloved child had been taken from him. It was only now two years after his return that Murdoch could admit he was more confident Johnny would stay. Johnny’s years as an orphan and then as a pistolero had made his youngest son hard and wild, but now he could see the boy wanted Lancer and was working hard to be a son his father would be proud of.

Now a daughter.  He had always had a place in his heart for Scott and Johnny even though they were lost to him. Scott in Boston with Harlan Garratt, Johnny and his mother in the wild border towns. But Emilia was an earth-shattering surprise; his guilt at not even being aware of her existence and the realisation of her own terrible childhood had made him determine to keep his promise to her late mother to love and protect her.

Murdoch held the envelope in his hand, his drink on a side table untouched he took a deep breath. “I know trouble may be coming down the road, but before we face that, I want to tell you about your shared Scottish family.”

He saw he had the attention of all three. He had always lived by his tune of the past being past but was aware his sons had eagerly devoured any small nugget of information he shared about his own past.

“I am the eldest of three, my parents, your Grandparents are Angus and Fiona Lancer. As you boys know, from a place called Inverness in Scotland. I have a younger brother Ian; he is 5 years younger than me and you Johnny are named after him.”

Johnny sat back in surprise, “Ian! My name ain’t Ian, its Johnny Eduardo.”

“John is the anglo version of the Scottish or Gallic Ian. You are a lot like your Uncle Ian, oh not just your blue eyes, son, but how you befriend those in need and your sense of humour the charm you can turn on. I see my brother in you, John.”

Johnny’s face lit up in delight.

Murdoch smiled, remembering. “Ian and I were inseparable. He was my shadow and I enjoyed my role as the older and wiser brother. There would have been other children, but … childbirth was and still is a dangerous thing.”

Scott nodded his understanding.

“Then when I was fourteen and Ian nine, our sister arrived, loud and healthy, her name Isabel. I’m sorry to say I was not happy with her. It seemed everything revolved around this longed-for child and Ian was utterly fascinated by her. All I saw was that my best friend had found someone more interesting. I was in short jealous of her.”

His three children were completely engrossed, he continued.

“One day, Ian was with our father and I was home trying to study for an examination. I was a good student and had a chance of a place in a college in Edinburgh. Mother had fed the baby and was out hanging washing. She had handed Isabel to me with instructions to hold her and wind her.”

Johnny was grinning his little boy full on grin and Emilia had put a hand over her mouth. Murdoch guessed they suspected what was coming.

“She was sick down my back and then filled her diaper. The smell was astonishing, brought tears to my eyes. I held her out as far as my arms would stretch and shouted for my mother to take her. Then the baby smiled at me, her first genuine smile and at that moment, I lost my heart to my baby sister.”

Scott looked a little pale. This was a picture of Murdoch he couldn’t have imagined. Babies were a mystery to him, very definitely out of sight and sound in Boston society. Even here in the west, his only real experience had been helping Polly Foley escape from her violent husband and his lawless family. He had kept well away from that baby, leaving it all to Maria, Teresa and the other females.

Johnny though, was laughing and waved his fingers. “Hot dang Murdoch that there was a lesson in never underestimating what a bebe is full off.”

“Johnny,” Murdoch tried to sound stern, but he had to laugh, “It was a lesson that stood me in good stead when you came along.”

Emilia was laughing, both hands now over her mouth, her eyes shining. She took her hands away from her mouth, “Isabel, that is a pretty name, it could be Spanish.”

“Yes, dear, Isabella is the popular version here amongst the Mexican community.” Murdoch took a photograph from the envelope. “Your Uncle Ian wrote to me some weeks ago to let me know he has become a grandfather. He enclosed a photograph of our Scottish family.”

Murdoch handed the photograph to Scott. It showed a large family group of Murdoch’s brother and wife and their children, and his sister and her husband and children.

Murdoch pointed at the picture. “I have written their names on the back to identify everyone.”

Three heads were bent over studying the figures. Johnny looked up, “These are my, well our, uncles, aunts and cousins. I got’a be honest as a kid I ‘allus thought myself Mexican, but this is, I dun’no amazing. I guess having Cipriano as my Tio and his family as my family seemed natural and fitted in with how I had seen family when I was on my own.”

Emilia had gently ran a finger over the photograph as if to contact these people. Her face full of wonder, “They all live in this place Inverness?”

Murdoch realised Emilia had no understanding of where Scotland never mind Inverness was, “It is about 5,000 miles away to the east across America and then over an ocean called the Atlantic”.

“More miles than to Canada?”

Murdoch was truly surprised at this question and stared at Johnny and Scott for any clue, but both shook their heads. “Much further, Emilia.” He wondered how or why she would ask about Canada.

Scott meanwhile was damping down his anger and disappointment. The news of these relatives only now being told. All through his childhood he had only been aware of his Garrett family history. Although his mother was an only child his Grandmother Garrett had sisters who were his Aunts and they had children and grandchildren these were his childhood family.

He sighed and glanced at his father all his bluster about the past is past used as an excuse to build walls against the pain of bereavement and loss. There was a change in Murdoch. Oh he still wanted to be the tune caller, he was as hard and as tough as ever where the interests of the ranch were concerned, but as a father, yes he was growing into that role rather than being a senior partner in a business.

Scott smiled, “So Murdoch I do hope you are not jealous of your brother becoming a Grandfather. You are not dropping hints at us are you?”

Johnny yelped, “Whoa now I’m too young for that yet. It’ll be Scott to lead the way.”

Murdoch laughed and leaned over to slap Johnny on the knee, “I agree boy, you are far too young, and no Scott, I am not jealous. I do hope though, in the fullness of time, I will get to bounce grandchildren on my knee.”

Murdoch took a sip of his drink. “I was thinking that once the threat of Estovez has been seen off, we should have our picture taken as a family so I can send a copy to Scotland.”

Johnny frowned. “They happy to have me an’ Em as family, us being part Mexican an’ all?”

“My having children with Mexican and Spanish heritage is not a problem, in fact, your Scottish family think it fascinating.”

Emilia looked again at the photograph, “Family and our ancestors these are important. They give us strength and hold us together. It is good we know them and they know us.”

Murdoch realised he was proud of his daughter, who, with no formal education, was so mature and knowing.

.

Chapter 7

Jelly bustled in through the French doors, “Boss you’d best come see this.”

“What is it Jelly? I’m trying to finish reading this contract.”

“Boss Emilia is going to be gentling that grey horse she has been spending time with.”

Murdoch pushed his chair back. The trials of being a parent gripped him. What was this girl up to? A wild horse was a dangerous beast.

Johnny had put it in a small corral and left its feeding and watering to Emilia, who spent time sitting on the fence talking softly to it. The blanket which Mamacita had complained about draped over her shoulders and at the end of the day, the blanket left by treats such as carrots or sugar cubes, even on occasions a pot filled with black treacle. The horse at first fearful of its new surroundings, was now curious.

As Murdoch approached the corral, he saw vaqueros quietly ringed around. Johnny and Matteo were in the corral on opposite sides, stood still, ready to distract the horse if necessary. Emilia sat in the middle of the corral with the blanket over her. The grey was alert and nervy but mostly interested in the now familiar blanket and the treats that came with it.

The horse pawed the ground, but Emilia did not move. It came forward, head lowered, ears pricked forward, expecting a treat but sensing the presence of the girl with the soft voice.

It stepped forward nostrils flared, the voice it was used to and not afraid of was speaking from under the blanket. It snorted and pawed the ground. The voice was soothing and the smell of the human and black treacle overcame its fear.

The horse took the blanket in its teeth to reach for the treat it knew was his. It snorted and backed away when Emilia was revealed, but she stayed perfectly still even when it stamped its feet.

The desire for the treacle and no sense of danger gave the horse courage. It came forward and sniffed and reached out its neck to the pot of treacle the girl was holding out.

As one the on-lookers let out their held breath. Murdoch sensed Scott and Jelly were either side of him, but no words were spoken. Every nerve in his body was stretched. On the one hand, he wanted to get her out of there and give her a dressing down for the danger she had put herself in. On the other, he had to keep calm and trust her.

It took a couple of hours of quiet patience, but Emilia had gained the trust of the horse and was now stood touching and petting the horse in the same manner Johnny would. She took the blanket from her shoulders and gently put it on the horses back. The horse turned his head to look, but softly spoken words reassured it and a sugar cube was offered on an outstretched hand.

Emilia held on to its mane and, seemingly to float, raised herself to lie along its back.

Murdoch couldn’t help but instinctively step forward and saw that both Johnny and Matteo were poised to intervene.

The horse tensed and hopped sideways, but the unaccustomed weight on its back didn’t move and the soft voice was whispering to keeping it calm. After a while, the weight shifted a little, the girl on its back now sitting, her legs gently against its side, the voice telling it to how good he was. The horse turned its head, the legs they were no weight at all, it snorted but stood still waiting, wanting to please the girl.

She lightly dismounted and stood in front of the horse to look him in the eyes, telling him he was a fine brave horse rubbing his ears and forelock in the way that pleased him. She stepped back and rubbed his nose then slowly turned and walked towards the gate. The horse watched and then tentatively stepped forward and followed her. At the gate, she stopped and the horse came forward and gently nudged her. She laughed a quiet musical sound and turned to whisper in his ear and then left the corral.

Johnny was by Emilia’s side without a word; he picked her up and hugged her. She was grinning white teeth flashing in a dusty face, as Johnny set her feet back on the ground, looking to Murdoch for approval.

It was Johnny who spoke, “Tomorrow I will finish what Emilia has started, his name is Silver Cloud. He is a very special horse.”

Murdoch nodded and smiled, “A very special horse indeed for a very special daughter.”

.

Chapter 8

“No, no por favour Silver Cloud does not need iron shoes or the Lancer brand.”

Murdoch could see and hear the mixture of distress and desperation in Emilia. He was learning his gruff tune calling used on Scott and Johnny was not the way to deal with this girl.

“Hush now, Emilia, can you tell me why your horse shouldn’t bear the Lancer brand?”

Emilia’s eyes widened she licked her lips and took comfort in clinging onto the mane of Silver Cloud.

Murdoch waited, but there was only a shake of her head. “Have you read the signs, Emilia?”

“Si, there will be a different future for him. Soon there will be travellers bringing news of the bandito Estovez.” Emilia watched Murdoch’s face.

He knew she believed what she was telling him and he took a moment to consider his reply. “Your Scottish Grandmother, although a Christian woman held to the old ways in my country and she too could sometimes see what others couldn’t. Will these travellers be here soon Emilia?”

“Si soon very soon.”

“Very well, Silver Cloud will not be shod or carry the Lancer brand for the time being. We will discuss the future of your horse once the trouble has past.”

Emilia had opened her mouth to argue but instead nodded and led Silver Cloud away from the smithy where Murdoch and Cipriano were working.

Cipriano rubbed his hand over his mouth, “Patron, I admire your patience with the girl. May I say you should take note of her instincts.”

Murdoch looked over at his old friend. His Segundo had lived on Lancer all his life and was a distant relative through his marriage to a second cousin of Johnny’s mother. In the Mexican culture, that made them family, but Cipriano was from the old traditional ways and always respected Murdoch as Patron.

“I intend to Cip; no one is to ride out alone and every hand should report back any strangers without confronting them. I will inform my sons.”

Cipriano smiled slightly, “I will tell Matteo to keep Juanito in sight. Between Senor Scott and my hijo, we may stand a chance.”

Over the next two days, Lancer was on high alert. Val Crawford and Gabe McIntyre, the local sheriffs had been made aware of the danger and had deputised volunteers to guard the townships.

Scott had organised the hands ensuring men with rifles were stationed at as many vantage points around the hacienda and out buildings as possible. Johnny, with Matteo, had scouted the southern approaches and trails. A handful of the most trusted vaqueros were set in hiding places to watch for strangers and to fire three warning shots if any seen.

Murdoch worried it was just over two years since the land pirate Day Pardee had terrorised the San Joaquin and attempted to take over Lancer. He was a realist and in that battle, the arrival of his two sons had been the turning point that ensured success. But now there would be no last minute arrivals, Lancer was at full strength and its existence and the safety of all its inhabitants would be defended with courage by every man.

Emilia was pale with no appetite pushing food around her plate. Johnny, who was a light sleeper, reported she was not sleeping. He had found her one night in the tower staring into the darkness.

It was daybreak when the warning shots rang out and Scott’s defence plan was quickly in place.

It was Matteo who raced under the Lancer arch bringing news of a single horse carrying two men.

Emilia, who had been in the barn with her horse spoke to it, “It is time Silver Cloud.” She put a bridle on him and the blanket over his back and led him out to tie him in front of the hacienda.

“Emilia get inside with the women,” Murdoch’s voice was loud and angry.

“These men are of no danger.” Emilia stood watching. “Trust me, tell the vaqueros not to fire.” Emilia was forceful in her declaration.

The horse carrying two riders approached through the Lancer arch and slowly made its way down the road to the hacienda.

The two riders were Indians, the one in front older with long white hair, the one behind a young man. Both seemed unarmed but watchful. The Lancer ranch was silent. Every gun and rifle trained on the riders.

The horse halted in front of the hacienda where Murdoch Scott and Johnny stood waiting, but it was Emilia who stepped from behind Johnny to speak in the Navajo dialect.

“Grey Wolf, my father, I have waited here for you.”

The young brave slid off the back of the horse and stood still, eyes fixed on Emilia.

Grey Wolf moved the horse a step closer to Emilia and he beckoned to her. “Brave Eyes.”

She reached out to touch his leg as he gently ran a hand down her head to touch her face. “Your mother is at peace. These are now yours?” He took a pouch hung by a piece of leather from around his neck and passed it to her.

Emilia fought to keep tears falling as she accepted the pouch she knew would contain the few trinkets and chain and crucifix her mother had held dear.

The brave glanced over at the three Lancer men and spoke in English, looking only at Johnny, “You are Madrid who Mexico says came back from the dead. I see you have courage. You are a brave warrior but must choose your battles wisely.”

Johnny nodded understanding the honour of the compliment.

“And you are the Father,” Grey Wolf turned to Murdoch, “Brave Eyes wishes to ride with my son Swift Eagle as we travel to the northern lands. But she and I know that is not what is written for her. You made a promise to her mother. You will keep it for as long as necessary.”

Murdoch made to respond but could only nod as Emilia spoke quickly, “My Mama and I owe you our lives. I wish to give you this fine horse, he knows my spirit, if I cannot ride to the northern lands, he can go with you.” She offered a rope.

Murdoch found his voice, “Emilia, that is your horse.”

Johnny interrupted, “Let it be Murdoch, Silver Cloud is Emilia’s to gift to the man. It means a lot to her.”

Grey Wolf sat up tall, “The bandito is three days away. We have killed four of his men who were laying a trap. He has maybe eleven men. Most ride with him through fear. They are not warriors. But beware, he is like a snake and could strike unexpectedly.”

There was a look exchanged between Grey Wolf and his son who gave unspoken permission for him to take the horse.

As Swift Eagle stepped forward, he took Emilia’s hand and leaned forward so his forehead touched hers. The fingers of his other hand traced her face, her eyes, her nose, her mouth. The words they whispered to each other so soft only for their ears.

Their lips touched and Emilia reached up one hand to hold him tightly around his neck, the other hand resting on his chest to feel his heartbeat. The kiss didn’t last long before they broke apart. Swift Eagle leapt on the grey horse and raced away.

Grey Wolf sighed, “Until we meet in the next life, Brave Eyes.” He turned and followed his son away from Lancer to journey to the Canadian borders.

Emilia stood still watching until the riders disappeared in a dust cloud. Then she fell to her knees, her hands over her face as she cried for all she had lost.

The three Lancer men as one stepped up to her. She was not alone; she was a Lancer and Lancer looked after its own.

.

Chapter 9

Emilia refused to leave the ranch with the women and children who were being sent to the safety of Green River. “If I go, I will only take the trouble to the town, so it is best I stay”.

Mamacita declared she too would stay and there was to be no arguing with her about that decision. Amongst all the preparations for the coming fight, Murdoch worried where his daughter kept disappearing to. It was Mamacita who explained she was using old magic and for him to have faith in her.

It was during the early hours of the third day that Emilia awoke with a start from a dream. She fell out of bed and went straight to Johnny’s room. “Juanito, he is near, he has prisoners.”

Johnny had taken to sleeping fully dressed with only his boots off, was awake immediately. “Prisoners, Dios he has detoured, where is he coming from?”

The tower bell rang out to warn the ranch hands and vaqueros of the danger that was approaching; they scattered to their allotted places.

Johnny took Scott to one side. “Scott, you’re the best rifle shot on the ranch. You need to be up the tower and take Estovez out the first chance you get. I know, I know.” Johnny held his hand up to stop his brother speaking. “It ain’t in you to take the first shot without some provocation. Estovez will kill in cold blood and better him dead than anyone else. And Scott keep your head down and have more than one rifle up there.”

“Do it to them before they do it to us, eh brother?” Scott shook hands with Johnny.

Estovez and his men approached slowly, no guns firing, among the riders was a buggy. Murdoch’s shouted out, “Hold your fire they have hostages.”

“Oh god, they have Sam and Aggie.” Murdoch’s voice broke with horror. He and Johnny stood together, watching down the road to the Lancer arch.

Sam Jenkins was driving the buggy a gun trained on his head by Estovez who sat behind him.  Aggie Conway sat next to him, her hands tied behind her the rope around her neck held by Estovez in his other hand. Her hair and clothes in disarray and marks on her face testament to a blow.

One of the bandits rode next to the buggy leading a horse with the dead body of Aggie’s foreman slung over it.

“Murdoch, he won’t negotiate. He wants you to watch as he kills those close to you.” Johnny looked into his father’s eyes, willing him to understand. “There may be sacrifices to be made here.”

Murdoch drew a breath, “I know there will be hard choices. He thinks he has the upper hand; he will be overconfident; we will prevail son. Do not martyr yourself for me do you understand?”

At that moment, Johnny truly understood how deep Murdoch’s love of his family ran, “Si Papi.”

Sam stopped the buggy and sat still while Estovez dismounted, pulling Aggie with him as a shield. Looking around, he smiled a smile that did not reach his black eyes. “I shall be most comfortable in this fine place. I can spare the lives of your children Murdoch Lancer in return for them becoming my bonded peons. Of course, they will need to be taught obedience.”

Johnny actually laughed out loud, “Pendejo.”

Aggie let out a small cry as a blow sent her to her knees. Estovez pulled her back to her feet and turned to the tower, “Senor Scott Lancer, throw down your rifle and show yourself.”

“Don’t do it Scott,” Johnny yelled, not taking his eyes of Estovez.

The gunshot came from the bandit on the horse leading the dead body. Johnny went down, the bullet having hit him in his thigh. Murdoch was immediately at his side.

“It is me you have the problem with Estovez, but I know your tactics.”

The second gunshot hit Murdoch in his shoulder. Johnny cursed with all his strength as another bandit disarmed him and Murdoch and pulled them to their knees. Estovez shouted up, “Senor Scott Lancer, you have your order.”

A rifle was thrown down and a third shot rang out and Scott disappeared from view.

Estovez pushed Aggie to the ground and moved closer to the two kneeling men. “I questioned this man,” he indicated the dead body. “I know of your plans, your strengths.” He grabbed Johnny’s hair and pulled it back, “I have waited a long time for my revenge Juanito. It will give me great pleasure to make you pay for the death of my brother.” He turned to Murdoch. “You Murdoch Lancer, I have tasted all your women and I have shaped your Mexican children, this one into a wanted criminal in Mexico and the girl an Indians whore.” He laughed, “Where is she?”

“The Indian whore is here.” Emilia had silently drifted from her hiding place to stand to one side. She was dressed as she had originally arrived at Lancer an overlarge shirt and buckskin trousers, a belt around her waist. She walked directly to Estovez without looking at the others, her blue eyes dark, no sign on fear on her face.

“Ai Murdoch Lancer, I will enjoy teaching your girl how to be a woman who can pleasure men.”

The knife appeared in her hand and slashed across his ribs. Estovez looked down. “This little cut will not kill me you foolish girl,” He took a tight hold of her wrist and the knife fell to the ground.

Emilia moved into him and whispered in his ear. “No you will die slowly in agony soy una bruja y con un hechizo te he envenenado”

Estovez let Emilia loose and looked again at the long mark cutting through his shirt, now oozing blood. “Liar, it is just a scratch.”

“Thanks to you, Senor Estovez I have learnt the ways of a bruja. You are cursed; you are dying.” She turned from him and waved her hand at his men; a powder flew through the air and the horses reared all snorting. The sound of a rattlesnake underneath their feet had the riders struggling to control the panic.

Scott took the chance to reappear at the top of the tower and opened fire. Other hidden ranch hands did the same.

When the gun smoke cleared, Estovez was on his knees, his gun held by Aggie. Scott shouted down to the bandits still alive, “Throw down your weapons now, keep your hands up.”

Sam Jenkins had thrown himself off the buggy and now limped towards Murdoch and Johnny. “I need to treat these wounds.”

“No, Sam, let me see what Emilia is up to.” Murdoch struggled to his feet.

Johnny’s leg hurt like the devil the bullet had gone through and his blood was soaking into the ground, but he had retrieved his gun. He stayed down but kept it trained on Estovez while Sam Jenkins used his bandana to tie around the wound. Emilia had spoken to him and Scott about her using her knife, it had been a risk, but they had agreed knowing Estovez, it was the best chance to create a distraction so he could use his hideaway gun. He hadn’t realised though she would treat the knife blade with poison and somehow upset the horses, his sister, he decided had better skills than a magician he had once seen at a fiesta.

Emilia stood over Estovez. She knew the amount of poison she had coated on the blade was strong enough to work immediately but not so strong to kill instantly. She had learnt her lessons well.

Sam and Aggie were in the process of bandaging Murdoch’s shoulder when Scott appeared ordering the Lancer vaqueros to take into custody any bandits still alive.

“No, that one should stay as witness.” Emilia pointed to the one who had shot Murdoch and Johnny. “He will see how Estovez dies screaming in pain and begging for mercy. He will tell of how this cabron reaped what he sowed.”

A spasm racked Estovez; he moaned in pain, sweat now beading on his face. “The doctor here will not allow me to die; there is an oath is there not, you will show mercy.”

Emilia turned to Sam Jenkins. “Tell him Doctor, there will be no mercy for him from the curse.”

“I know nothing of curses, but I do know I have no cure for snakebite poison.” Sam looked at Estovez, “As a Doctor, I have to do my best and that will be to treat the bullet wounds that have been suffered here today.”

Estovez was now hunched over his body, shaking as the poison ran through his veins, attacking his organs. Through his pain, he lifted his head and looked at Johnny. “You Juanito, could show mercy and save me from this.”

Johnny swallowed. It would be easy to put a bullet in the monster who had been responsible for the death of his mother and the destruction of his and Emilia’s childhood. If her plan hadn’t worked, he knew the Lancers would not have been shown any mercy. It was Madrid who answered, “Could do that but need to think on it some.”

Scott took the scene in. His little sister had inflicted a fatal injury and his brother coldly watching. “We are better than this, is there nothing to be done, Sam.”

Emilia stared down at the body now at her feet. “I need to see him dead so he can no longer haunt my dreams or haunt our future.” Her voice broke and she turned her back on Estovez to look at Scott. He saw her for the young girl she was, her deep blue eyes reflecting more pain than anyone should bear. He stepped forward and held out his arms for her as she allowed herself to fall into them, he felt tremors running through her body.

There was a cry of pain from Estovez and he curled up on the ground. He took a shallow breath and looked at Johnny. ” Dios mercy, do it, boy use that gun of yours finish what your savage sister has started. I set you both on this road.”

“No,” Murdoch’s voice rang out. “My children are not murderers like you.” He took his gun and walked to Johnny.

Johnny shook his head. “Murdoch, I should be the one to do it.”

“No son, it is for me to finish this.” He emptied his gun of all but one bullet, kneeling beside Estovez, he showed him the gun. His voice hard. “You have a choice to die slowly in agony or take your own life while you still can.” He put the gun in the bandit’s hand and locked eyes on him. “You will die here today and I have no regrets at the manner of you going to spend all of eternity in hell. Your body will be taken off Lancer land and disposed of. Your man will go back to Mexico telling of how you died in the dirt begging for the end.”

Murdoch stepped back to be with his family. “We don’t need to watch this, Cipriano will inform the sheriff and get rid of the body.”

He helped his youngest son to his feet. The Lancer’s and their two closest friends turned their backs on Estovez to make their way to the hacienda and the future.

A single bullet shot rang out.

End

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