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Noose Continued
Scene 10.5 of The Acts of Awes West
Noose kicked her flanks with his worn boot heels, though she didn’t need it, knowing her work.
That damned Shawnee had dismounted behind his pony, taken out his saddle gun, that short half inch bored saddle musket, not much more accurate than a dueling pistol, and waited cool as could be, aiming over the saddle.
A grunt and rasp of steel could be heard back to his right.
Paint’s hooves pounded.
A saddle musket fired off to the right, not one of theirs but the bigger half inch bore of the Sepulcher rangers, who were armed for strapping heretic half-Injun foes rather than skinny Voodists or shorty Comanches.
Paint’s hooves pounded and he was clear for a shot as he leveled wheel right. But the Shawnee—who he could see sighting over the muzzle of his bigger gun was quite old, hair streaked with gray and wearing a brace of feathers down his long gray string of greasy hair—had him in his sights.
Paint hit hooves again and he knew he would eat heavy led in the chest—could already feel the crushing of his breast under the sizzling ball of lead—as soon as her gallop took all four feet off the ground.
Willed he: ‘Comanche trick!’ [1]
And Noose swung left almost out of the saddle, his right knee braced against the pommel, his head and arms hanging down by his left stirrup, which his boot was still in, his knee bent clear to his left ear, his head arrest almost on that knee, leveling his pistol at that goddamned Shawnee.
Two cracks and two booms punched the air like God’s own thunder, smoke and sparks showering his face.
Paint did nay piteously as she reared rightward and fell leftward, a great wheeze issuing form her beautiful breast.
Another horse gave out in sound resignation as Noose rolled left, crouched up on his left knee, holstered wheel right and stood in a stalking walk that begin before he was upright, walking at the old Shawnee.
The old boy was standing behind his dead pony, which had taken Noose’s shot in the ear and fell dead.
The man tossed away his empty saddle gun and drew his knife and tomahawk, a wicked light ax with a spike upon the back. The man had a light blue jacket, not a buff, with the brass buttons replaced with rawhide ties and loops and left open to show his blue shirt on the warm summer day in Wyoming. He waited and stood, narrowly, making no attempt to flee and take a horse.
That meant that the fight to the right had been decided, that either the Sepulcher’s had won and were covering Noose with or loading their guns. Or Sacks and Ben had won and were mounted and the old boy knew he could nor out-ride these much younger men.
Whoever was over there, watching, loading, aiming, Noose had the sense that it was between them, him and the old boy. It was not in Noose’s make of mind to even want to look right to see what he might. He had eyes only for the narrow-eyed and sanguinely serene old Indian. The fellow had taken many scalps by his feathers.
The Knights of Saint George did not take scalps, though their rangers did, and wore them proud. The Knights Sepulcher dedicated scalps to their saints, many previous leaders of the order or even ancient Templars. For each scalp dedicated a ranger wore a stripe on his jacket sleeve, a knight wore a stud in his boot cuff and an Indian scout wore a feather.
Scrutinized he: ‘Old boy killed a mess a heretic braves.’
His boots sounded dull and lonely in the silence violated by his breath and his step.
His left arm hung useless.
He drew Old Issue from his front sash, with an inward pull as Issue was sashed to draw from his left, as he walked, leveled it, walked up to the horse’s fresh fallen form, between its as yet unstiff legs and cocked the pistol, having waited to cock it for emphasis. The Order gave bounties for Indian captives that could be put to The Question by the Truth Finders.
The old boy looked down at him, licked his cracked lips, and rasped from old ravaged lungs, “Wee Wendigo, whose gun is never empty—shoot. I would wear no chains under The Question.”
Their eyes drank each other’s thoughts and Noose pulled the trigger with some reverence and it clicked, the powder having jostled loose from the priming pan.
The old boy’s eyes widened with something like terror, rather than opportunity, and he swung his tomahawk, too slow, to wide…
Noose ducked as he flipped the pistol in his hand and slide-stepped left towards where his off hand dangled numb and done, smashing upward with the heavy iron butt of the pistol and cracking the lean elbow of the old boy.
The tomahawk flew forward and past where Noose had been as the old boy winced and buckled silently.
Noose was now standing behind the old boy’s right shoulder, his pistol chambered for the back hand as the Shawnee attempted to twist and turn upward with a thrust of his knife.
This taker of nine scalps was too old, to slow and out of position. Noose brought the pistol butt of Old Issue down on the back of his skull, which felt soft under the iron when it thumped in a squishing way.
The man fell face forward in a lax attitude that whispered of death.
Issue was resashed.
Noose drew his toothpick, that wonderful twenty-inch needle of a razor, knelt to lift that brown and gray scalp, which looked like black hair greased from afar, but was the scalp of a half-breed or quarter breed, perhaps from a mother with hair colored red.
The hair was pulled tight and twisted at the crown with his two long right hand fingers—his left hand dead. He stepped upon that scalp lock with his left boot and traced a circle around the base of the taught hair with the point of the blade. Resashing the toothpick, he grabbed that scalp lock and yanked.
The popping sound of the scalp-taking and the silence of the still Shawnee, at once assured him that the man was dead and brought him back to his senses.
Sashing the scalp, he stood and looked across at Ben and Sacks standing behind the kneeling page, every other soul dead and fled.
Walking up to these two men, hollow and echoing inside, Noose stopped and faced them both.
Ben nodded to his scalp, “Much honor—he was Twist-a-trace.”
Noose glared down at the page, who looked up at him with watery eyes of dread and then looked up not asking, but curious into the eyes of Sacks, absently wondering what his order would be.
Sacks regarded Noose with not a bit of boss about his manner and said, “Ranger Noose, youngest ever of your rank. This is Page Brant, our new pony boy.”
Noose looked down at the coward and was amazed that the Sepulcher page recited the Oath to him, kneeling with his back to Sacks:
“For the Love of Saint George,
Unto the Valley of the Shadow of Death,
By the Light of Saint Martial,
With my every living breath,
God’s will be done,
For Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son.”
Sacks slapped Page Brant on the shoulder and chided, “A quick study of the Rule is he. We let it be knowed that Noose O’Gun was a stickler for an oath true sung.”
Brant looked all around into each hard face before rising, to which Sacks said, “Brant en me I’ll bury Our gent o’ Sire. Ben, you fix that left gun arm.”
The arm was more numb than broke, though Ben said the front bone was cracked up high as he wrapped it and spoke brief words of council:
“Twist-of-trace had much medicine. What did he name you?”
“Wee Wendigo.”
“‘Pale young killer from the dark place,’ he say. You name be made. To keep it you way among men be mazed. Scout every trace and always remember the cabin door.”
With those words Indian Ben, old for a scout ranger and wise, in full middle years, tapped Noose’s jacket and shirt where the dream catcher from Medicine Wheel Man’s bed post hung and whispered as the shovels scraped in the background, “Medicine Father shield you this. Forgot him no.”
“Father,” drooled he, over slime-caked beard, the fire barely kissing his sunken face, the remaining fire wood beneath the anvil and kettle glowering like a collapsed face.
To the right, to steps away, halfway to the wind harried door, were stacked seven more split fir wedges of firewood… impossibly far away…
Notes
-1. Rangers of Saint George had long ago learned this from the storied Comanche.
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