A/N: This is a one shot featuring a young Nathan and a very young Ezra. I'm still working on my Maude story but this idea came to me and I wanted to get it out. Be warned that the beating of slaves does occur. As always, reviews are appreciated. And please make me aware of any spelling or grammar mistakes...it's kinda late and I'm still up writing :)
Disclaimer: I don't own The Magnificent Seven and I'm making no profit from this.
Five-year-old Ezra Standish set on a bench outside of the general store wanting for his uncle, swinging his legs, and happily sucking on the first of his two peppermint sticks. Mrs. Miller always gave him two peppermints when he went to the store with Uncle Edward. Uncle Edward always pretended he didn't like it but Ezra knew he really didn't mind. If he couldn't be with Mama, Ezra was glad he got to be with Uncle Edward.
Mama had left him with Uncle Edward a few weeks while she went to Georgia. She hadn't told him she would be back and he didn't like Mama being gone but Uncle Edward had told him Mama would be happy again when she came back, and Ezra knew he would like that. Mama had been sad a long time, ever since Daddy had died, and if going to Georgia would make happy again than Ezra was glad she had gone.
Ezra was starting on his second peppermint stick when a commotion across the street caught his attention. A burly white man was whipping a black boy's back with a crop, a large bag of busted flour lay on the ground by a wagon. The street was crowded and most everyone tuned to see what was happening. Some people gave the boy looks of pity; others looked slightly uncomfortable, some just ignored the paired or gave them a bored glance before continuing on their way, Ezra however, watched the scene in horror. He'd never seen anyone, not even a slave, be beat before and the sight disturbed the young boy.
The beating continued as Ezra watched. The boy had started to yell something but Ezra couldn't hear what it was as the white man's shouts and curses drowned out the cries. Slavery was a part of the world Ezra lived in and he had known of it his entire life, but the only person Ezra knew personally who owned slaves was Uncle Edward. Ezra had never so much as seen his uncle raise a hand to one of his slaves, much less beat them the way this man was.
"Ezra!" His uncle's cry startled Ezra and he shrank back on the bench slightly, afraid that he had done something wrong but when his uncle he merely knelt down in front of him. "Come on, Ez. It's time we was gettin' home." Ezra thought his uncle's voice sounded funny and he saw him winch when the boy cried out again.
"What's that man doing?" Ezra asked trying to look around his uncle.
Edward moved to block his nephew's view again. There were some people who treated their slaves as less than animals and Edward hated it, but he had no right to interfere with how a man treated his own property. What was happening was one of the evils of slavery and Ezra would have to know about it one day but he didn't need to see it right now. He picked the boy up without answering being careful to keep him turned away from the brutality across the street.
"But what's happening?" Ezra asked still trying to see.
Edward shifted Ezra slightly still trying to hide Ezra from the harsh reality of the world. "That man is mad at a slave." He deliberately kept his answer short but know it wouldn't deter Ezra's inquisitive mind for long.
However, Ezra didn't fight his uncle and remained silent until they got back to the buggy. "What did that boy do to make the man so mad?" Ezra asked, his young brows furrowed as he thought about what he had seen.
"He dropped a bag of flour." Edward simply said hoping his nephew would drop the topic soon.
The boy was getting beat like that for a bag of flour? Ezra slumped down in the buggy's seat as he thought about that. Only last week he had spilled an entire pot of tea on the rug in the sitting room after bumping into the table. He had been afraid Aunt Lola would be mad at him but she had only told him that accidents happen sometimes as she help him clean up the mess. He couldn't think of anything he could do that would make Aunt Lola or Mama or Uncle Edward ever mad enough at him to beat him like that.
His uncle drove past the wagon where the black boy was as he took them home and Ezra turned to look at him as the buggy passed. The white man had finished his beating and the boy was loading the wagon again, although much slower than he had been. As they passed the black boy looked up and Ezra found a pair of brown eyes boring into his green ones. Quickly, Ezra spun around and slumped back down in the seat. He hadn't liked the way the older boy had looked at him but just the same he hoped the other boy would be okay.
Ten-year-old Nathan Jackson hadn't meant to drop the bag of flour, he had been born a slave and was no stranger to hard work, but the bag had simply been too heavy for him and he hadn't been able to hold on to it when he tried to lift it up. Unfortunately for him, it wasn't the plantation owner who had seen him but Mr. Teague, the overseer. Mr. Teague enjoyed beating the slaves and seemed to find a special joy in inflecting pain on Nathan. The boy hadn't been able to do anything right for the man in the nearly three years he been in Alabama, and today was no exception. One second he'd had the flour in his hands, the next he'd felt the sting of Teague's crop on his back.
Nathan began apologizing as soon has the beating started but he knew Teague wouldn't care. Teague wouldn't be satisfied until he felt Nathan had sufficiently suffered for his blunder, and only Teague would know when that point had been reached. There were people all in the street but Nathan knew most of them wouldn't care about what was happening and even if they did care they could do anything to stop it. So he had merely apologized through the man's curses as the crop fell on his back time and time again.
By the time the man finished his beating, Nathan was on his knees in the dirt hardly able to breathe. There were in his eyes but he tried to wipe them away before the big overseer noticed. Nathan knew very well from past experiences with Teague that tears only made the man meaner and he also knew he couldn't be whipped anymore and still be able to load the wagon as he was expected to. In fact, he could already feel the welts beginning to rise on his back making him stiff and sore, but at least the man had only had a crop. Nathan knew he would be bruised from the beating but he didn't feel any blood on his back which was always a good thing.
Shakily, Nathan pushed to his feet keeping his head down to avoid the eyes of anyone who might look in his direction. Anyone who looked at him now would either be one of the sick ones who had gotten enjoyment out of seeing Teague beat him or one of those who pitied him, and Nathan hated both of those looks. As he got up he vowed to himself that one day he would be a free man. He would be able to do whatever he wanted to whenever he wouldn't to. One day, he wouldn't be treated like an animal forced to slave under the evil eye of an overseer who enjoyed beating him when he didn't work fast enough. One day, he would be respected. He might even get to be a doctor like he'd always dreamed of. He lifted his head as he thought about it, lifted it the way a free man would, cause a free man could look everybody in the eye.
Just than a buggy went by and Nathan defiantly looked up at the occupants, almost daring the white people riding in it to tell him to remember his place and look down, but the only person who gave him a glance was a boy a few years younger than himself. Nathan had seen the boy before as he'd set on a bench across the street, eating candy. Earlier, he'd felt a stir of jealousy seeing the boy sucking on his candy without a care in the world but now, so soon after his beating, Nathan felt real anger against the boy. The boy watched Nathan as he went by and Nathan glared back at him. The boy's green eyes widened at the stare and Nathan felt a twinge of satisfaction when the younger boy jerked back around. Despite the pain in his back Nathan smiled. Yes, one day he would be free and he would be able to look everybody, not just little boy, straight in the eye.