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Kettle
Scene 6 of The Acts of Awes West
Old, tawdry Reverie wooed him beckoning-like to shallow sleep to prod and tease of trod traces, gone-days and name-faces all story booking in the muddled dream-ways…
The Rose Knight rode first on his mighty destrier, following the old rock-hoping Indian Medicine Crow up the switchback way.
Behind him rode Indian Ben, loyal as a mutt hound upon his white-socked pony, wearing his buff jacket proudly.
Next rode The Lady of Roses on her dun palfrey, the nunnish bride of their Lord, who had her husband only for Easter Reprieve and Harvest Leave, 2 months a year. Her time was spent weaving, embroidering and dying their banners, jackets, cloaks and saddle blankets—even their bedrolls—in red upon gray with yellow and black checker cuffs and hems, a red rose sewed on every breast. Such was The Lady’s art. Yet, despite Her strong purpose, had come a crisis of faith in The Lady’s heart. So Her husband took leave with five loyal men, leaving the squire and corporal at Pea Ridge Bastion for June and July.
Behind The Lady rode Ranger Mike and Ranger Grog, old veterans slouching over their pony’s necks, each leading a spare mount.
Next rode Noose, a pony boy of 13, blooded thrice in battle, owner of two scalps, a man according to Injun ways, leading four remounts [0] and the pack horse—little Apple the dapple—who bore on her back the iron kettle for Medicine Wheel Man.
Taking up the rear and watching the back trace was Sergeant Sacks, wiry like a whip and hard as iron, riding his pony and leading his destrier.
When they halted, the lot of the remounts, the draft horse and the Sergeant’s destrier [1] would be left in the pony boy, Noose’s care.
Noose so wished to distinguish himself so that he might become a Ranger. Despite his two kills—of those two damned Comanche who had killed his horse and his remount in Kansas—he was not ready for Ranger:
“Ye too danged small yet,” opined Sergeant Sacks, “ta saber up to a man. En I sees ya know’s it Noose, else ya wouldn’ pilfer every pistol of a done gun.”
He knew it true, he was “the pistol boy” a distinction at least over the other pony boys, a pistol on each leg—both fine wheel-locks taken from a French renegade on a night scout, stole from his very tent pole. There was also two trusty but slow flintlock dueling pistols gifted him by The Rose Knight for doing in those Comanche what waylaid him at the horse stand. And there was his Issue, that ancient flintlock, more club then pistol, which he wore in his sash before his jacket, his wicked 20 inch knife, double-edged called a toothpick, in the back of the sash.
A pony boy guarded the mounts in camp, in pasture, hobbled in a dismounted in battle and on leads during a running fight—a cowboy armed with a pistol to ward off a horse thief or two.
In European military terms, a knight was a heavy horseman, operationally rendered nearly obsolete by muskets in Europe, but the heart of their unit and a fierce addition to battle in crusading terms, where machete-wielding Voodooists and lance-armed heathens took the field.
A ranger was a combination of a Hussar, a dragoon and a scout, and in these various capacities were organized against various foes by their Sergeant and Squire [which was like a captain in regular, secular service] with the Knight in overall command always looking for the moment in battle when best to ply his hand.
Noose was as many steps removed from His Master as could be.
The rangers liked him but teased him, calling him “Rattle o’ Gun” and “Young Gun.” No other pony boy ever stood to him—he was their “knight” in camp and fort, even the Sarge o’ Boys, Vulch, age 16, treated him with respect. He had won every boy scrap no matter the age and size, and was fiercely proud of being cut down from a swinging rope by The Rose Knight rather than taken from the stocks or the whipping post, or from a stinking gaol or a planter’s porch.
He was, “Noose,” and as hard as he was for one so young, his heart went out to The Knight and Lady of Roses who seemed to suffer from some inward crisis that only afflicted those big-wigged sorts that held the high places in life.
The Rangers fought for honor, rum, whores and loot under the Rule of Saint Martial and the Banner of Saint George. Noose fought to become a ranger. But the Knights and squires, they truly fought for God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost; and for this service they seemed to pay some inward price.
The Lady was blond of hair and beautiful, had forsaken child bearing and care for banner sewing, prayer and hurt nursing. Her and her Husband Knight were mates of a higher kind, forbid to relate like a ranger and a by-the-night-coin wife.
Wondered he: ‘What eats at them so? They have all I’d want and are so hobbled in heart—how far away their eyes look, like into nowhere.’
Sergeant Sacks hissed from behind him, “Eyes on the ridge lines and deadfalls, Noose. Ye scout is never done.”
“Yezzir,” snarled Noose, and he broke off the worry over big-wigged things and took his eyes on the hunt for Scalp Three.
Up ahead and now unseen, it no longer his business, the old Crow medicine man walked ahead of his haunted Master, leading them up Medicine Wheel Mountain so that The Lady of Roses might gift this great black kettle wrapped in sackcloth to “The Sorcerer” in return for an answer to what ever ailed her soul.
Waking out of bold youth up into cold old age, he saw the fire had near died and lurched awkwardly for a split of piss-pine and a round of aspen to stoke her back up—that fire demon so warm and so hungry of wood.
His robes clung wet close to his sweating skin. As he opened them to dry over the rack and reached for a split log to feed the fire, he recalled what Father had said of dreams: that they were not our dreams, but the dreams of God, of angels and even of devils.
A chill grew within his body as his chest wheezed and he removed his shirt to dry on the vent hood hooks.
Worried he: ‘Was that dream God judging, an angel reminding or a devil nudging?’
He drew on the dry outer robe and piled more wood, three more splits of piss pine, three small rounds of aspen, all tepeed-up about a heavy round of lodge pole. Satisfied that the fire would last for hours, he sat back down, close as spit to that storied kettle.
Notes
-0. Ponies, who served as demi-pack horses bearing the saddle bags and bedrolls of their rider while he rode the alternate mount. Remounts were saddled identically to their alternate, except that saddle guns and sabers remained with the rider and supplies with the remount. Both horses had two canteens of water. Rangers were armed with saber, sheathed in a saddle scabbard, an Arkansas toothpick in the back sash, a pistol in the front sash and a saddle gun, a short musket. Their jackets were buffed with quilting [not padded] and sewn with dull iron rings about the collar and light blued-steel plates on the shoulders. Leather chaps and cowboy boots were worn over buckskin pants.
Indian scouts and pony boys wore slouch hats. Rangers wore slouch hats on the march. But at posts and in battle donned their mail-coifed steel war hat, covered in greased canvas to prevent reflection, with a beaked vizor and simple ‘t’ within a ‘U’ barred face cage. Pony boys were armed with toothpick and pistol only, their jackets not reinforced with iron and steel.
-1. The destrier is a tall warhorse ridden always by Knights. However, the destrier of a squire or sergeant would only be mounted for training, for battle and when said subordinate was acting as a proxy and discharging the duties of his master, a Knight of Saint George.
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