It's the big day, everyone is enjoying themselves, the priest is set to arrive any minute, and Ben Cartwright couldn't be happier. After all, one of his boys was finally getting married.

This is the first Ben centric chapter in the whole story! Hope he reads true to character! :D

The last several days leading up to the wedding of his youngest son and his youngest son's betrothed went by in a smooth, well calculated rush.
Aside, of course, from the one too many beers he and said betrothed had indulged in on their way out of town the day he'd escorted the fellow to the tailor's to oversee the final fit of the new suit.

The remainder of the preparations went smoothly enough that the big day completely crept up on Ben and before he knew it, he was among a boisterous crowd of wedding guest, indulging in a friendly game of horseshoes with any and all foolish enough to think they could possibly outscore the father of the groom.
So, really just the groom with the pie in the sky hopes at the moment.

Ben felt his heart jump as a call went up from the small congregation of party goers. When he turned though, from where he'd been about to beat Joseph's score with an excellent toss, his anxieties eased and a smile came easily to his face.

The priest was there. Or nearly so, anyway.

Shaking his head at the 'whippersnappers', as his good friend Roy Coffee scoffingly referred to the suddenly scampering guests, Ben aced his toss and made to follow the mass exodus at a reasonable pace. Roy choosing to continue sitting in the sturdy rocking chair from which he had been more than happy to keep score of their friendly party game while they waited for the arrival of-

"The priest's here, Pa! We're really gonna have us a wedding!" Informed the, excitable on a normal day as it was, youngest member of Ben's family. Not stopping his ridiculous, perfectly understandable, race to greet the approaching guest of honor.

Ben directed his gaze above the bobbing heads to get a good look at this famed Rivera. Sat atop a donkey, holding the reigns of a simple, bitless, rope halter as the two of them came slow and steadily closer and closer. Perhaps not an imposing sight, but an impressive one none the less.
No less so for the fact that, unless the donkey was inordinately short, their priest was of about average height and no stouter nor stronger than most. Clad in colors befitting the profession and the travel required for this particular brand of service: browns and blacks complimenting each other on the churchly robe without appearing ostentatious, nor slovenly.

The donkey didn't miss a step as it and its rider were swallowed up by a swarm of well wishers and Ben mused that the stalwart creature was indeed the perfect mount for their guest. Sure of foot, even of temperament, and not so far off the ground as your average mule or horse.
Dependable, and perfect in every way for a blind member of the cloth. One who was currently receiving one of the most raucous, joyous greetings that Ben had ever seen a priest receive.

As the donkey continued down the path, not dissuaded from its task for a moment, the reception committee kept pace with it and apprised its passenger of every detail of the party; from the position of the tables and chairs, and the party games scattered about, to the fragrant spread of delicious food there was still plenty of.

Their mail order Parson Brown thanked them for the welcome and dismounted right in front of a hitching post that sported a trough of cool water. Ben noted with raised brows that the animal had been the one to stop itself precisely close enough that its rider had no issue securing it.

Come to think of it, Ben mused as he gave the back of his head a scratch, the strange creature had been following the dirt path with very little nudging from the priest who was just about finished removing a long walking stick from a holder along its side.
Strange donkey.

Once the well welcomed stranger had assured the committee that navigating would be no problem thanks to their thoughtful descriptions, Ben walked forward and introduced himself to the person the entire wedding had been holding its collective breath for.
"I can't thank you enough for agreeing to officiate for us, " said as the proudest pa on the whole Ponderosa shook the hand of the only Parson Brown in the territory whispers had it would perform marriage services to any consenting adults, regardless of belief, familial wealths, or race. Be they woman and man, or otherwise.

"It brings me great joy to unite those in love in the holy union of marriage," said as the priestly figure shook the hand back with an appreciative nod.

"Well, considering the circumstances, I thank you again, and that won't be the last time," Ben Cartwright promised with an eye crinkling smile, as he released the hand shake. With one more, thankful pump.

"The Lord blessed me with blindness," started the one with a little bible hanging by a string from around a neck that Ben couldn't help but note lacked a prominent Adam's apple, "and I chose to interpret that gift to mean I was meant to judge not with my eyes, but with my heart."

"I expect I'm not the only one to be impressed by your interpretation..."
Realizing he was at a loss as to how to address his son's one and only hope at a properly officiated wedding, Ben took a moment to look a little more closely at the traveling priest before him. Noting the smattering of graying hair around the individual's temples, not at all dissimilar to the way that Adam had visibly matured through his time abroad, but that the other signs typical of a face beginning to age seemed... absent. At least, if one were judging against your average Señor's face.
At that thought, Ben felt his cheeks heat and was grateful that the others had left them as soon as the introductions had concluded.
"Uh, pardon me, this is, heh, quite embarrassing, but, uh, is it 'Sister' or 'Brother' Rivera?" Ben asked in a self-conscious manner, after what he realized had been a rather protracted pause.

"There's no reason for embarrassment at all," the one in the rather flat fronted, well worn robe assured. "In fact, I prefer 'Friar', and I see myself not so much as either a woman or a man, but simply as a servant of the Lord, here to help as I can."

"Well, rather unorthodox, perhaps," Ben began with a pleasantly perplexed look about him, "but unorthodox is precisely what today is all about. So, once again, I thank you, Friar Rivera, for coming all this way."

The friar smiled, gave a nod, and moved off in the direction of the food table, having been assured that there was plenty for all, walking stick grazing the ground ahead as they went. Wary of rocks and prairie dog holes. Obstacles just as easily missed by sighted individuals. Especially ones giddy with anticipation of a good meal.

With confidence in the priest's prior assurances that they could get around just fine, Ben turned back to the fun and games section of the party and prepared himself to finish off- that is, finish his friendly round of horseshoes against the only person there fool enough to think they could beat him.

"Oh, Friar, is it?" Ben heard his eldest ask. "I'm Adam, and I can't thank you enough for making yourself available for Joe and Candy's service." Ben glanced over to see the two shaking hands by the food table. Realizing as he did, and especially so when the Friar gave a thanks right on back for having been invited so cordially, just how much of this shindy was Adam's doing.

With pride swelling in his chest, the father finished making his way to the horseshoe arena and wiped that cocky look off his youngest son's face in no time flat. Firmly re-establishing himself as the family's- nay, the territory's champion shoe tosser.
He gave Joe a big hug to cheer the misguided sportsman after that brutal defeat.

"Excuse me, Mr. Cartwright and...?" Asked the friar Rivera as the father and son finished their little celebratory embrace.

"Joe Cartwright," Joe said, accepting the hand that was offered.

"It is a privilege to be here with your family on such a glorious day. I thank you for having me," the friar said with a face that looked like it meant it.

"Uh, the pleasure's ours. Really, Candy and I can't thank you enough for making the trip," Joe said with more earnestness than Ben had heard in his son's voice in quite some time.

"It is my pleasure, and Ezekiel is always willing, so long as he gets his carrots at the end of the day," Rivera said, nodding off in the direction of the well behaved donkey.

"We'll be sure to get him some carrots before the service," Ben assured, making a mental note to ask someone soon.

"I thank you, Mr. Cartwright, but there is no rush. Ezekiel is a patient animal."

"Oh," Ben said, not sure what to follow that with. Thankful when the friar did.

"I heard a game of horseshoes?"

"Oh, right! We have it set up with a rope so it's easy to find the shoes and the toss line," Joe said, a might excitedly. "Learned to play it that way myself, few years back."

"Are you too deficient of sight?" Asked the friar, looking as if they might be studying Joe, with the limited sight they may or may not have possessed, for signs of blindness.

"I was," Joe both confirmed and corrected. "Explosion. Had a teacher from a school for the blind who taught me that sight wasn't what made me who I am. She got me back on my feet and into the world again," Joe explained. A melancholic look strong with reminisce reminding Ben all too well of those few months and just how hard they'd been on his youngest.

"But you've regained your sight?" Asked Rivera, face tinged with wonder.

"Yeah. One morning... I could see again, and that was that."

"A miracle if ever I heard one," the friar said, making the shape of a cross on their front and punctuating the action with a quick kiss to the closed fingers of the same hand. "And here we are today to pay homage to yet another. It sounds to me that your life is truly a blessed one, Mr. Joe Cart-"

"Just 'Joe' is fine," Joe cut off the well-intentioned priest. Causing Ben to smile at his son's distaste for formality.

"Joe, then. Your family is truly blessed," Friar Rivera assured with a benevolent smile.

"I always knew there was something special about us," Joe said with a playful lilt that had both the grownups chuckling. "Now, how 'bout blessing us with your hand in a round of horseshoes?"

"I'd be delighted," said their new player, with an eager nod.

Ben still won, by several points, but his competitive side was put in check somewhat by the presence of someone who very well may have spoken directly to the Lord every morning and night. After all, most church types weren't much ones for sports. Though, the friar surprised him just a hair by beating Joe's score rather soundly.

Thankfully, when Ben looked over to check his youngest's face, he found that losing had done nothing to sour the soon to be wed's mood. If anything, it looked as if the friar beating him had only reinforced what he'd learned through his time living without sight. That being blind did not mean that you were useless. And that sometimes, the blind leading the blind was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Yes, thought the pa not so long later, as he watched his son and his son's best friend turned fiancé position themselves before the congregation of friends and family, following the friar's instructions with a just visible hint of self-consciousness, Rivera was indeed exactly what the doctor had ordered.
He'd have to thank the priest again after the vows. And Adam for sending the invitation, of course.

When Joe mentions having been blind himself he is making reference to one of my all-time favorite episodes of Bonanza titled The Stillness Within, season 12 episode 24.
I absolutely couldn't resist when I saw an opportunity to slip mention of it into the story, so please feel free to ignore the show's timeline when it comes to that reference, if it pleases! :D