This was Twyla Jane's turn at M7 Challenge. "A seed of doubt once planted, sown deep had begun to grow and crack the very foundation that united them." Incorporate this into your story whether it be text or theme. Nathan has to be one of the main players and not just as a healer. Mention a barrel of oil, dynamite and some pissed off reptiles. As usual, not my characters, original concept, or universe, but no copyright infringement has occurred for profit.

Rumble in a Small Western Town
by Jeanne Marie

"Wait now, this ain't fair," little Ben Holiday announced, dropping his fisticuffs. "There's the three of ya on one side an' just me on th'other."

"All right." Billy Travis, considered by many to be the most sensible and fair-minded of the lot, paused momentarily and came up with a solution. "Ya can pick a second."

"Do what?" the six year old asked.

Young Master Travis huffed tolerantly. "My grandpa read me this story one time where two men wanted to fight like gentlemen and they each got to pick a second."

"Wazzat?" Harry Zane asked. "Second what?"

"Second man, I reckon." Billy scratched his head. "Closest I can figger, it's the guy they most want to help 'em fight."

"So I get to pick a body to help me?" Ben screwed his little face up in concentration. Normally, his first choice would be Sean Finnerty, but the dirty fink had started the fight in the first place by accusing Ben of taking his knife. He'd never take anything that belonged to anyone else, let alone his best friend. It really hurt that the other boys didn't believe him.

A dark, familiar shadow passed over the alley, making a smile break open Ben's face. Who better than the person who had helped kick his razor-strap wielding drunk of a pa out of town. He began to run to catch up with the man. "Oh, Doc Jackson?"

Nathan and his companion, an amused Ezra Standish, shortened their stride to accommodate the boy. "Where's the fire, Ben?"

"Yes, young Mr. Holiday," Ezra said with a smile. "You seem in an awful rush."

"Need ta ask ya somethin', Doc," Ben gasped out. "Wouldja be my second?"

Both men frowned. "A bit young to be fighting a duel, aren't you?" Ezra asked.

"If they wanna fight *me*, I can't turn yeller and back out." Ben shrugged and started back toward the alley. "Are ya comin'?"

The two peace-keepers exchanged a glance and followed.

Sean, Harry, and Billy scowled at the new arrivals. "I didn't say it could be a grown-up guy."

"Ben didn't have much choice," Nathan said reprovingly. "Seeing as every boy in town under the age a ten is already here--lookin' to fight him."

Sean stuck his hands on his hips and imperiously drew himself to his full height of three and a half feet. "Shouldna pinched my knife!"

A quick, angry stomp of the foot served as Ben's non-verbal "Did not!" while his opponents raised their voices in childish indignation.

"Now, Mr. Finnerty, what proof have you that he did indeed abscond with your blade?" Ezra questioned, wishing dynamite, that old standby, could fix this conflict as well as it did with outlaws. Beside the gambler, Nathan was longing for a barrel of cod-liver oil. A few spoonfuls all around would take the fight right out of the boys.

Understanding the words "proof" and "blade", Sean guessed at the rest and smirked smugly. "Last time I had it was when I showed it to 'im this mornin' after breakfast--and he said it was right purty."

Harry and Billy shot each other a look and stood down. "That it, Sean?" Billy asked.

"You said you saw him take it," Harry accused.

Nathan extended his pointer finger. "Ben, where did Sean show you his knife?"

"In front of the smithy," Ben answered, never shifting his angry gaze from Sean's face.

"Ya know, Sean," Nathan said with a smile, "Yosemite was just tellin' me how he found a blade in front of his shop today, a little one with a handle painted red."

The youngest son of the prolific Finnerty clan opened his mouth to respond with eyes wide--and did nothing but stammer incoherently for several moments.

Messr.s Jackson and Standish tipped their hats at the deflated former combatants and started back the way they came.

"Good day, young sirs."

"Stay outta trouble, boys."

Ben gave his defenders a grateful smile before returning his glare in Sean's direction. "Now I done proved I didn't pinch your fool knife, so gimme back my horned toad. I bet you ain't fed 'im since you took him at noon." Sean shrugged and handed over the animal. "He's probably powerful mad at me, ain't ya, Eugene?"

The toad, as expected, did not respond.

The End