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Scene 8 of The Acts of Awes West
The face of every man of them was drawn and downcast. But none was empty save the once great-hearted face of the Rose Knight.
With the Lady, upon her palfrey, sat Ranger’s Mike and Grog to either side. Joe Medicine Crow would guide them to White Fish Nunnery, a place for soul-searching ladies, a frontier cloister whose nuns prayed for the Knights Trace and sought closer connection to God—which factored as a big-wigged concern; Noose being content with serving God at a distance through HIS bossy henchmen. His view of the world at this 13th year of age was a fusion of criminal practicality and military hierarchy.
The Rose Knight towered above Sergeant Sacks on one side and Indian Ben on the other, as Noose steadied the much reduced pack-train and awaited the order to follow trace. The Knight saluted his Lady and she answered with praying hands streaked with the tears dripping off her rosy pale cheeks.
Medicine Wheel Man stood between them, head hung in an attitude of disappointment in self, as if this sorry separation of two mated souls were due to some failure on his part. Tears pooled around those blinded eyes.
Fathomed he: ‘Big-wigged concerns sure bring pain to them what holds them.’
“For Awes South—fall in Noose. I got yer back trace,” commanded Sacks in his gravel-voiced bawl.
So they filed all lonely together off of that majestic mountain, the Rose Knight riding with no spirit, the Spirit of Saint George seemingly deserting him. However, he insisted on carrying the banner upon its lance, more oft used as a rally point, the butt spike planted deep, than for skewering a Comanche off his pony’s back.
The descent of the mountain down the switch-back way south, opposite of the north meadows and passes The Lady and her escorts [1] would take, took until late morning.
It was nearly hot in this high, summer-cold land.
The Lady of Roses had been the only mother figure in all of Noose’s short life, and he seethed inside that she was being taken away. His criminal survival instincts also informed him that they the Pea Ridge Garrison would become a suicide battalion under this now bachelor Knight for whom marriage had been so right.
At last they based out through a lane of massive ponderosa, looking down upon the distant cottonwoods that marked the creek. Behind that creek towered the black and gray barren bluffs of ancient fruitless mountains.
Indian Ben was in the lead, followed by the Rose Knight. Noose kept a horse length behind his Master, hoping that this closeness, half again as close as trace doctrine, would let the Rose Knight know that his little gallows born slave shared some of his pain.
“Easy, Noose,” hissed Sacks from six lengths back, “they’s Christian, Sepulcher perhap.” [2]
From either side of the forested lane, from behind each massive tree trunk, stepped two rangers of The Sepulcher, each with a war hat coifed in red cotton, a saber on his left hip for cross draw and a pistol through his sash for a left-handed cross-draw—these being storied two-handed fighters, pistol in left, shot then used to parry, and the saber in the right, a hussar blade, broad and wicked curved.
Sorted he: “They got mounts somewhere—I’ll kill me that boy.”
One of these men was a sergeant, distinguished by his white point of beard, handlebar mustache—both smartly waxed—a conical Sepulcher blued steel war cap with red leather visor, and Sepulcher patch embroidered in red upon his blue buff jacket, over his heart. Noose thought this man to have already marked them for dead.
Sorted he: ‘Wheellocks is smooth, flint locks tuck-primed [3]. Issue, you well and loaded... but, well, you Issue and you got issues.’
His thoughts rolled behind narrow eyes slitted under greasy slouch hat rim. He grew easy and relaxed, his “gift” Sarge said, being cooler under fire than under civil folks ordered desire.
No weapons were put to hand on either side, save the banner lance of the Rose Knight, riding in his yellow-gloved hand.
The Sepulcher sergeant, spoke up to the Rose Knight, “My Master, the Grizz Knight, be commin’ right up from yon cottonwoods en aks ye Knight await parlay.”
The Rose Knight seemed dead of eye and Sacks rode up in such a fury that the three rangers put hands to weapons, but not the sergeant who smirked up at his counterpart through tobacco-stained teeth, hands on hips, “Ye sombitch addresses the bes’ Knight o’ Awes South like ye was ‘igh born—spit it right, dog!”
“Oh,” drawled the sergeant afoot, “I be Sergeant Tigg, o’ Awes Nort en be beggin’ you Masser’s pardon.”
Sacks backed his pony masterfully to the left side of their Master and hissed, “Don’ likes it, Sire.”
The Rose Knight answered hollowly to no one, “The Grizz Knight will find me at his service.”
Indian Ben was riding around behind the two foot men on the right, sniffing and snooping and glancing for sign behind the trees, giving Sacks the cock of his head in such a way that said, ‘Spent the night here in ambush.’
The two rangers were mighty ancy about Ben and did not take their hands from their weapons as they glanced over their shoulders and he pranced his pony about behind them back and forth and around real easy like to keep them on edge.
Noose seemed to fall beneath the notice of these turds until Sergeant Tigg said to Sacks, “Littlest squirt of a ranger I done seen in all ma days, ‘aulin’ ‘is own weight in battle iron, aye.”
“Noose’s ‘is name—gallows born—bes’ pony boy ye can name.”
“We could use a pony boy—ours got ett by a grizz las’ week. I’ll pays ya fitteen pound fer is oath signed ova ta Sepulcher.”
“Not for sale, Tiggs.”
Up rode a giant of a knight, wearing a bear-skin vest and bear skin cloak, his helmet a dressed grizz head, riding a great black destrier. A blue jacketed page led his saddle horse, a big draft animal, and a squire in buff jacket on a middling destrier carried his lance and banner.
Off to the side was a pony train led by a Shawnee scout, the most vicious detribalized scalp hunters and scout riders of Awes North.
Thirsted he: ‘I so wants a Shawnee scalp!’
The Grizz Knight was huge, with a black shadow of beard stubble darkening his great lantern of a jaw. His arming sword was larger than normal, as large as a highland claymore of old and his left hand was gloved fingerless for pistoleering with two blunder busses, one on each saddle scabbard. These were not loaded for battle. His sword though, hilted and pummeled with brass scepter heads, as was the arrogance of the order, rested close and loose for a draw cut.
The Rose Knight was tall and strong, handsome and hard of countenance.
But the Grizz Knight, with his dark bear-like eyes and his great slope of shoulders, was a head taller and perhaps twice the weight of the Rose Knight. His speech was gruff: “This is Trace Land. We are strangers here. Knights Trace will let us quarrel and sneer down at our bleached bones. I need a pony boy. I will take yours as a tax levied upon the weak by the strong and you may go with your lovely flower of a soul.”
Noose kept his head down, his eyes slitted just under the hat rim, hands on his pony’s pommel, calm as could be.
Indian Ben stopped his movement and sat saddled behind the two rangers who kept turning to look at him.
The Shawnee seemed to give no care, just lazed on his horse, a nice pony, in a lax attitude that suggested that he had seen this all before.
The Rose Knight slid from his saddle without a word, down the right side, left foot first.
Sergeant Sacks led the destrier over to Noose who was aghast in his mind, ‘The Rose Knight is the better rider by far, should stay ahorse—its his right of the Code. [4] He must want to die. He might as well give me over to this big booger.’
The Grizz Knight swung from the saddle like a great lazy bear and towered a head taller than the Rose Knight, his shoulder as wide as a doorway, wider then some.
The Footman on the left returned that destrier to the string led by the Shawnee as Sergeant Tiggs smirked grimly, leaning back upon a great rough-barked trunk.
The Grizz Knight rumbled, uncouth as a ranger, “You fall, I’ll have ye destrier, yer boy en the pack string. Yer Injun en Sarge ken keep they weapons en mounts en ride off.”
The Rose Knight lowered his visor and saluted this beastly affliction of a man.
Stewed he in his orphan heart: ‘Grizz Knight—more like Bear Bandit—big bumpkin booger!’
Notes
-1. As conscripts and sometimes signed up as volunteers for life over some desperate need or redemptive creed, Rangers of the various orders dispatched on such escorts were most often reassigned to the order posted at the location, as Rangers Mike and Grog were, to serve anew The Knights Trace. Factors of the various orders would keep a roster of reassigned rangers and suggest reassignments to repay Brother Orders, man for man, years in the ranks for years in the ranks, as close as possible to a square exchange. Such practices reduced desertions and also massacres of small bodies of returning escorts who might be easily back-traced by foes.
-2. Sacks never liked pronouncing the “s” at the end of perhaps, thinking it too passive a question.
-3. A method by witch dueling pistols were fitted with cup powder pans and cake powder for keeping pistols primed while muzzle down.
-4. The Code Duello, recognized across Europe and America, gave the right of weapon choice and field of duel to the challenged party.
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