Ezra, Nathan and Chris fell back, holding their rifles close as bullets splintered the wooden window frames and ricocheted off the edges of the adobe walls, spraying dust and bits of wall into the room like so much glittering confetti. They heard the women’s involuntary screams in the next room, and Miguel curled himself into a tight ball under his small bed.
Chris glanced at him, then sighed and looked at Ezra and Nathan. The gambler gave a quick nod and Nathan grimaced. At the same time, all three men swung around and fired a volley of rifle shots at the woods, well aware that they were about as likely to hit something as the men in the woods were going to hit them. It was all about luck at this stage.
Accompanying rifle echoed fire from the adjoining room, where Josiah, JD and Buck and BA were also sending their own bullets into the mix.
Murdock sat in the small belfry, testing the stretch of the
large “sling shot”
Carefully, trying to remain unseen as the rifle fire impacted the convent wall below his feet, he picked up one of Hannibal’s bottle bombs, lit the rag sticking out of the top with a cigar the colonel had leant him, and rested it in the sling shot’s cradle. Pulling back, he gritted his teeth…and let go.
The bottle flew about two feet before falling straight down into the courtyard below and shattering, the wick going out as it did so.
He made a pitiful little squeak of dismay as he looked over
the edge, hoping
Not the most auspicious of starts.
“Okay, maybe I need to work up to it,” he said to himself. He closed his eyes and started to hum the tune he’d created. As he got going, his face transformed, smiling broadly as he started tapping it time. He wished he’d thought of words to go with it but, even as it was, it was damn catchy….
Dum dee dum…dun dun dun….Dum deet dee dum…da dumdumdum dee! Dum DUM DUM…DUM DEE DUM….” He didn’t even notice that he’d gotten progressively louder as he put another bottle in the slingshot, and, not caring whether they could see him from the woods anymore, he pulled back as far as he could, bracing his legs against the wall….
And let go on the first major downbeat.
The bottle flew far, over the swamp and into the woods. Murdock laughed as a mini-explosion rocked the trees, and began singing again. He heard men yelp and horses squeal in the background, but they were merely counterpoints to his musical genius. Without even realizing, Murdock had another set up, launching it into the trees again, laughing in between refrains of what he decided was a really, really great song.
Both Ezra and Chris looked upwards as Murdock’s awful singing and his laughter echoed down to them, while the explosions in the woods seemed to match the beat he’d created. Ezra looked at Chris, not hiding the alarm on his face.
“Is he nuts?!” he demanded. “What is he singing?”
Chris’s eyes met Ezra’s, an odd look on his face. He nodded at Ezra and mouthed, “Yes. They are all nuts.”
“No, Mr. Larabee, we’re not crazy,”
“You should get yourselves a theme song,” Face said from his position on the floor, his voice seeming to come from a great distance. “Something to get your heart racing….”
“We don’t need a song to do that,” Nathan muttered, glad that Murdock’s distraction had stopped the slew of bullets from the woods, “believe me….”
“What is a theme song?” Ezra asked, curious despite himself as Murdock repeated his refrain and another explosion was heard.
“A song to define who you are…that people think of and sing
when they see you…that can inspire and keep you going….” Face started humming again as he finished. The explosions were coming more rapidly now…
“Nathan, can you see what they’re doing?” Chris asked, once more echoing the colonel’s thoughts. The healer’s window looked more towards the hillside than his.
“No…not really,” the healer replied, risking leaning a little further out his window.
“So, you think we need a theme song?” Ezra asked Face. Chris rolled his eyes.
“You already have one,” Face replied, his voice very weak now, “you just don’t know it….And, someday…they’ll shoot off fireworks…with your theme song in the background…at a Fourth of July celebration…as a remembrance of the Magnificent Seven….”
“Oh for….” Chris stopped himself just before swearing, as if he’d just remembered he was in a convent, but he was really beginning to hate that nickname, “Ezra, focus!”
“Murdock will find it for you…he’s…very good…at it….” Face muttered. His eyes were closed again.
“They’re coming out of the woods!” Nathan said suddenly. “It worked!”
In the other room, BA had unconsciously started humming along with Murdock as he watched the men in the trees. He could see the horses most clearly, running around, wanting to get into the open.
He didn’t notice the three members of the Seven watching him, expression ranging from curiosity to (and this was Buck) serious unease for the sergeant’s state of mind.
The bottle bombs had stopped the rifle fire from the woods, which is part of what allowed them to see and hear everything going on out there, including the angry commands of Andy Fishman. But the purpose had been to drive the gunmen out into the open and into the mud.
“Come on out little fishies,” JD whispered, looking back outside. “Come on out….”
Buck gave the kid a smile, and turned his own attention to the woods.
Murdock gave a very loud peal of what, in a normal song, would probably be the drumroll, and another bottle bomb flew into the trees.
“That did it!” Josiah said, standing up straighter.
Sure enough, men spilled out into the open, but they weren’t stupid.
They were using their horses as cover.
Fishman’s men had all dismounted and were pushing the horses into the mud in front of them, staying behind them as best the could, two men per horse. As soon as they were in the open, one of the pair would start firing again at the convent over their horse’s back, while the other kept the frightened horse from running, guiding the animal towards the convent’s outer wall.
Bullets started hitting the convent walls again, though they were even more poorly aimed than before. Still, Buck found himself nearly blinded as a lucky shot broke off a chunk of wall near his head.
“Fuh…uh…dge!” Buck bit the inside of his cheek as he saw
“How can they do that!” JD shouted, almost firing but checking himself because he was afraid to hit one of the horses. “Those poor things! They can’t bring them across the muck! What if they get stuck?”
“They don’t care,” BA muttered.
“That’s what makes them the bad guys, kid,” Buck added.
“Yeah, I know,” JD grimaced. “I’m going to look forward to beating the shi…uh,” he glanced at the women, “beating them soundly,” he finished.
Buck grinned, and looked back outside.
“Fire over their heads,” Josiah suggested. “At least keep them down.”
“Fire over their heads,” Chris said, then he looked up, “though I think they’re mostly focusing on our singing rooster upstairs. We need to give him cover.”
Ezra nodded, sending a handful of shots over the heads of the closest gunmen as they inched closet to the convent’s back walls. And they were getting closer. The horse’s couldn’t move fast, but they were definitely being pushed to get the Fishman’s hired guns to the high surrounding back wall and behind a better cover. He grinned as a couple of his shots caused one horse to rear and break free of the hold they had on it, the poor creature skidding and sliding as it tried to gallop away, back to the woods. The two men scrambled for the wall as bullets picked at the mud around them.
Ezra’s shots was rewarded with four times as many shots sent back at him, the bullets slamming into the edge of the window where he’d just stood. Suddenly he yelped as a bullet scraped his right arm, and he fell back into greater safety, gripping his arm. Blood flowed freely down the white shirt from beneath his fingers. Nathan made a move to check on him, but Ezra shook his head at him, then rested his head back against the wall, breathing through the stinging pain. The healer frowned, then ducked as bullets impacted his window frame, the gunmen having seen his shadow as well.
“You all right?” Chris asked the gambler quickly, concerned. Ezra frowned, opening his mouth to answer with his usual customary ‘fine,’ when Chris’s face darkened and he interrupted him: “And no one word replies, Ezra; I want a real answer!”
Ezra looked surprised for a moment. Then the gambler’s face slipped into a strange grin. Chris’s eyes narrowed.
“And no novels!” the gunslinger stated. “Ten words or less! If Smith’s men can do it, so can you!” In the background,
Bullets slammed into the frame again, and both men had to duck. Hannibal and Nathan, in their windows, sent a volley of shots outwards, while, from the other room, they could hear the others doing the same.
Once the focus was off their side of the building again, Ezra arched a sardonic eyebrow at Chris. “Well then, as commanded, sir, ten words or less: Bullet grazed my arm. Painful but shallow. I’ll be fine. Sufficient, oh great leader?” The scornful tone was as thick as a slab of lard.
Chris looked at him, gave a wicked smile, then took out his irritation with the gambler’s attitude by emptying the rest of his rifle out the window. His fire frightened another horse into running, which made him grin even as the gunmen now focused their fire on his position, rattling the whole wall. Much better, he mentally patted himself. He didn’t need a theme song, he just needed Ezra to goad him.
Nathan was chuckling as he threw Ezra a bandage from a small bowl near Face’s bed, then added his fire to the others. However it was delivered, Ezra’s response was still much more useful than “fine.”
Murdock cowered inside the little belfry, his hands covering his ears. He’d used almost all the bottle bombs, but was aware his “job” wasn’t done yet. He was supposed to be discouraging the gunmen from trying to get round to the front of the convent, so they wouldn’t try to attack through the front doors…but he was having a bit of trouble with said job. He heard the retorts of the rifles of the men in the convent trying to give him cover, but he’d been unable to even put a hand up to reach the sling shot perched on the wall without nearly having it shot off.
“C’mon Murdock,” he muttered, “Stop hiding!”
Sending a quick prayer to the muses, he stuck his head up and looked out at the back.
A hail of bullets welcomed him, even ringing the single bell above his head several times as if to mock him. It was a horrible clamor, and he was instantly curled up again in a ball, hands over his ears.
“Okay…not my best moment,” he laughed weakly.
Still, from what he could tell, all of the Fishman brother’s men appeared to be in back. That was something. Right? He fingered the white signal cloth in his hand. They’d just have to keep their fingers crossed.
“Murdock’s not going to be able to keep an eye on them from
“I can do it!” Miguel said from under his cot. He stuck his head up, and tried a weak smile.
“No,” Chris and Hannibal said together. The kid frowned, and ducked back down, a serious sulk on his face.
“What about one of the others?”
“I can do it,” Face said suddenly, opening his eyes and pushing
himself upwards, one hand wrapping around to hold his bandage in place as he
rolled onto his side. “Just…just give me
“If he can….”
Face frowned, “But….”
“This argument is pointless,” Nathan said suddenly where he was reloading his rifle, his eyes watching out the window. “Because the Fishmans’ are lined up against the back wall. We’ve run out of time no matter how you look at it.”
Chris and Hannibal looked at each other then back out the windows, only just noticing that the firing had stopped, and Ezra, who’d just finished tying the bandage around his arm with his teeth, pulled out his colt and remington. No need for a rifle if the gunmen were that close.
“Ezra,” Chris said, his voice soft now, “Go watch the front.”
The gambler looked at the gunslinger, eyebrows raised, “But….”
“It’s either you or Nathan,” Chris said, “and we’ll need Nathan up here, if anyone else gets hurt.”
The gambler grimaced, but nodded. With a sigh, he tucked his guns and ran to the door and down.
“You could have had one of the men in the other room go,”
Chris shook his head, “I don’t want to leave the sisters with any fewer guardians than they have now…just in case something goes wrong. Besides, I haven’t heard anything from Hannah for a while…I don’t want to risk upsetting whatever is keeping her calm.”
“Well,” the colonel muttered, “All the pawns are in place….”
Andrew Fishman leaned against the peach colored wall, reloading his rifle. He glanced to the left and the right at his men, slightly amazed that none of them had been hit. He watched as they pushed their horses away, and the animals slogged slowly back through the muck to the woods, leaving only the men at the outer wall. A quick mental count showed that all fifteen men he’d had with him and his brother were still here, all now ready to attack the back of the convent on his orders. The other four should be circling around to the front now, to discourage anyone trying to escape that way. He smiled wryly – this was decidedly not how he had planned all this too happen.
Oh well. The smile deepened.
His only worry was over what had happened to the men he’d sent to watch the dam and the convent. Why hadn’t those men joined them when they came down the hill?
Still, if they’d run, it didn’t matter. He had more than enough power with him. He still had all his pieces on the board….This was check.
Several of his men had pulled the torches they’d had attached to their saddles and were wrapping rags around the ends, soaking them with alcohol.
And soon, checkmate.
“Mother Superior!” He shouted. “Sister Ethel! Are you there?”
No one responded, and he pursed his lips.
“What do you want?” a timid female voice called. Andy frowned…that didn’t sound like Ethel.
“I want to talk to Ethel!”
“Sister Ethel’s busy!” the voice answered, stressing the title. “This is Sister Antonia!”
Andy shrugged, “No problem, Antonia, you’ll do! You can tell Ethel and your fellow nuns a warning for me! If you and the sisters don’t give up the men hiding in there with you, none of you will ever come out of there alive. Is that clear?”
Silence answered him, and Andy gave a small smile.
“Fishman!” That was Colonel Hannibal Smith’s voice.
Andy smiled, “Colonel Smith! How’s your man? The conman? Is he dead yet?”
“You’ll soon find out,”
Andy chuckled, smiling down at Jeb, who was cowered against the wall next to him, his rifle locked and loaded. The younger brother smiled back.
“Oh, really?” Andy called back. “And how will you manage that? You’re stuck in a convent with twenty women, a handful of gunslingers and a dead man. The bottle bombs were a nice touch, but all they did was bring us closer to you. We’re all still very much alive and very much armed….And we have our own ways of making fire!”
Again, there was no response, and Andy’s smile deepened.
“What’s the matter, colonel? Cat got your tongue?” he called. “Give it up!”
“Fishman!” another voice called, “Are you threatening to burn us out?”
Andy’s eyebrows lifted, and he nodded. “Ah, the gunslinger! Tell me, are you really the Chris Larabee?”
“In the flesh,” Chris replied coolly. “And I’d change my mind if I were you.”
“Indeed, arson, added to the crimes you’ve already racked up, won’t bode well at your trial, Mr. Fishman,” a new voice shouted, this one with a southern drawl.
“Should we allow you to live that long, of course,” a deeper voice added. Andy recognized it as the wormtongue’s – Larabee’s friend Buck.
“We’re the law of
“Surrender?” Andy called. “I think you have that backwards, kid!”
“You’d best listen to the boy,” a deep bass voice called. Andy raised both eyebrows. How many men did Smith and Larabee have in there? He frowned.
“So, you say you’re the law of
Inside, Chris’s couldn’t help a smirk as
“This is your last warning, Fishman. We won’t tell you again.”
Andy shook his head, “Oh yeah? Give me one good reason!“
“Lay ‘em down,” Chris said, “and we might let you live.”
Andy laughed, “I don’t care how many men you’ve got penned up in there with you, Larabee…. You’ll all burn the same way!” Andy pointed to the five men holding torches. They nodded, pulled out matches and lit them.
“Last chance Sisters!” Andy yelled. “Can’t believe you’d die for these men!”
“Oh, go stuff yourself!” Antonia shouted, which shout made Andy laugh out loud.
Inside the convent, all the men had smirks on their faces as
Antonia sat red faced on the floor, embarrassed by her outburst. Hannah was even giggling, which, more than
anything, made Josiah grin. The preacher
trained his rifle, feeling good for the first time since
Ezra was just inside the front door, watching the front wall and gate for movement. He had a gun in each hand, though his Remington felt inordinately heavy in his right hand. In fact, his whole right arm felt weak, but he was not all that concerned. He was a better shot with his left in any event, and Chris knew that.
A shadow fell on the ground just outside the front gate.
The gambler lifted the colt in his left hand ….
“I think, maybe, now?” Chris suggested, looking at
“You think they’re deep enough?”
“Why, you want them in the courtyard? Maybe at the door? Throwing flaming torches into the convent?”
“That’d be more spectacular. A real last minute miracle save.”
Chris stared at him, trying to decide whether or not to take
“You need to live life to the fullest, Larabee. Experience the thrill of….”
“Colonel Smith,” there was something very curt about the way
Chris said that name.
“Order it now, or I will personally escort you to the nearest fort, unconscious if need be.” His eyebrows lowered, turning his eyes into darkened slits, “and I can do it, as you well know.”
“Now!” Fishman yelled.
All nine of Fishman’s men pushed through the iron gate or threw each other over the back wall, most shooting without aiming at the second floor windows. All they had to do was get the men with the torches close enough to the convent windows and the open, broken back door….
Up in the belfry, Murdock jerked awake, having somehow drifted off into whatever land he sometimes disappeared into. Quickly, he lifted the white cloth in his hands and attached it to the bell. Then, grabbing the rope, he pressed one hand against one ear and started ringing the bell over and over again.
Buck, BA, Josiah, JD finally allowed their true abilities to take over, systematically forcing man after man that came through the gate or over the wall to duck and cover, and taking some of them down. In the other room, Chris, Nathan and Hannibal mirrored them. Andy Fishman’s hired guns were quickly being reduced in numbers.
Hiding within the front door, Ezra fired at the four shadows that had appeared over the walls and through the gate, losing himself in the moment, determined not to let one of them pass inside.
Standing up on the ridge in the distance, Vin Tanner grinned at the ringing bell and lowered his spyglass…the white cloth was easy to see even with the naked eye.
Turning, he knelt on the ground and, using a boulder he’d scouted earlier as his level, sighted down the barrel of his rifle. He breathed out slowly, and…ever so gently…squeezed the trigger.
The bullet hit the bundle of dynamite dead center....
The dam above the convent in