The day had started off much like any other. The Lancer family had risen from their beds eager to meet the new day, mercifully unaware of the heartache that lay in wait. Cheery conversation had floated across the breakfast table; meal over the brothers had made their way out to the barn. Like most mornings Murdoch had bid his boys a good day from behind his desk, he had smiled fondly after them, their easy banter music to his ears. Content with life as it now was he had sighed with satisfaction, never imagining that by nightfall fate would again step in and tear his world apart….
The spirited beast had instantly caught Johnny's eye and he had looked on appreciatively as the stallion accelerated effortlessly through the dew laden pasture below. While its silken mane had whipped in the early morning breeze its corded muscles had rippled rhythmically with each swift, powerful stride.
The young man had grinned at the exuberant display of energy, the urge to follow had been strong, ultimately too strong to quash and he'd turned to his older sibling, eyes flashing with excitement he had stated confidently "He's mine."
Before Scott had had time to protest the dark haired Lancer had spurred his mount into a full out gallop, horse and rider hurtling down the rise at breakneck speed.
The blond had gaped after the younger man, stunned at the apparent ease with which he had shrugged off his responsibilities to recklessly head off on some impulsive jaunt.
Disbelief had quickly given way to understanding. It was, Scott had acknowledged, just the sort of rash thing his brother would do. The wild, carefree streak so inherent in the brunette's nature refused to be repressed at times and this was one such time.
Shifting in his saddle the elder Lancer son had pondered over the choice left him; he either followed his brother or headed over to the south mesa, there a long day's toil awaited him. Scott knew what he should do, knew what was expected of him, but he couldn't ignore the insistent little voice inside that incited him to do otherwise.
A mischievous smile had cracked the pensive countenance and with a whoop of delight that would rival any uttered by his sibling Scott had urged his horse down the hillside.
At first Scott had found the chase equally as exhilarating as his brother, but his interest had soon begun to dwindle into unease. Their prey had quickly proved itself cunning, bold and retaliatory; there was something about the stallion's obdurate air that troubled the elder man. Johnny on the other hand saw only a creature blessed with a feisty nature, one he openly admired.
Half a day later the brothers were yet again discussing tactics, the conversation becoming irritable at times. So far all their attempts to rope the black stallion had proved unsuccessful and in the heat of the noonday sun tempers were beginning to fray.
Finally a reluctant Scott had agreed to help run the object of their quest into a nearby box canyon, Johnny was certain he could corner and capture the horse there. The blond wasn't so sure, although he would have felt a lot more confident if his brother had been riding Barannca. Unfortunately the trusted Palomino was resting back at the ranch having pulled up lame the day before. The chestnut gelding Johnny was riding today was young and excitable, a promising horse but not yet up to the tricky job in hand.
Proof as they say is in the pudding and as the three horses charged through the mouth of the ancient dried up ravine the gelding stumbled. The horse recovered quickly under Johnny's expert handling but never quite regained its previous confidence. The jagged rock walls that now towered either side of man and beast seemed to unnerve him still further.
Soon Johnny was fighting for control of his mount. Reluctantly having to admit defeat he eased off on the reins, but the chestnut didn't respond as expected. Instead of slowing to a halt he tried to unseat his rider, bucking and twisting, nostrils flared as its panic increased.
Helpless Scott could only watch from his now stationary mount as his brother unexpectedly lost the battle of wills. Violently catapulted from the saddle the younger man collided heavily with the unforgiving earth, bouncing several times before rolling over and over, finally come to a shuddering halt.
Leaping from his horse the blond sprinted the short distance over to where his brother now lay. Heart thundering in his chest Scott sank to his knees along side Johnny's still form, desperately calling his name.
Blue eyes fluttered open, although badly dazed one thought still occupied the younger man's mind "Scott…the…the stallion?"
"I don't know and I can't say I care." Scott spat in exasperation; the damned horse was the last thing on his mind right then. Ignoring his brother's protests he set about examining him for injury, finding a liberal spattering of bumps and bruises but mercifully nothing more serious.
Relieved Scott eased himself back onto his haunches and gazed determinedly down at his sibling. "I say we call it a day, before you break your foolish neck…"
"I ain't letting a horse like that get away Scott…" Johnny began.
"He has got away…" The blond interrupted "…and you…" Scott gestured at the layer of dust coating his brother "are only going to end up eating more dirt!"
Not prepared to give up so easily Johnny pushed himself up onto his elbows flopping back to the ground immediately as a wave of dizziness hit him.
"As fine a specimen as he is he's not worth…" Scott's voice trailed off as something caught his eye. Thundering towards them was the elusive black stallion, dust whirling up around its flailing hooves.
It was upon them before Scott knew it; he had no time to react, no time to move his still groggy brother to safety. The horse reared and crashed its hooves down, angrily pounding the earth just inches away from the brothers. Desperate to shield his sibling from the crazed beast Scott threw himself over the younger man, covering Johnny's torso with his own.
The force of the blows exploded through his body, a wake of agony radiated endlessly through his back, into his chest and up into his throat. Scott gasped, hungry for air, his lungs had emptied but were now struggling to expand. He felt Johnny shudder beneath him, heard a guttural groan followed by the anguished whisper of his name.
Johnny began to struggle but the young mans panic only served to strengthen Scott's resolve, he knew what he had to do, he had to hold him there, keep him safe. Again the hooves pounded him, nausea welling up inside as the agony peaked.
A gunshot reverberated through the canyon, but it was the familiar voice, horror filled that captured his attention.
"Dios! Scott no!"
Sensing the danger had passed the blond closed his eyes succumbing to the waiting darkness.
The nightmare had begun.
Murdoch had watched the rider approach, disturbed by the apparent urgency that propelled him towards Lancer. //At the rate he was travelling…// Murdoch had mused //the man either had the devil on his tail or something vitally important to share.//
As the speeding horse drew closer to the corral the patriarch recognised its rider as one of his most trusted hands, his unease grew. Still a hundred yards or so away the patriarch could clearly see Walt's face, the rugged features devoid their usual warmth and humour, the countenance ominously grim.
Walt had hurriedly relayed the news of Scott's misfortune, minutes later Murdoch was in the saddle and urging his horse towards Green River, his injured son had been taken there and delivered into the capable hands of Dr Sam Jenkins.
The miles had passed excruciatingly slowly, Murdoch had tried to concentrate solely on the journey, on getting to his son but his thoughts had continually strayed to the events Walt had described. Three gunshots had rang out a few miles from where he and some of the other men were working. Firing three successive rounds on Lancer turf meant someone was in trouble and the men had responded quickly. Walt hadn't known why the Lancer sons were in the canyon, all he could tell the rancher was that Scott was unconscious and Johnny desperate to get his brother to help. With Scott settled in a wagon and on his way to town the ranch hand had been despatched to Lancer, the unfortunate bearer of bad news.
Green River had finally appeared in the distance and shortly after the patriarch's horse was charging along Main Street, townsfolk hurriedly stepping out of the way.
Bursting into the doctor's outer office, Murdoch found it empty except for his younger son. The young man had been seated, head bowed dejectedly. On seeing his father Johnny had gotten stiffly to his feet. The anguish on his son's face stunned Murdoch, he'd hoped against hope to walk through the door and hear something reassuring; instead it seemed he was about to hear to the contrary.