Part One

Cipriano Roldán slipped into the chair beside his wife's and took her hand in his. With the other he took Arturo's, lifting the heavy hand from where it rested on the old man's shattered chest.

Arturo's breath was failing him.

When the battle for Lancer was won, Cipriano had known the instant he'd bent over his old compadre that Arturo was beyond help in this world. Indeed, he was astonished that Arturo was still breathing. He'd seen the old vaquero fall from the walls of the hacienda, clutching at his chest and letting his rifle drop. Cipriano hadn't been able to do anything right then but to shoot again and again at Pardee's evil men, hoping that one of the perros that he hit with his bullets was the coward who had shot Arturo.

When the cobardes had fled, when Pardee was dead with Señor Scott's bullet in his black heart, Cipriano had looked first to assure himself that his sons were unhurt and had then run to reach Arturo. Eduardo had spat out a curse and run with him, Jaime following on close behind. Let the others, let Toledano and Mano, Carlos and Matteo run to help Señor Scott bring his injured hermano into the hacienda; they were vaqueros with no other duty than to the Patrón and it was right and proper that they help the sons. Cipriano, though, owed Arturo the duty of a son or a nephew and that came first, even before his obligation to the Patrón. He had gathered up the old vaquero into his arms with his sons' help and carried him to his own house, his eyes burning.

"The doctor said that Arturo is in no pain and that he won't wake now," whispered Bella, telling the rosary with her free hand. "Did you ask someone to go for the priest?"

"I sent Frank, but the Padre won't get here in time," said Cipriano, stoical in the face of death. It did not worry him, the way it might worry the very pious, that the priest would be too late to administer a last absolution. Arturo didn't need it. He was a good old man, a simple man who did no harm, with a pure and loving heart. Cipriano knew that the good Dios would overlook what small sins remained since Arturo's last confession to cast their insignificant stains on the old man's soul, and accept him into His heaven with open arms and the kiss of welcome. It could not be otherwise.

Bella nodded, her fingers slipping over the carved ivory beads and her lips moving silently with prayers so familiar that the words sank unnoticed into the mind and heart like rain into the parched earth, and brought refreshment. She, too, knew that Arturo was a good man. Her prayers, though, would comfort what little remained of Arturo that might still be able to hear her and know he was being farewelled, as he left on his long journey, with love and respect and the proper observances.

Eduardo and Jaime slipped into the room. Cipriano felt the pressure of a hand on his shoulder for a moment, as Eduardo passed by him to sit on the other side of the bed to his parents. Jaime stood behind his brother, looking uncomfortable. Eduardo thought of Arturo as his abuelo, loved him dearly and had named his own son for him; Jaime was fond of Arturo, surely, but there was not the same bond. Eduardo's eyes were wet and he wiped them with the back of his hand. Cipriano managed a faint smile for him, to tell Eduardo that he need not be ashamed of honest tears for the beloved dying and dead. The smile he gave Jaime was to reassure, for the young one had seen too much death that morning and Cipriano had seen how his gentle son's hands had trembled when the last of Pardee's men had fled.

"What of the others?" asked Bella, her fingers stilling between one decade of the rosary and the next. Cipriano saw how her eyes showed her thankfulness that both their sons were unhurt. Although she had known it, still she looked them over almost greedily to reassure herself, before her upright posture relaxed the tiniest amount. He increased the pressure of his hand a little in comfort and the boys, seeing their mother's glance, both managed small smiles for her, too overwhelmed in the face of Death to do more. It had been a trying morning for her, and a dangerous one, and its ending was bitter-sweet.

"Señor Johnny is badly hurt, I think, but the others aren't so bad. The doctor has gone up to the hacienda to see to him. He'll have a lot of work to do tod—"

Cipriano broke off as Arturo's breath hitched in his throat and faltered. He leaned forward, watching intently, aware that Eduardo mirrored him on the other side of the bed. Jaime shifted his weight uncomfortably, his boots dragging on the polished wooden floor. Cipriano was aware, too, of the soft murmur of Bella's voice as she restarted her rosary, praying Arturo out of this life and into the everlasting life that is to come.

Another hitching, half-strangled breath. And another. Another breath. A pause. And another, fainter and ever more difficult.

Death stood at the foot of the bed, waiting.

"Vaya con Dios, tio mio," said Cipriano softly, releasing Bella's hand to place his on the old man's brow. "You are much loved by us and by God, who awaits you. You will be remembered in my heart."

There was no more. Arturo slipped away quietly between one breath and the one that should have come next but did not, his hand in Death's, and with nothing but a soft sigh to mark his passing.

After a moment, Cipriano sat back. He carefully replaced the old man's hand on his breast and patted it. He smoothed the patchwork quilt covering Arturo's empty shell, holding his mouth shut tight against the protests it would utter to God. Eduardo sat with his head bowed. Jaime swallowed visibly and turned to stare out of the window, looking across the vegetable gardens to the courtyard at the back of the hacienda where his old playmate lay with a bullet in his back.

Without interrupting her prayer, Bella handed Cipriano a folded square of soft linen; one of her best handkerchiefs, covered in the exquisite embroidery that had cost her many hours of labour, the threads pulled and whipped with silk until it looked like lace. Cipriano unfolded it and gently laid it over Arturo's face, glad that the old man had been so deeply unconscious that he hadn't had to commit the ultimate betrayal and close Arturo's eyes on the world of light.

"…pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death." Bella's soft voice said in his ear. Her eyes were as wet as Eduardo's, but her voice had never faltered. She had owed it to Arturo not to falter.

Cipriano couldn't speak his amen, but he nodded it.

xoxo

xoxo

Cipriano made his way up to the hacienda, walking through the gardens that Arturo had helped to tend when he grew too old to ride to herd cows, and past the little room in the courtyard where Arturo had lived in contentment until Pardee came. He had left Eduardo and Jaime to speak to José, the estancia's carpenter. José was a busy man, that day and Cipriano, too, had duties.

The Patrón and his eldest son were in the great room with Señorita Teresa. The Patrón was stumping up and down the room, leaning on his cane, his face terrible with anxiety and fear. He nodded but did not speak when Cipriano came in. Cipriano concluded that Doctor Jenkins was still trying to get the bullet out of the younger son's back, with the help of the housekeeper, Maria Morales.

Señor Scott watched the Patrón going back and forth, his mouth in a tight line and his eyes weary. Looking at him, Cipriano felt his own weariness; they had ridden hard and long the previous night to trick Pardee and yet still win back to the hacienda in time to defend it, and none of them had yet managed to sleep. Well, Dios willing, they would soon.

"I didn't notice," Señor Scott said as Cipriano entered the room. "He was half-dressed when he came charging into my room yesterday morning, but I've just realised how clever he was at making sure that I saw nothing. He had his shirt half on—the right side, of course, to hide that bruise—and he kept his back to me until he'd covered it."

"Scott—" said the Patrón, waving Cipriano into a chair.

"I should have realised," said Señor Scott. "But he was so bumptious and annoying that of course that's what took my attention." He shook his head. "I thought he was a little thin, you know, but it just didn't register."

"Scott—" said the Patrón.

"How stupid can I be? When I saw what state he was in this morning—"

"Scott, enough. We don't know what happened to him, but it's hardly your fault that you didn't see it earlier. It's not as though he was willing to tell us." The Patrón sighed, and Cipriano knew what it cost him to say what he said next: "He doesn't know us and he doesn't trust us."

"He's trusting us now," said Señor Scott, glancing at the kitchen door.

"I think he's trusting you." The Patrón punctuated his words with a thump of his cane on the floorboards. Cipriano looked to see if it left a mark that José would have to polish out later.

Señor Scott shook his head, and his smile was thin and wry. "Not that much. He's not the confiding sort, is he, our Johnny?"

"I don't think he'd have lasted long as a gunfighter if he was," said the Patrón, heavily. "But don't underestimate what you achieved today with him, Scott. I don't think that any of us would have enjoyed Sam digging that bullet out of him while he was awake, and without you, he'd have refused that chloroform. If Sam had had to wait until he passed out, it might have been too late or at least made Johnny's chances much worse. Johnny's trusted you with his life."

Señorita Teresa, who had been sitting quietly and listening, was paler than usual. "Why would he refuse the chloroform? It doesn't make any sense!"

"He's learned never to let anyone have an advantage over him," said the Patrón, his eyes grim.

Teresa shook her head. The life of a pistolero was beyond the nina's comprehension, thought Cipriano, who knew that she was an innocent for all his disapproval of the licence the girl was given—no daughter of his, had the little Isabella lived (Dios keep her with His angels), would have worn britches like a man.

"He's had a rough time recently," said the Patrón. "I wish he'd tell us what happened to him." He added, glumly, "I don't think he will."

"Remember the first night and how he ate? I thought… forgive me, sir, but it's obvious that Johnny hasn't had much education, and I thought it was just bad manners. But it wasn't, was it? I remember him saying that he'd been living on trail rations until he got here. He was travelling on horseback, wasn't he, until his horse went lame just south of the Morro Coyo road. I don't suppose that means he could carry much in the way of supplies. He only had the saddlebags."

"No," said the Patrón. "Beef jerky or pemmican, maybe, and beans."

"Oh, poor Johnny!" said Señorita Teresa.

"I wouldn't say that to his face, Teresa. I've a feeling my little brother's pride would be hurt."

"I'll talk to Maria about it when this is all over. We'll soon fatten him up a bit." Teresa looked apologetically at Señor Scott. "No more fancy food for your sake, I'm afraid, Scott."

Señor Scott looked briefly astonished. "Uh… really… that's all right," he said.

Cipriano gathered that something had happened to Señor Johnny beyond having Pardee's bullet in his back. He wasn't surprised. He had fond memories of the little Juanito, very fond memories, but he didn't yet know what to make of Johnny Madrid. At least, he didn't yet know how to get past the instinctive prejudice a man of honour had for the hired killer, to see the man behind the gun. What little he knew of pistoleros suggested that few men would know what to make of Johnny Madrid other than what Madrid permitted them to see, and that would be little enough of the man who lived in hiding behind the name. But from what he had seen and what the pistolero had allowed him to know, Cipriano thought that Señor Johnny would be the kind of man who had things happen around him or to him or who made things happen. Whether they were good things remained to be seen, but the morning's events, where Señor Johnny had made things happen with a vengeance, suggested that at the least they would be interesting.

He eyed Señor Scott with interest. He had struck Cipriano very favourably, had the Patrón's eldest son. He seemed to be a very responsible young man and that was, of course, a good thing for himself and for the estancia, but to take responsibility for whatever had happened to his hermano before they even met seemed excessive.

Señor Scott seemed to see Cipriano for the first time. "Cipriano," he said, nodding a greeting.

"Señor," said Cipriano, gravely.

"You might send a couple of men up to the ridge that Pardee rode in from, Cip," said the Patrón. "From what Johnny told us, you'll find another body up there."

"Si?" queried Cipriano.

"Pardee's second in command, Coley. Johnny said that Coley got in the way when he tried to kill Pardee, just before he rode down here with them behind him. Put Coley on a wagon to be taken into town with the others. I'm not burying any of them here on Lancer."

"I do not think that the priest or the pastor will want them in the cemeteries either, Patrón."

"Maybe not, but that's the job we pay them for. Send them to Pastor Williams in Green River and I'll give whoever takes them a telegram for a US Marshall out of Sacramento. It'll be days before he gets here, but at least now Pardee actually attacked us, the law might be willing to do something about the pack dogs. He can take the rest of Pardee's men off our hands."

"It had better be done today," said Cipriano, with an eye to the spring sunshine brightening the room through the great windows. It was early in the year yet, but the late-morning sun was already strong. It would be warm at noon, very warm, and although the adobe walls were thick in the storeroom where the corpses of Pardee's men had been put (seven of them and Pardee himself), the warmth would affect the bodies and it would be better to get them underground. "The Pastor will not wish to deal with them tomorrow, on the Lord's Day and we cannot keep them here long; evil men keep no better in the heat than do the righteous. I will send Toledano and Mano and tell them to stop by the ridge on the way."

The Patrón nodded, his eyes sharp as they focused on Cipriano, understanding what Cipriano could not yet bring himself to say. "Arturo?" he asked, his gruff voice overlaid with a rough gentleness.

"Si, Patrón."

The Patrón nodded, but said nothing more, resuming his pacing. When he reached Cipriano, he paused and dropped a hand on his shoulder. Cipriano looked up and met the pale blue eyes, and nodded. There was no need for more, not between them. They both knew that Arturo had not died the old-man's death he deserved, but at least at the end he went in quiet and in peace. He would be missed and his memory honoured. It was all he would have asked.

After a moment, the Patrón resumed his pacing, his face set, and Cipriano said, with an apologetic look at Teresa, "I thought we might bury Arturo and the others near Señor O'Brien."

"Yes," said the Patrón. "I would like that. I'd be honoured." He stopped and jabbed again at the floorboards with his cane. "Four good men! Four! They were each worth ten of the scum that killed them. I hope that Pardee's black soul burns in Hell for them!"

"It will," said Cipriano.

"I'd like to be at the funerals," said Señor Scott, "if it's not intruding. I was proud to fight alongside them this morning, Cipriano, and I'd like to pay my last respects."

It was the right thing to do and say, of course. Cipriano understood that Señor Scott had no knowledge of the dead vaqueros. He could not know that Tomas had been born on the estancia; or that Manuel Garcia's wife (dead in childbed these fifteen years and the child with her) had been the daughter of the Patrón's first segundo, before O'Brien came; or that Isidore had come there from the orphanage ten years ago when he was fifteen and had been a miracle with horses; or that Arturo had come to the estancia to work when he was a boy of thirteen, almost sixty years before, and had spent his whole life there. He could not know these things, but he knew how to show respect and loyalty. It was an estimable thing, Cipriano thought, and nodded his approval of right and proper behaviour that would command respect and loyalty in its turn.

It was not enough, of course, if Señor Scott was to stay at Lancer and become a ranchero, but it was a start. It gave them something on which to build.

"The priest is on his way, Señor, and I will make the arrangements with him when he gets here. It may not be today, but whenever we bury them, your presence will be an honour."

"I'd like to be there, too," said Teresa. She had dabbed at her eyes fiercely when she realised Arturo was dead, for she had tended the gardens alongside the old man since she was a little nina, and she dabbed at them again at the mention of her father. Well, she was very young. Cipriano wondered what she felt when her father's murderer died almost in front of her. He shook his head; she should have been sent to the doctor's house in Green River for safety and should never have seen anything of this morning at all. It wasn't proper, the license allowed gringa girls.

"We'll all go," the Patrón said, with a glance at the closed kitchen door. "It's only right we give them a place on the land. We owe them so much and some of them were here before me. Arturo was, of course, as you know, Cipriano." To his son he explained, "Cip worked for Don Velásquez before I bought this place. He and Isabella had been married a couple of years or more then, and Eduardo was no more than a baby. He'd be what, Cipriano, about eighteen months?"

"A little less," said Cipriano. "He was a year old just before the Don sold you the estancia. I remember very well the day that you and the Señora came. The first Señora de Lancer, Señor Scott, your mother."

"Just Scott, please," said Señor Scott. He added, shyly, "One day, Cipriano, I'd like to talk to you about those days, if I may."

Cipriano saw the Patrón's hand tighten on his cane and merely smiled non-committedly in response. He had no time to say anything, anyway. Doctor Jenkins appeared in the kitchen doorway, bundling a bloodied white apron up in one hand.

"Sam?" demanded the Patrón before the doctor had taken more than a step into the room. Señor Scott sat up very straight, his level gaze on Jenkins.

"Not too bad, Murdoch. So far, anyway. As I thought, the bullet was lodged against his shoulder blade but didn't break the bone. He was very lucky. There's still a lot of damage and I've had to put in some deep stitches to repair the trapezius muscle—the one in his upper back—but if we can avoid infection it should heal well. He'll be stiff and sore for some weeks, but he should get full use of the arm back, if he's patient and lets it heal properly."

"Oh," said the Patrón, blankly, and he sat down quickly in the nearest chair. He stared at the floor for a second or two, before straightening up and clearing his throat. "That's good," he said. "That's good news, Sam. Thank you."

Cipriano caught the doctor's amused, affectionate look and they shared a moment of understanding. The Patrón would never admit to anything he thought of as weakness, they both knew that. Cipriano wondered if the sons would change that, if they would be the weakness that could be changed to strength.

"It's not all good, Murdoch," warned Jenkins. "He was starting a fever when I got here and it looks like it's settling in. I have to say that it worries me. It worries me a lot. We need to watch him carefully."

"Caused by the other injuries, sir?" asked Señor Scott.

"They certainly didn't help. Most of them are healed, or well on the way, but he's hardly on top form and he's malnourished. It's pulled the boy's strength down and that's given this fever its chance." Jenkins shook his head. "He doesn't have much in reserve to fight it, and that's the truth. We'll just have to hope he can ride it out. Let's get him upstairs and settled."

"I will help," said Cipriano. He smiled at the Patrón. "It will not be the first time I've put him to bed, after all."

The Patrón nodded, his mouth twitching into a reluctant smile. "He's a little bigger and heavier these days, Cip. Do you remember how much he adored Eduardo? He followed him around like a puppy. And how he and Jaime squabbled over their toys?"

"I remember it very well," said Cipriano, sadly, thinking of the bright, happy two-year-old, only a month younger than Jaime. But for his bright blue eyes and slightly paler skin, the Patrón's son and Jaime might have been twins. "But he will not."