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Tower
Scene 5 of the Acts of Awes West
Madam Night moaned without the door.
He sat cross legged before the hearth of basalt, the fire roaring against the cold under the upside down bowl of sheet iron that gathered the smoke. Suspended from horse tackle and wire from the crude lodge pole ceiling, the hood was bolted by a craftsman sent from the Heretical Anti-Pope of Montreal for advice on scripture from Father, to a stove pipe of the kind well-off folks Back East used to vent their fire boxes and wood stoves.
The six inch pipe was braced with iron brackets fixed to the crude central vent—a hole on the lodge pole floor hacked with his ax—through Father’s room, between table, ladder hatch from below, bed and ladder hatch to the roof.
The third floor was open to the sky and had to be shoveled, now by flat plank, as his shovel had been burned in his delirium. The roof was heavy planked with spruce rough cuts and bark over lodge pole frame. The roof vent, formerly covered with a tiny hide tepee, was covered with a conical iron hood and skirted with an old chain mail shirt—thanks to the Anti-Pope. It’s underside was hung with buffalo hides, just as the floor to that second floor room was carpeted with them, the most common gift of Indian and Ranger friend.
The first floor was planked but not carpeted with hides, was cleaned with a broom as Father had specified, thrice daily. The root cellar below was stocked with pemecin and dried and jerked meats of all kinds brought by visitors. He added only berries, rose hips and mushrooms to the larder, too slow to hunt anything else in his failing years.
The base of the tower was ringed with fire wood—his major occupation throughout the year, felling, gathering, splitting and stacking it with that ancient ax, half its iron filed away since it was used to root clear that pitiful grave down Arkansas way. This firewood, of spruce, lodge pole, aspen and piss pine, was sheltered by the eves of a spruce shingled roof planked upon the jutting lodge pole beams that made up the second floor supports within the crude stone tower. This shed roofing was spruce and extended five feet from the tower base—which was ten feet across, roughwise—and were braced from without by lodge pole pillars he had placed to support the weight.
The main supply of wood was housed in the huge lodge pole and bark “tepee” constructed by Medicine Crow, the Absoroka man who had first attended Father when he came to this land. The great peaked tepee was fifty yards to the east. He had built the tower uphill to the west so it would rise higher than the Indian’s handiwork, something that Father no doubt surmised.
He had known the Indian of old as a wee Gallows Boy attending The Rose Knight of Saint George of Awes South…
If he lived through the sickness, this would be his last winter. He could no longer cut enough wood—he had known it true this summer, that this was the last winter of enough wood.
As for food, mushrooms and berries did not sustain a man.
Into the crackling fire swore he, silently: ‘I will not croak in Father’s tower! I will die outside where the wolves might clean my bones under the sky that ate my groans. The fire must be stoked so I don’t die of cold lung. The pot must be snowed to boil to steam the timbers and keep them from fire and soothe my sore nose.’
If he had given over to sickness and not nursed himself, Father would be angry up in Heaven—no, worse; he would be disappointed.
The pot steamed there on the anvil set upon the north corner of the hearth. It was a great cast iron kettle what he knew of old, the drudged duty of his third year in The Ranks handling ponies, the nimble pack horses and palfreys favored over mules and donkeys by The Knights of Saint George and their Ranger slaves.
It had been in 1971, him a wee turd of ten, when he was cut down from the gallows, the noose having failed to break his neck, cut down and redeemed by The Rose Knight himself. A little gut-shanking murderer had been he, even when scrawny to the point of wan and wee. The Rose Knight, man of iron eyes and deep-hid honeyed heart, had seen something fierce there as the orphan vagabond hung for shanking a gaoler what waylayed him for no papers. The ornery little motherless bastard kicked and snarled at the end of a stretched neck and thence earned a life of service in The Ranks under The Cross and flying the Banner of Saint George.
“Spared to serve in The Ranks!” shouted The Rose Knight, a rose emblazoned upon his boiled leather breast plate, the visor of his blued helm wheeled back to expose his close shaven face for all of the grissled backwoods trash to question, if they dared.
None had dared and the squire, and page, and the ten Rangers attending them, including Indian Ben and Sargent Sacks, bawled as one, a challenge to the Borderlanders of Iron Station, in the northeast foot hills of the Ozarks:
“Off the noose!
Out of Christian hand.
Ta be set loose!
Down yon ‘eathen land.”
The sounds of the butts of their knives, swords, pistols and saddle muskets being brought down on the pummel of their saddles as one invited only silence from the gaggle of backwoodsmen who had strung him from a ready-made rope upon a picnic table gallows.
“Thank God da nooseman were good en drunk,” snarled Sargent Sacks, as he threw him a saddle ax and pointed to a mangy little pony at the head of the pack train, “Yer charge, Noose, and lucky too fo you our pony nigger got gutted by a boar las’ night. Ye belongs ta Saint George en ye harken ta My Master, the Rose Knight—now git!” and he had kicked his gawking butt into action, somehow swinging a leg out from the saddle and sending him into aimless motion among the four-legged brutes of the packtrain, to learn as he went.
Indian Ben, the tracker, grinned down his savage hawk-faced grin, looking into him, down from Dead Anon, judging him across Time’s many-rippled pond…
Time offers many windows that seem to open when one is sick and near death.
He mused, nodding and slobbering through half a mouth of worn and broke teeth over such heartfelt reverie, knowing then, that he had sought Father over a return to the Banner of Saint George, in odd service to that great iron kettle and the defining trace of his Pony Boy service that had sent him on the road so broad and wicked in a service so narrow and Godly-wise suited to a man come of a boy once nicked from the gallows dead.
Father had said that a fire was a demon, summoned by man, something both evil and good that hungrily ate of wood.
Mused he on a head lolling over crossed feet: ‘That’s why they called you Sorcerer, aye?’
He threw another log, a quick burning aspen round, on the waning fire, coughed venom into the coals, shook sweating under his gathered bison robes and fell this time, though much less happily, into the long echoing embrace of his only remaining Love, old and tawdry Reverie.
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