A gap filler to one of my all time favourite episodes "Ride the Savage Land"

It always bugged me that they didn't show us what happened to Manolito after he slid, unconscious from his horse in the middle of that desert. What happened between that fantastic scene and the episode tag? This is my attempt to "plug the gap." Hope you like it!

First appeared as a competition entry on the High Chaparral & Bonanza Fanfiction site - thought it would be nice to include it along with my other stories here on (thanks to Kate for hosting it on her site for so long!)


MAN OF COURAGE

The journey back had been slow and painful for Manolito Montoya. Gripped by a raging fever he had slipped in and out of consciousness, held upright in the saddle only by the support of his friend Buck Cannon, who'd sat behind him on his horse.

Buck had spoken to him throughout, whispering words of encouragement in his ear.

"Take it easy Mano ... won't be long now ... we'll soon be home, Amigo." Mano had tried to acknowledge the words, but somehow found it difficult to speak as he clenched his teeth against the pain, afraid that if he didn't he would cry out. And in the back of his fevered mind he knew that he could not make a sound, because if he did the Apache would kill him, Buck and the little girl Olive, and he could not let that happen. So he sat silently, lost in a world of chanting medicine men and blood crazed warriors.

Finally, two days since an ecstatic search party had found them, they had reached the safety of the High Chaparral. Blue had been sent on ahead so that, by the time they rode up to the front of the house, Victoria and a large number of ranch hands were anxiously awaiting their return.

Despite the warning given by Blue, Victoria was shaken by the appearance of her dangerously ill brother, as willing hands reached up to lift his sweat soaked and unconscious body from the saddle. They carried him inside and laid him gently on his bed, whilst Victoria shouted frantic orders for water and clean towels.

As Victoria began to remove Manolito's boots Buck moved to her side.

"Careful there Victoria ... his feet are cut real bad. Let me help ya get them off."

Buck held his friend's legs whilst Victoria eased the boot from each foot, to reveal blood stained socks. Mano, obviously in pain, tossed restlessly on the bed, but uttered no sound, as she peeled off the socks to reveal the deep, bloody rope marks that cut into each ankle.

"My God!" she exclaimed. "What happened?"

"Injuns tied him upside down to a post ... guess they tied them ropes too tight," Buck explained quietly.

Victoria looked at her brother-in-law and took in his gaunt and worried appearance. Whatever had happened it was obvious that Buck, as was his way, felt responsible. And although she needed to know more, she knew now was not the time to ask, knew that Buck was on the verge of collapse. Manolito required urgent medical attention and she needed Buck to help her. So she refrained from asking any more questions whilst they eased off his jacket, shirt and pants.

Buck Cannon stared at the angry welt marks that adorned his friend's chest, remembering vividly how each one had been placed there. He remembered the frenzied cries of each brave as they had struck out with their whips, whilst he watched his friend flinch with pain, but make no sound.

"Buck," Victoria called, interrupting his thoughts, "please help me turn him. I need to look at his back."

They rolled him on his side and Buck held him close, whilst Victoria, as gently as she could, cleaned his back. Although the cuts were few, inflicted when a whip had sometimes curled around his body, every time she touched them Mano flinched from the pain. Victoria looked sadly up at Buck as he stroked the damp fringe away from her brother's eyes.

"He makes no sound," she said. "He is in so much pain. Why is he so quiet?"

Buck knew why; had gleaned as much during their long journey home together. In his fevered mind Manolito Montoya was still tied upside down to that post, still determined not to cry out, still fighting for the life of that little girl. He looked at his sister-in-law and shrugged his shoulders. He could not tell her, could not revisit those dreadful memories again – not yet.

Buck eased his friend onto his back, wrung out a cloth in the cool water and began to sponge the sweat soaked face. In response Mano opened his eyes and looked wildly around the room.

"It's ok Mano," Buck eased, "you're safe now ... d'ya hear ... you ain't got to worry no more."

"He's right my brother," Victoria whispered as she clasped his hand in hers. "You are safe."

Manolito turned his face towards her, but there was no sign of recognition in his sweat-blurred eyes.

"I don't think he can hear you Victoria," Buck said as he continued to dampen his friend's brow.

But as Manolito closed his eyes and returned to his nightmare world something had changed, something was different.

It was over. He had done it. He didn't know how, but he had done it. Despite the pain of each stroke as it landed against his bare flesh he had not cried out. He had proven to himself that he did have courage, despite the doubts. Now he watched them, through an upside down haze, as they came to honour him. To pay their respects to a "man of courage." And he watched nervously as they danced around him, chanting words of great praise. He had long respected the Apache, and it was that respect that had kept him alive on many occasions. The great knowledge he had of their customs enabled him to understand their way of life. And because of that understanding he knew what they would do next, and braced himself as the first warrior approached, hunting knife in hand.

He felt a sharp sting as the knife sliced through his arm and heard the whoop of delight from the jubilant crowd gathered around. The warrior smeared his fingers along the bleeding cut, and then wiped the blood across each cheek, covering the war paint that already adorned his face. With a great cry he fell to his knees, looked up at Manolito and thanked him for his gift of courage.

It was not until the last of the braves had completed this ritual that they cut him down from the post and carried him, with reverence, into a nearby tippee – by that time he was unconscious.

HCHCHCHCHC

Victoria rinsed out the blood soaked cloth and looked at her brother's bandaged arm. These were the worst of his injuries, and the cause of his high fever; the deep slashes had become badly infected. She'd cleaned them as best she could and, whilst Buck and Sam had pinned her brother's pain wracked body to the bed, she'd stitched up the deepest cuts. Now she sat exhausted, as Buck placed a light sheet over Manolito's shivering body.

"Why don't you go and get something to eat Buck," she said quietly, "it must be a while since you had a good hot meal."

"No thank you m'am," he replied, pulling a chair close to the bed. "Think I'll stay here a while ... keep him cool."

"I'll have something brought to you in here," she smiled as she left to find her husband. She felt in need of some comfort.

She found John Cannon out by the coral, tending to the tired horses. He looked up as she approached, and hurried to meet her.

"How is he?" he asked, concern etched all over his face.

"He is ... very sick, my husband," she replied, attempting to maintain control over her fragile emotions. But as he pulled her close, wrapping strong arms around her, she let go, sobbing into his embrace.

"It'll be okay, Victoria ... you'll see. One thing I know about Manolito is that he's as strong as an Ox."

"I know ... I know," she replied. "It's just ... oh John those wounds. Do you know what happened?"

"From what little Buck is giving away seems Mano had to pass some sort of test."

"Test?" She pulled away and looked up at him, questioning. "What sort of test?"

"A test of courage ... and if he'd failed the Apache would have slaughtered him, Buck and that little girl," he nodded over to the porch where a little blonde girl, dressed in buckskin sat cradled in the arms of her relieved sister.

"Oh John, we must get her out of those dirty clothes and bathed and I expect she is starving, poor child."

John Cannon smiled after his wife as she hurried off to tend to Olive.

HCHCHCHCHC

Olive was bewildered. Everything had happened so fast. Only a few days before she had been about to start the daily task of collecting fire wood when the two white men had arrived in the village. With growing curiosity she had watched them speak with the elders and had been amazed to learn, soon after, that she was the reason for their visit. They had come to buy her with a bag of gold. She could not believe it, why would these men risk their lives for her? Little Horse, the Chief's youngest son had teased her, claiming that the white men would carry her away as a gift for the devil. But she did not believe him, especially when the older man had looked kindly at her and smiled.

She stood with the others as they led the younger man to the punishment post and tied him upside down, arms outstretched. She knew what would come next, had been told of the ritual by Moon Stone - this was the test of courage. And this man would only pass it if he held his tongue and did not utter a single sound for the entire duration of the test. If he failed to do so then he and his friend would be sacrificed to the Gods. Moon Stone had felt it unkind to tell White Hair that she too would be killed if he failed.

As the crowd gathered in anticipation Olive watched apprehensively as the first warrior mounted his pony and shook out his whip. All eyes were on the white man as Grey Feathers charged straight for the post and struck out at the tethered man. The whip lashed against his bare skin, leaving behind a livid red mark and they all waited expectantly for him to cry out. But he did not. Over and over Olive watched as each brave struck out at this helpless man, determined to be the first to make him cry out. But he did not utter a single sound. Finally it was over. The Chief had decided. He had passed the test.

Soon after she had left the village, wrapped in the arms of the one called Buck. But it was not until the "brave one" had cut the slave collar from her neck that she had realised she was free. And in that instance all the pain she had suffered during the five long years of captivity came flooding back and she cried. "Brave one" soothed her, rocked her gently and stroked her thick matted hair.

"It's all right Chiquita," he whispered, "it's alright."

And she finally realised he was telling the truth - she was safe at last.

Buck sat wearily at the bedside, still attempting to break his friend's fever. But, despite the many sponge baths he and Victoria had administered over the past few hours, the fever was worse. Manolito mumbled incoherently and sometimes cried out as he writhed in his delirium. Buck took some strange comfort from this; at least now his friend was not afraid to speak even if he could not understand a single word he said.

Victoria entered with a fresh bowl of water and looked at the uneaten plate of food that lay on the bedside table.

"Buck you have to eat," she chastised, "you have to keep up your strength."

"I'm sorry Victoria," he apologised, "I just don't feel like it."

"Will you at least get some fresh air ... I can watch him for a while."

Buck, bone tired, looked up into his sister-in-law's concerned face and finally acquiesced.

"All right Victoria," he said, "I'll go take a walk ... but call me if there's any change."

"Of course," she smiled as he left the room.

Victoria lifted her brother's hand and held it to her lips.

"Please Manolo," she whispered, stroking his dampened hair, "do not leave me."

Manolito turned his head towards her and opened his eyes. She thought for a minute that he had recognised her, but suddenly he screamed out and tried to pull away, caught up in the ravages of his nightmare. She whispered soothingly, lifting his head as she trickled cool water between his lips. But he cried out again, words she did not understand.

"What is it Mano?" she cried, tears streaming down her face. "What are you saying?"

A small voice answered from the door.

"He is begging you to stop."

Victoria turned around and looked at the small girl who stood in the doorway. She looked different now, a pretty little thing, her blonde locks washed and tied in a bow, and but for the haunted look Victoria would not have guessed that this was the same girl.

Aware of the bond that had grown between her brother and this child Victoria beckoned her into the room. Tentatively Olive sat on the side of the bed and looked sadly at Manolito.

"Is he dying?" she asked, not looking up from the face of the "brave one."

"He is very sick my child," Victoria whispered.

Olive picked up the cloth from the bedside table, wrung it out in the fresh, cool water and turned towards Victoria.

"I will stay with him," she stated, matter of fact, as she proceeded to help bathe the body of the man who had saved her life.

HCHCHCHCHC

Buck walked aimlessly around the coral trying to clear his mind. His best friend lay dying in the house as a direct result of his actions and there wasn't a thing he could do about it. He picked up a small axe and held it loosely in his hand.

"Sonovabitch" he yelled as he threw the axe wildly at the side of the barn where it embedded deeply into the thick wood.

"Did that make you feel better?" John asked as he walked up behind his brother.

"Some," Buck answered, resentful of the intrusion, especially from his older brother.

"You know it wasn't your fault, Buck."

"I'm surprised you think so John ... especially as you was the one to point out how stupid the whole idea was."

Buck moved to the side of the barn to retrieve the axe.

"Okay, maybe I did think it was a dumb idea at the time, but ..."

"And you was right, Big John," Buck interrupted "Darn well went and got Mano into a hellava lot of trouble. He's probably gonna die cause of it ... and for what?"

He threw the axe at his target again.

"For that young girl over there," John nodded towards the coral where Ann, Olive's older sister, stood smiling as she stroked the mane of a young Pinto. "And," John continued, "for Olive."

"It should've been me." Buck stared at Ann, eyes glazed.

"What makes you say that?" John asked, looking at his brother.

"Was my idea ... it should've been me. I should've taken the test."

"From what I hear you didn't have much say in the matter. Buck ... when Manolito rode out of this Ranch after you he did so of his own free will. He wanted to help you ... he didn't think your idea was stupid. Matter of fact," John wrapped his arm around his brother's shoulder, "he told me that I was a pig headed, heartless mule."

Buck looked into his brother's face. "Really," he asked, incredulous.

"Really," John replied. "And do you want to know something ... right now I have to agree with him. But," he added, "don't ever tell him I told you that."

Buck patted his brother on the back. "Thanks John," he sighed.

HCHCHCHCHC

John stood at the doorway of Manolito's bedroom in despair. He knew from experience that unless the fever broke soon his brother-in-law would be dead.

"What can we do, John," Victoria pleaded.

"Only one thing we can do ... kill or cure."

They brought the metal tub into the bedroom and filled it with cold water. Buck and John lifted the sweat-drenched man from his bed and lowered him into the tub. Shivering uncontrollably, Mano cried out in shock and pain as the icy water covered his body. More buckets were deposited next to the tub and John lifted them one by one, pouring the contents of each bucket over his friend's head.

After twenty minutes they lifted him from the water, dried his dripping wet body and wrapped him tightly in a blanket. Now all they could do was wait.

Olive had been taken from the room whilst John had administered his "kill or cure" treatment. But soon she had sneaked back and sat, once more, beside the "brave one."

She remembered when she had been sick in the Apache Village. Many had argued that she should be left to die, after all she was only a slave girl. But Moon Stone had refused to accept this and had taken Olive into her tippee, where she had cared for her day and night. Olive remembered how the old Apache woman had sung a special song to her as she bathed her fevered brow, and now, as she bathed "brave one's" face she began to sing it to him.

The sweet Apache words filled his mind, mingling with the whoops of the braves as they tormented his helpless body. Soon the words of the song drowned out the words of his enemy as he listened and understood their meaning.

Sleep in peace my love,

Your dreams will not be troubled

For we in this tribe share a love

That will keep the demons away.

Sleep in peace my friend

Your dreams will not be troubled

As long as you remember in the end

To always come back to us.

That night the fever broke!

HCHCHCHCHC

The sun was just beginning to creep through the bedroom window when Manolito finally opened his eyes. The ranch house was silent, attesting to the fact that it was very early in the morning, and everyone was still asleep. Slowly he looked around the room, until his eyes alighted on Buck asleep in the chair. Why was his friend here in his room? He couldn't remember what had happened. Why did he feel so weak?

His body aching he moved uncomfortably and nudged up against something lying on the bed beside him. He looked down and was surprised to see a small girl, nestling into him. He smiled as he watched her sleeping, arms wrapped around his waist for comfort. He reached down gently and began to stroke her soft blonde hair and at his touch she stirred restlessly, mumbling in her sleep. He listened carefully as he tried to make sense of her words and, as they became clearer, he realised she was speaking Apache.

And suddenly he remembered. Remembered being tied, helpless, upside down to the post, remembered the screaming of the braves as they charged towards him, remembered the whole reason he and Buck had gone willingly into that Indian village. It was for this small child and the need to free her from the Apache and bring her home.

Olive turned over in her sleep and cried out.

"No ... please ... I didn't mean it," she begged, lost in a nightmare.

"Shh Chiquita ... it's ... all right," he soothed, as he continued to stroke her head.

At the sound of his voice Buck stirred in his chair and woke up. Slowly Manolito turned his head towards his friend and their eyes met.

"Mano ... you're ... you're awake." Buck stuttered, hardly daring to believe it.

"Yes ... Amigo ... I am awake," Mano replied weakly.

"Can I get you anything?" Buck asked eagerly.

"Water," Mano whispered, "thirsty."

Buck lifted his friend's head and held the glass to his lips as he swallowed the cool, refreshing liquid.

Sated, he held up his hand and Buck lowered his head onto the soft pillow.

"How d'ya feel?" Buck asked.

"Like ... I have been ... trampled by a herd of cattle." Manolito replied, smiling. "Twice! How long ... have I been here?"

"Got back to the Chaparral yesterday morning."

"Last thing ... I remember we were ... leaving the Apache camp."

"That was three days ago, Mano ... you've been pretty much out of it." Buck sat silently for a few moments and then without looking at this friend murmured "I'm sorry!"

"For what?" Mano looked questioningly at his friend. He took in the drawn features, the furrowed brow.

"For dragging you into this mess. For almost getting you killed."

"Not you're fault ... my choice ... and I'd do it again," Manolito assured his friend.

"You don't mean that Mano ... cause you don't remember ... you've been too sick," Buck choked back the tears as he looked into his friend's face, "and I couldn't do anything to help," he added sadly.

"You want to know ... what I remember my friend? I remember a voice ... telling me to hold on ... a voice telling me everything would be okay," Mano placed his hand gently on his friend's knee. "Buck you were right ... everything is okay and more importantly," he looked down at Olive, "you were right to bring her home." He yawned. "Now ... I think I will sleep again," he said.

"Yeah ... that's a good idea ... you need to rest," Buck smiled, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Sweat dreams, Mano."

"They will be," Manolito said, as he closed his eyes, and then in Apache whispered, "the demons have all gone away."