“I cannot lift the curse.”
Vin jumped up from his place by the fire. “I thought you said you could help!”
“I can help you lift the curse.”
Ezra stared at him. “I don’t understand.”
“This is a journey you must take alone to a place where you must confront the one who cursed you. This is a place only you can go. I can send you there.”
Now Vin understood. “A vision quest?”
“Yes. Come with me.” Ezra got up to follow him. The others came, too, but the shaman turned them away. They would have to wait…and pray.
He took Ezra to a small round building. They sat down across from each other. “You must speak to the one who cursed you.”
“How can I possibly do that? The elderly gypsy woman’s been dead for generations.”
“Time means nothing on the Path. The past is as close as the present. Drink this.”
It was a strangely bitter beverage that went down smoothly. Ezra was about to ask the purpose of the drink when he found himself unable to keep his eyes open.
His next coherent thought was surprise. He was surrounded by trees in a dense forest. The air was more humid. How strange. Where had the village gone? He heard laughter. Peering through the trees he spied a young woman walking with a man she obviously adored. They were both outlandishly garbed. Gypsies? The man kissed her passionately and headed down a path leading in the opposite direction. He heard a rustle to the right. A man in grey watched the couple with a look of anger on his face. He seemed not to notice Ezra. All the better.
Were these the people from Father’s story? What was he supposed to do here? Could a man actually change the past? Would such a thing destroy his own future? He almost laughed at that thought. He didn’t have much of a future.
A scream snapped him out of his own musings. The man in grey was viciously attacking the young woman. Ezra didn’t need time to think. He released his derringer and pointed it at the man. “Unhand that woman or I shall be forced to shoot you!”
The man spun, whipping out a pistol and aiming it at the gambler. Without hesitation, Ezra shot the man dead. The girl’s husband came rushing back to her side, having heard her screams. Ezra stepped back into the shadow of the trees, not wishing to be seen.
“You are here and you are not here. This is a strange magic.”
Ezra started at the voice, turning to see an old woman standing behind him.
“Are you a spirit?”
“No. I’m just a man.”
She narrowed her eyes as if trying to see through him. A quick glance through the trees at the dead man brought understanding to her eyes. “I see. You are connected to him. But now he is dead. What if that means you may not be born? How are their lives important to you, gaje (*any non-gypsy person)?”
“They’re innocent people. He was going to hurt them. I had the power to stop it. Does it have to be any more complicated than that?”
She sighed. “You are a good man then.”
There was indignation in his voice. “So were many of the Standish men before me. So was my father.”
“Just so. Just so. I was angry and full of grief. I sought justice for my son’s life and his woman’s pain. Perhaps it was not justice I found, but revenge. Justice is a slow river that can wash away the evil, but revenge is a raging river that can sweep away everything—even the one who summoned the waters. Forgive me, child.” She touched his forehead. “Let the river run dry.”
Ezra heard a howl. A wolf darted past him. It stopped to gaze back at him for a moment. Their eyes locked. The wolf turned away and disappeared into the forest.
Ezra awoke to darkness. He took in his surroundings, noting that he was once more in a little building in the Seminole village. The shaman was gone. He stood up, stretching his stiff legs. When he walked outside, he was immediately greeted by his fellow peacekeepers. They kept smiling at him and clapping him on the back. Josiah grabbed him in a fierce hug. “Josiah! What do you think you’re doing?”
Josiah stood back to look at him. “Ezra! You’re cured!”
It was then that he noticed it was dark out. He looked up to see a clear sky strewn with glittering stars. Directly overhead was a great, luminous, full moon. “But…but…”
Nathan laughed. “For once he’s speechless!”
The vision. The gypsy. The curse. “I never thought… Thank you. All of you.” He looked at Vin, knowing he owed him more than anyone. “I can’t…” He turned away, unable to finish.
Josiah pulled him into another hug, this one more gentle than the last. “We know, Son. We know.”
Ezra broke down in his friend’s arms, crying for the first time since the night his father died. There was no other way to express the depth of his gratitude and relief.
Ezra sat in the saddle, careful of his still-mending arm. The other six were astride their own horses, keeping an eye on their injured friend. The seven peacekeepers were on their way home at last.
Buck asked the question that was on everyone’s mind. “You stickin’ around, Pard?”
“I had a good reason to leave.” He looked around him, meeting the eyes of each of his friends. “But I have six even better reasons to stay.”
Buck slapped him on the back. “Well, alright! Now, Ez. There’s somethin’ else I gotta ask ya. We’re not gonna have to go huntin’ down any little Standish cubs now, are we?”
“No, Buck. I believe I’m the last of the line and I’ve made absolutely certain there would be no children.”
Buck looked him up and down. “You didn’t do anything…permanent there, did ya?”
Ezra laughed at the pained expression on Buck’s face. “No. Nothing permanent. I just took care that I would not find myself in…certain romantic situations.”
Buck almost choked. “You’ve never been with a woman?”
“That is the best way to ensure that no children will be produced.”
Buck smirked at JD. “Hey. Kid. It looks like you got more experience with the ladies than at least one man west of the Mississippi.”
“Shut up, Buck.”
Wilmington shook his head at the gambler. “This won’t do at all, Pard. Don’t you worry none, though. You jus let Ol’ Buck take care of ya. Why, I know this sweet little thing over in Eagle Bend—gentle as a dove. I’ll take care of everything.”
Chris and Vin rode slightly behind, enjoying Ezra’s embarrassment. Chris smiled at the tracker. “Looks like things are getting back to normal.”
“Nope. I reckon things are just getting normal.”
1) This is my first M7 fic. It’s been running around in my head all month. I was trying to finish it in time for Halloween, but it kept getting longer and longer. People who’ve read the story notes on my other fic sites know I have a hard time writing a small or medium sized story. Most everything ends up being 25 or more word-processed pages long. This one was 35.
2) I don’t know if it’s true that wolves get bloodthirsty after they taste humans. It made for a good plot device, though. I do know that this is true of large cats like tigers. They generally stay away from humans, but once they’ve had a taste of sweet human flesh they can’t get enough of it. The villagers have to go hunt them down because they’ll actually start stalking humans and walking right into town to kill and eat people.
3) I have a lot of fic ideas for M7. I just hope I have enough time for them all plus stories I want to do for my Sentinel site and my Ronin site. My brain’s just full of crazy stuff!