RATING: P G... for some mild swearing
CATEGORY: Challenge - OW
DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No profit involved. This story is based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven".  No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended.
NOTE: This is in response to the March 2002 Magnificent 7 Challenge, offered by Katherine: Give any one of the seven a hobby the other six do not know about, until events conspire to bring it to their attention. Hobby must not be anything previously mentioned in other stories...i.e. no working at a shelter for Josiah, no piano playing for Ezra, no working with neighborhood kids for Vin. You get the idea. In essence I want to know what one of the boys does with his down time, and the reaction of the others when they find out. They aren't always working.
FEEDBACK: Yes please comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
APPEARS IN: Fanzine I Ain't No Doctor #2
DATE: March 16, 2002

The Winning Side
By NotTasha...who likes to win too

Nathan frowned deeply as he got a close look at the abscessed wound.  It was thick with pus and red with infection -- an angry, awful, untended, painful, oozy and smelly wound -- it was almost as disgusting as the man attached to it.

Abner Cray sat up in his sickbed and watched the healer warily.  “Weren’t but a scratch,” he muttered.  “Axe went a little stray.  Done what I could.”  He yelped as the healer prodded.  “Hey!  Watch it!”  One meaty paw swung out at Jackson, almost catching the distracted healer across the chin.  Nathan managed to jerk his head out of the way in time as the angry invalid stared balefully at him.  “Fix it!  Don’t make it worse!”  He snatched the bottle of whiskey from the table and took another drink.

“Mr. Cray,” the softly spoken, but threatening tone of the southerner was heard from somewhere behind him.  “I would ask that you allow Mr. Jackson to do his work unimpeded.   If you lay a hand on him, you shall find yourself in much more dire straits.”

Nathan grinned and shook his head.  He was never quite prepared for Ezra’s protective nature.  Well, Ezra always managed to surprise him somehow.

He’d finished his examination of the wound, after cutting back the filthy pant-leg and scrubbing off some of the grime that caked the leg.  He didn’t have to wonder how the cut had become so infected.  In fact, it was a miracle that the damage wasn’t worse, that Cray wasn’t off his head with fever.

“You done?”  Cray asked darkly.  “I could ‘ave done it myself considerin’ all the time you’ve wasted.  Would ‘ave hurt less, for sure.”

“That water ‘bout ready to boil, Ezra?”  Jackson asked, ignoring the bear of a man with the bear of a temper.  It was the second pot they’d needed – the first used for cleaning the leg.

Ezra sauntered across the small, dim, dirt-floor cabin to the wood stove.  “Give it another minute or so,” he said after a quick glance at the pot.

“Cray,” Jackson moved so that he could look the man in the eye.  He spoke bluntly.  “I’m gonna have to cut down into this scratch of yours and drain off the infection. Gonna hurt.”

Cray looked unsure.  “Figure you should leave it alone.  Maybe it’ll just go away…”

“It ain’t gone away over the past few days, has it?”  Nathan inquired.  “Leave it as it is and it'll keep gettin’ worse.  Might go gangrene.  You’ll lose the leg.”

Cray grimaced but nodded curtly.  Jackson sighed.  This wasn’t going to be easy.  He wished Josiah, Buck, Chris or even Yosemite had been available when Peterson rode in, telling them of his partner's condition.  He wished that at least Peterson had come back to the remote cabin with them -- but the miner disappeared into the closest saloon in town, intent on getting as drunk as possible considering his limited funds.

It was late in the day when the news of Cray’s condition reached Jackson and there was no time to wait around for extra hands.  It would be dark by the time they reached Cray and Peterson's cabin as it was.  Nathan had to settle for Ezra as his only assistant.

Beggars can’t be choosers.

It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate the gambler’s help.  Standish had proved to be a very able medical assistant on many occasions.  He had wonderfully steady hands, but such a skill wouldn't be needed this time.  What he needed was bulk,  a little extra weight, a bigger body to hold down the miner during the operation.  Cray looked like he’d be a fighter.  Jackson definitely wanted to be on the winning side of this situation.

A bigger assistant would have given them the advantage, but Nathan would work with what he’d been given.  That was the mark of greatness -- turning an unfavorable predicament around into a triumph.

Cray took another long draw from the bottle, watching Nathan reproachfully.  The healer crouched over the man's leg again, trying to chart exactly where to cut, planning out his every move.

“I’m gonna need that whiskey now, Cray,” Nathan declared.

Cray’s leg twitched and the man belched wetly.  Nathan grimaced and wrinkled his nose.

“Lord,” the gambler muttered.  “To think such Neanderthals still walk this earth.”

Cray laughed harshly and scratched his armpit.  He slung back the bottle again.  “I need more medicine.”

Finished with plotting his work, the healer called, “Ezra, can you hand me my surgical kit?”  He gestured vaguely toward his saddlebags as he watched Cray drink the better part of the whiskey.

Ezra picked a roll of deerskin from the healer’s gear and opened it on the bedside table so that Nathan would have easy access.  Cray's gaze instantly fastened on the little knives.  He sucked back on the whiskey and shuddered.  Ezra turned sharply toward the stove as the pot started to boil over and hurried to retrieve it.

Nathan finally wrestled the bottle away from Cray.

“Lemmie have one more,” Cray insisted.

“I’m gonna want some alcohol to clean up my tools and…” Nathan's eyes finally traveled to the soft leather roll that had been unfurled beside him.  There were a dozen little blades, all arranged in their own special pockets, each designed for their own specific use: Tiny delicate knives, short strong blades, sharp little awls, and chisels of various widths - from whisker-thin to the breadth of a thumb.

Damn, he thought as he stared at them.  I thought I’d buried that set to the bottom of the saddlebag.  He winced as he remembered the last minute rearranging of the pack.  “Wrong ones, Ezra,” he finally managed to say.  “I need the other roll.”

Ezra was quickly at his side again with the other set of knives.  “A thousand pardons, Mr. Jackson,” he said as he switched one set for another.  “I was distracted.  I should’ve realized my mistake.”

Jackson sighed as he saw the surgical knives finally --larger, older, sharper, sturdier than the first set -- complete with forceps, saw and pliers. Cray looked at the more formidable tools and turned a little green.

The process of reopening the wound and cleaning out the nastiness that had collected there was an arduous task.  Even in his drunken state, Cray proved to be a formidable force to control, but Jackson was happy to note that Standish managed him fairly well.  Cray ended up pinned against the headboard through most of the procedure by the gambler, with the healer sitting on his feet.

Cray had whimpered, cried out, yelled, moaned and called for his mommy.

It was late by the time they completed their task.  Cray dropped off to a drunken slumber almost immediately, filling the room with his loud snore.  The two weary men washed up and then sat back against the wall.  There was nothing to sit on in the cabin except for the two beds, neither looking clean enough for human habitation -- and two rough chairs by the table, which looked more uncomfortable than the floor.

Ezra rubbed his neck and stretched his back.  Nathan ran his hand over his eyes and sighed.  Damn, that was a tiring way to make a living, Jackson thought.

Ezra muttered, “I’m glad that’s over.  You’d think a man would learn to take care of himself.  He would’ve saved us a day of abuse if he’d just had that wound seen to properly to begin with.  You’d think he’d be -- at least -- grateful for your efforts.”  He frowned, remembering the bitter comments that Cray had uttered almost non-stop.  He added, “The man is a fool.”

“World is made of fools, Ezra.”

"And we are among them," Ezra included, pulling his flask from his pocket in a florid movement.  He toasted the healer and took a draw before handing it to Jackson.

Jackson took his turn, relishing the fine liquor before handing it back to its owner and the two of them sat in a weary silence for several minutes.

“I would hope that I’m not that disagreeable when under your care,” Ezra said tentatively.

“Nope,” Jackson responded.  “You’re worse.”  And then he laughed when he saw the hurt look on the gambler’s face and then waved a hand to show he was only fooling and Standish chuckled along with him.

He watched as Ezra examined his jacket.  The dandy sniffed experimentally at his sleeve and grimaced.  “The smell of the beast is on me.  I’ll have to have this burned.”

“Yeah,” Nathan sighed.  “Probably’ll have to give my tools a good boiling.  The smell ain’t gonna come off easy.”

The southerner pursed his lips as if in thought and then asked, “How long have you been carving?”  When Nathan didn’t answer immediately, Standish continued.  “It makes perfect sense, of course.  You’re very skilled with the blade in both surgery and swordsmanship.”  He raised his gaze.  “They seemed to be very fine wood-carving tools.”

“Aw, Ez,” Nathan finally muttered.  “They’re just for fun.  I don’t do much with them.”

“You have an admirable skill with the knife, Mr. Jackson,” Ezra said, pulling a deck of cards from his pocket and shuffling it easily with one hand.  “And so much of your time is tied up with helping others -- either through your law enforcement duties or through actions such as this…” He gestured to the bed where Cray snored.  “I find it only logical that you should find a pastime away from such pressing and consequential duties.”  The deck seemed to dance in his one hand, cards flying in perfect synchronization.

Nathan still hadn’t spoken.  The healer lowered his head and stared at the floor.  So, Ezra continued, “One must find something to do in order to relax.”  He smiled broadly.  “I’ve made a profession of relaxing.  My life is made up of games and leisure, which -- I hate to admit -- grows tiring after a time.  One can only play for so many hours in a week.  Law enforcement is my hobby.  Yes, picking up a gun and following you fine men into battle against miscreants and evil-doers is my idea of an amateur’s activity.”

The healer smirked at this comment.  “Sounds about right,” he commented.

“So, certainly, you must find a pursuit to relax your mind and restore your energy?”

“I guess I do a bit of carving,” Nathan finally admitted.

“Ah!  As I suspected.”  Ezra nodded.  “Anything in particular?”

“Just this and that,” Jackson replied.  “Nothin’ important.”

“I’m certain the work is excellent.”  Ezra concentrated on his cards, not pressing the reluctant healer.  “I suppose we’ll spend the night here,” he commented to change the subject.

“Seems that way,” Nathan continued.  “Want to check on Cray in the morning anyway.  Make sure things are goin’ okay.  Don’t look as if Peterson is comin’ back tonight.”

“I certainly hope not.  He’s even worse than Mr. Cray when he’s been drinking.”

“Think Cray and Peterson’s got anythin’ here we could use for dinner?”

Ezra made a disgusted face, remembering the filth they'd scrubbed off the man.  “Doubtful.”

“I’ll see what I got in my bags.  I probably got somethin’ that’d work.”

“Excellent.”  Ezra switched the cards to his other hand and continued the endless one-handed shuffling.

Jackson strode to his saddlebags and pulled them open, looking for something for both of them from his meager supply.  As he rifled through the bags of medicines and mixes, Jackson’s hand closed on a cloth pouch.  He’d placed it in his saddlebags, along with another and the carving tools, because he’d planned to take a trip to Ridge City on the following day. The evening in the other town would have afforded him a little leisure time.

He drew out the first pouch and held it to his chest for a moment and then glanced back at the southerner, who seemed content at watching the cards flip in his hand.

Finally, after coming to a decision, he carried the bag to the gambler and waited for him to look up.

“Mr. Jackson?”  Ezra asked, noting the look on Nathan’s face.  “Is there a problem?”

“This is just somethin’ I was working on,” Jackson said softly, holding the cloth bag out. “I thought you’d like to see it ‘cause you were interested in carving.  It’s not much.”

With a quick movement, the cards disappeared into Ezra’s vest pocket.  He eagerly rubbed his hands together before accepting the bag from Jackson.

From the bag, Standish withdrew eight objects wrapped in cloth.  He unwound them carefully, finding figures in pale pinewood.  Three were featureless and rough pillars, about the length of an index finger – unfinished works.  The other five had been carved into easily identifiable shapes. Ezra set the shapes down in his lap and picked up the two towers first.

“Impressive,” Standish breathed, as he ran his thumb over the careful brickwork of the first.  Little windows had been notched out and parapets dotted the crown.  The second was made to resemble a fort’s bastion, carved to look as if it had been constructed of timbers.  They both looked like impregnable structures, ready to face any onslaught.

He set down the first set and picked up the next two matched pieces.   They were human shaped, men in clerical dress.  One man was fat, while the other was stick-thin.  Both wore miters and richly adorned vestments, declaring their attachment to the church.  Each had a crooked cane clasped in one hand, while the other hand was raised as if to offer a benediction.

“I can almost hear the Latin,” Ezra said with a laugh as he examined their faces, one jovial -- the other severe.

The final carved piece was unfinished, a horse and rider.  The horse was rearing back -- its nostrils flared, its mane flowed wildly.  It nearly danced in the palm of his hand.  The rider was still rough, but starting to come into focus.  He wore a military uniform and had a bearded face. One arm was raised above his head, brandishing a sword.

“These are lovely, Nathan,” Ezra said with a sigh.  “Truly masterful.”

Nathan looked at his feet and hoped his blush wasn’t evident.  “They’re not much.”

“Do you know these men?”  Standish asked, holding up the two clergymen.  “They seem so real -- as if they’ve just stepped from the pulpit.”

Nathan smiled.  “One of them is Reverend Grady.  He used to live near the plantation where…I was a slave.”  He shrugged.  “He was a decent enough man, but I think he cared more about himself than anyone.  The other one is Father Antonio.  We stayed for a time at his church after we escaped.”  He paused then, wondering if he should have mentioned that to this southerner.

“Let me guess,” Ezra held up the thin figure with the severe look.  “This one is Father Antonio?”

Jackson smiled slightly.  “How’d you guess?  I figured the other looked like a nicer guy.”

“Your knife-work is exceptional,” Ezra commented.  “One can tell by the way you carved their eyes that Grady is a somewhat distant man.  It’s equally obvious that Antonio would give you the cassock off his back if you required.”

“You can tell that?”  Nathan asked, putting out his hands to accept the two figures.  He stared at their faces, not knowing that he had revealed so much.

“Excellent work, Mr. Jackson.  I’m heartily impressed.  Thank you for sharing them with me.”   Ezra carefully wrapped the men again in their little oiled rags, taking the two clerics from Nathan, and then placed the eight packets in the bag.  After handing the bag back to Jackson, Ezra asked, “Have you finished the black set already?”

Nathan looked startled for a moment, so Ezra continued.  “Certainly, this is a part of a chess set.”

Jackson considered his options and, after a moment, rose and went to his saddlebags again, pulling out the other pouch from deep within the bag.  He rifled through it and pocketed one piece before he turned toward the southerner.  “I got the black set done already.  Just keep a few of the pieces with me to match ‘em with the white ones.”  He handed the bag to Ezra.

The wood that emerged from the little protective cloths was a rich mahogany, deep and dark, oiled and polished.  The gambler turned the pieces over in his hand, examining them carefully.  There was one of each of the major pieces.  The rook was a narrow pyramid, the blocks carefully etched.  The bishop wore an intricate mask and held a staff adorned with feathers in one hand and a rattle in the other.  The knight was nearly naked, his hair short as a skullcap.  He held a spear as he sat astride a rearing zebra.  The king and queen wore robes of leopard skins, the little spots carefully carved into the wood.  Their features were obviously African.

Nathan rubbed his hands together, embarrassed and concerned as he watched Ezra scrutinize the pieces.  “I just thought, since the wood was dark…” Jackson didn’t know how to go about explaining why he made the black pieces they way he did.  It was ridiculous really.  He’d never seen anyone carve African features on a chess piece.  He’d never seen a representation of someone of his race that didn’t include rolling eyes, fat lips and a wide toothy grin.  He’d never seen a realistic portrayal of a black man before he created these pieces.  It made him feel more real just to see these images come into being.

“They’re positively wonderful, Nathan,” Ezra said, as he turned the pieces in his hand.

“They’re not exactly right…”

“They’re perfect.”

“I’ve never actually seen folks dressed like this.  Just heard stories is all and had to make it up in my mind.  Didn’t know exactly how to stripe a zebra, but I tried my best.”

“I saw one once at a zoological garden.  You did remarkably well for never actually setting eyes on the creature.”

Nathan smiled slightly and then added, “I know that people don’t ride zebras but I thought it’d make a good knight.  They other knight’s on an antelope.”

“It fits well,” Ezra nodded.  “And one is allowed a certain amount of artistic license.”

Cray snorted and mumbled in his sleep.

“I probably shouldn’t have made the bishop like that.” Nathan sighed.  “He’s supposed to be a medicine man, a shaman.  It’s probably goes against the bible.  It was wrong, I guess.”

“It makes perfect sense to me.  And God created all living creatures, so how could any one of them be considered blasphemous?”  Ezra smiled.  He set down the medicine man and picked up a rook.

“The pyramids…” Nathan started.

“Are in Africa as well,” Ezra concluded.  “All wonderfully completed, Nathan.  I’m very impressed.”  He raised his gaze and asked, “You’ve entirely finished the black set?  Pawns and everything?”

“Yeah,” Nathan said with a nod, watching the careful way that Ezra handled the black chess pieces. “Got ‘em all done.”

Ezra continued to examine the set.  “Again, the features are wonderful.  Did you know these people?”

Nathan nodded tightly.  “Slaves on the plantation. Others I’ve met since then. The pawns are all different --people I knew.  They’re not so fancy as these, but I can remember those folks when I see ‘em.”

“I’m sure your friends would be deeply honored if they knew.  Did you include yourself?”

Nathan chuckled and shook his head.  Finally, after a moment of thought, he revealed the piece he’d secreted.

Ezra flashed his gold tooth as he unrolled the cloth and revealed the pawn with Nathan Jackson’s face.  It was in the same proportions as the larger pieces, but the figure crouched, as if ready to pounce into battle.  Nathan was dressed as an African Warrior, brandishing a knife in one hand.

“Mr. Jackson,” Ezra uttered.  “I’m impressed.  I’ve never seen you so…fierce before.”

Nathan took back the piece, sure that he was blushing.  “It’s just that artistic license thing you were talkin’ about,” he murmured.

Cray continued to snore loudly, cutting enough wood to keep them all winter.

Ezra turned his attention back on the figures in his lap.  He asked quietly, “Is the black king your father?”  He held the elegant figure toward the healer. The leopard-skin robe flowed magnificently from his strong shoulders.  In his hand he held a staff, his other arm was out before him, issuing a command.

“Don’t look much like he did when he was in Four Corners -- when you saw him,” Nathan replied, his voice soft -- remembering.  “This was when he was young and strong.  The queen…is my mama.”

“Lovely, Nathan.  You truly have captured a strong spirit in them.  She must have been a remarkable woman.”  He handled the black queen gently.

“Yeah, she was.”

The two men sat near the wood stove, the southerner holding the black chess pieces while the former slave watched him, holding the bag of white pieces.

“Perhaps,” Ezra said as he wrapped them up again.  “Perhaps we could play a game once the entire set is complete?”

“I got a ways to go,” Nathan returned.  “Still got the white knights, the king and queen and then all the pawns.  It took me years to get this far.  Don’t know if I’ll ever get it all done.”

“You certainly will complete it.  I don’t see how you can stop.”  The gambler returned the pieces to their bag.

“Well, I ‘spect when it’s done we can have a game.  But, I figure it’ll take at least another year if I can find the time.”

Ezra nodded.  “I’m willing to wait.  It would be a honor to play with such a set.”  He cocked his head and his eyes took on that speculative look that Nathan had seen before.  “If you were to sell it, I’m certain you could fetch a pretty penny for it.  I know of a man who could possibly pay as much as a hundred dollars for a set of this quality… if you went through the right broker.”

“I ain’t aimin’ to sell it, Ezra.”  Nathan returned quickly as he picked up the bag of black pieces.

“Still,” Ezra said with a shrug.

Nathan put the bags back in his saddlebags and went about preparing something for their dinner.  Ezra extracted a pair of apples and some fresh bread from his stores and added it to what Nathan found.  They had a small feast, talking amiably about nothing in particular.

Finally, when the meal was finished, Ezra yawned and stretched.  “I suppose we should try to get some sleep.  Morning will come soon enough and Mr. Cray will awaken unpleasantly.”  He removed his soiled jacket with a sigh and set it over the back of one of the chairs.  “I suppose I should save this until then.  There may be another wrestling match.”

“I ‘spect you’re right.” Nathan agreed.  “He’s about as charmin’ as Top Hat Bob.”

“And equally odiferous,” Ezra added.  Soon they had laid out their bedrolls on the dirt floor of the cabin, and they were ready for the night.  "Goodnight, Mr. Jackson."

Ezra had just crawled into his blankets when Nathan asked quietly, “A hundred dollars?”

“Perhaps two hundred at the right auction.  The price would go higher if the bidders wanted it badly enough.  I’m not kidding you, Nathan,” Ezra said, turning a serious eye on Jackson.  “They’re of the very best quality.”  He lay back in his blankets and added sharply, “Never sell it.”

Nathan lay down in his bedroll, settling himself on the uneven floor.  Ezra was already asleep, snoring very softly – almost inaudibly.  Standish could fall asleep quicker than anyone Jackson knew.

Chuckling to himself as he dimmed the lantern, Nathan realized what Ezra had revealed to him.  Jackson had always considered Four Corners to be his home -- that he’d live there for the rest of his life if he could.  A year or two of residence came without question.  But, Ezra, the rootless and rambling gambler, had just informed him that he was willing to wait a year to play a game with the completed chess set.

So, you plan to stay, Ezra P. Standish? Nathan thought.  Good.  Good for you.  Good for all of us.  Good for me, too.

Nathan lay awake for some time, listening to Cray’s deep snores and Ezra’s quiet ones.  Yeah, he thought, good for me too.  I guess I need someone like you around to remind me of things.  I guess I need someone to poke me every now and again.

The gambler’s reaction to the chess pieces had truly surprised him.  He hadn’t expected the southern-boy would be so open-minded -- but Ezra was always surprising him.  Why did he instantly expect Standish to react badly when he saw the black figures?

Good that you’re here, Ezra.  I need you here to remind me that people are never what you expect.

It had been easy to carve the black figures in the chess set; the faces of friends and family came to him instantly, the images almost carved themselves into the wood.  He’d already planned that the white knights would be a captain and he hand known in the army and the doctor he had worked beside.  The white king would be Abraham Lincoln -- the freer of the slaves, and the queen would be Mary Todd, but the pawns had been a puzzle to him -- eight white figures, waiting for forms and faces.

He’d debated putting Chris and the others into the pawns.  Somehow it didn’t fit -- no those men were not the ‘pawn’ type.  Yet, he remembered what Ezra had said about the black pawns and how his friends would feel honored to be included.  Well, couldn’t that be true of the white pawns?  Shouldn’t he include his present friends as well?  After all, they deserved to be included in the map of his life as much as the others.

There were eight pawns -- six could be the men he worked with, his friends.  His mind began to consider the curves and angles, the tools he’d use to carve each one of them.  Already he decided what they’d be wearing, what they’d carry in their hands.   Chris would wear his long duster and carry his yellowboy rifle.  Vin would wear that ragged jacket and hold his mare’s leg.  JD would have his bowler and Colts.  Josiah might tuck a bible under one arm.  He could see the mustache and amiable smile that would form in the wood on Buck’s face.  Ezra -- well, he’d be dressed in his finery and armed to the teeth.  He considered adding a fleck of gold dust to his smile, a surprise for players to find.

He’d create a pawn for Billy Travis, too -- because he always had a fond spot for the boy.  He wouldn’t arm the boy with deadly weapons.  Billy would carry a sling-shot… maybe a pop-gun.

But that left one last pawn…

Well, he thought, it can’t be me.  That just wouldn’t fit would it?  I‘m already one of the black pawns.

He lay for a long time on the dirt floor of the dirty cabin, thinking about eight pawns - and seven faces.  Finally, just as he was about to drop off to sleep, he came to a simple conclusion.  He’d be a white pawn as well.

Sure, he was already one of the black pawns, but he knew that he couldn’t let his friends face a battle without him.  No, they’d stay together, all of them, a defending row against the approaching enemy.   Besides, he figured, either way, white or black, no matter the outcome, he’d be on the winning side.

THE END - by NotTasha
Read the sequel: A Gift of Patience

Hope you enjoyed the story...comments and suggestions

Back to Index

On to next story