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First Coil
The Knights Trace in Awes West: Seven Acts
© 2022 James LaFond
“No heathen may go unharried,
by the Wester sworn.
No sorcerer may find sanctuary,
behind the cloister door.
From the Sons of Ignatius,
we may not turn.
May we know no rest
until the Czarists all pine before Hell’s dark door.”
-Creed of The Knights Trace
Act 1. Pillory O’ the Yard
“For he despises God the Lord,
He serves Mahom, and on Apollo calls.”
… “He’ll not avoid the suffering in store.”
-Roland, First Jest, First Chant
The dust in the late summer yard kicked up reddish and lingering, like the ember chaff of Satan’s own oven floor. He felt the sun kiss and even burn his back—then the cold chill, here in mid-July rolled over his scarred back down off Horsetooth Mountain. It was a haunt what grabbed his soul and breathed doubt into its hollow bowl.
There was no time for doubt for the Boy of the Yard, hamfisted ruler of his lowly kind. Brawn Pillory, was broad as two of the other boys and taller by a head. He stood like a man above lads as Stock Issue, the middling of the lot, taken from the stocks at Denver Station, ducked a facer, came into gripes, and fell into chancery [1]. Stuck there, being fibbed with the light ill-intentioned fist of Penny Breed, the runt bastard of a Shawnee squaw out of Dakota Cloister. To this meaty tune sung Stock’s second, Rum Weasel Tin, thief of the lot, berating his charge, “Put ye ole hip into it Stock!”
Penny Breed, being a breed, and the only of their lot, had no second advising him, and stepped out in front and let Stock Issue out of chancery and landed a quick facer that bloodied that middling long nose.
Something shone on the Mountain, above the worn fang, where the mule deer trace wound, a way only taken by four-leggeds, not rangers or scouts, though occasional the pony boys hunting for rattlers to prove their worth took is meander over the crest rather than up the proper crease between those flat blackened teeth, duller and darker than the rock of the canyon.
Saddle Dillon was in the gate tower, but was paying more attention to the scrap in the yard than the Mountain. Brawn, standing bare-chested in nunspun [2] breaches under his slouch hat, gave the eyes on sign and pointed to the place where a piece of metal or glass had momentarily flickered in the late morning sun. To this the junior Ranger, only a pony boy last year, raised at the middling age of 17 [3] sneered narrowly at Brawn and ignored the signal, Brawn being under him in rank.
Stock Issue stalked forward, warding the light blows of Penny Breed as Rum Weasel Tin encouraged him, “Walk through—bar up unda dat smoke en feed ‘im fists o’ lead!”
Scrap Pillory, scrawnier even then Penny Breed, and Dogear Mud [for the Gaoler at Saint George long ago cast his ears there for the dogs to munch—oldest and dumbest of the lot at 18 years] encouraged Stock in his pursuit of the sly-footed breed. Scrap, all of 11 years and four foot and six inches in his boots, shouted in childhood’s peeping tone, “Box dem ears, Stock!”
Old, slow Dogear Mud, began to ascent, and raise his slow drawl in his standard of agreement, which was invariably, “Wha ‘e sayed,” but his mouth being slower than his big man-hands, his words died in his throat as, while mimicking Penny Breed—not supposed to be the fighter of the hour—his hands came to the holes in his head just hidden by his bowl cut of blonde toe head.
Brawn, long ago—even before Saddle Dillon was raised to ranger for scalping a chance fallen Blackfeet Brave at the head of Redrock Canyon—but more so because two good rangers had been lost in the afray and Saddle happened to be at the foot of the cliff that the brave had tumbled over in his scramble away from raging Sergeant Saddle, coming with his gun—was losing interest in leading the lesser boys, even such gritty boys of saddle and gun.
He detected movement, distinct, indistinct motion, suddenly frozen still like a memory that had played false with his mind across the recollections of his own eyes. Saddle Dillon noted his gaze cast up on the mountain that towered a thousand feet above them and shook his head in the attitude of discount, and nodded with his chin to Brawn that he was losing control of the fight, being a poor master of pugilism in the yard, as Stock Issue, with more grit than one would have credited him with, blood streaming from his nose, tackled Penny Breed about the waist and drove him into the thin red clay covering the hard stone yard of Castle Brass, the affray went sideways as a ranger would say.
Castle Brass was the most laudatory attribution of their habitation that they boys had been able to muster. The Knight Brass himself and the rangers, simply called it Redrock Station. But boys were as yet still the active, yearning resin of a more wonder-filled prism.
For once, when Penny Breed had been bought by Sergeant Saddler from that sutler out of Saint George, the little red-skin—and red he was, at least as red as an old dull penny—looked up with awe at the three-floored tower of The Knight Brass, as the said knight stood atop the roof over the red rock battlement, his visored brass war hat and his breast plate gleaming in the late afternoon winter sun, and declared as if mazed by mountain muses, “You Castle shine a brass—my castle of winter sun!”
This blurted statement was the only time Praying Trigger Tim had ever let a smile shine.
It was then surely that they knew that Penny Breed was touched in the head and daft, for being the only straight sold boy in memory to count himself a stroke of luck for being mustered into the ranks of The Knights Trace, to of a time distant or near, to perish in some lonely place.
Brawn broke eye contact with his dastard senior, Dillon, who grinned as he leaned on the slab stone gate tower at Brawn’s mishandling of the set-to. He stepped forward, bent and seized the boys, and the twang of a bowstring sang behind him—and he had not know that Praying Trigger Tim was there.
“Halt,” Brawn barked as he tore the two apart, one now dangling in each hand as he stood and saw that Tim was rushing past him and signaling Farrier Sergeant Strop, from where he and Thick-head Buck, the Mexican horse tender, bought at Denver Station by The Knight Brass with his very own Crown Shillings, minded the draft ponies
Tim stood and silently pointed to Saddle Dillon, whose hat was now pierced with an arrow that was stuck there to the feathers, having been but part pulled on the knock. Dillon’s face now began to drip with blood where he had been grazed and Strop was scaling the scaffold of the stone platform tower, open on the inner side, to tend to the wound as he admonished Dillon for not keeping proper lookout on the mountain.
The boys stood too in the yard with amazement until Brawn, remembering his place, growled, “We don’t gawk at no ranger what disciplined ‘til we earn the rank. About face, boys.”
They all turned, two of them bloody and dusty, the rest shades of gape-mouthed hope and twisted strands in God’s ready made rope.
“Brawn Pillory,” came the hissing voice of Praying Trigger Tim, “that is a Comanche war lance you spied shivering in the sun—a lone lance. We will see the lancer before the sun falls.”
Brawn nodded, did not speak, which is the proper address to the scout. It bothered him that this breed—as much as he admired him—spoke closer to the King’s English than he, a reminder of his low origin.
They met eyes and he feared Tim all over again, feared him a new every time he met those dark wells of murder pined like light-eating stars out of some fable in his square-rigged head.
Tim noted this and was displeased. He then snarled, “Sergeant Saddler, sends. To the gatehouse, Pillory. Dismiss your boys.”
Brawn straight away neglected to dismiss the boys and walked on towards the gatehouse, anger at Tim welling in his soul.
Scouts ranked only boys in a troop as a body, and served as a kind of sergeant to fresh learning rangers like Saddle Dillon. Brawn had been a boy in the ranks for three years, since the oft bought age of 12, [4] when Sergeant Saddler bought him straight up with the bet winnings over his wager with the Farrier Sergeant Pauls at Denver Station.
As he walked woodenly towards the gatehouse, where the rangers and scouts took their mess, the scars in his back flamed numbly, as he remembered, being tied to the pillory post and whipped with the cat o’ nine tails for 240 lashes, at age twelve—few men being able to stand for 100. He yet held a bitter taste in his mouth for life, what with being dragooned into the ranks and first beaten, for being a bastard of a washer woman punished for stealing an apple for his ailing mother—a woman who did not even live to see him mustered out, dying as she did while listening to the thwacking thud of the knotted chords lashing his back.
Of absent and reverie-moved mind, he found himself rubbing his stubble of chin, now conscious of the advent of full manhood at the unlikely age of 15, at two years less than Dillon had been raised.
“Pappa Doc Black O’ Roy,
Unda da Gator Moon; [5]
He preach da gatha song:
“‘Come Machete Boy,
Rise Against Chriseman Coon;
Sing the steely machete song!’”
“Mississippi Boy, Piney Boy, Haiti Boy!
Rise we ta kille dem Chriseman Coon—
Ta run da night path long…”
-1. Chancery is a side headlock in the clinch, by which a fighter attempting a cross-buttocks throw might be held in the crook of the arm by the head and fibbed [short punched] with his opponent’s free fist.
-2. The gentle distaff hands of the nunneries of Awes West, at Denver and Whitefish, craft all the clothing that the ranks do wear in service to their knightly lords.
3. While knighthood is noted granted until age 21, and a squire recognized as above a paige until 18, the lower orders, having a lesser potential of character and no prospect of learned pursuit, are raised between the ages of 16 and 18. The quality of the ranger or scout is then assigned:
-A ranger so named at 21 is a Slide, the least able of his kind, being a half wit.
-A ranger raised at 19 or 20 is a Dwaddle, rarely trusted to interpret orders, being a slow wit.
-A ranger raised from boy at the ages of 17 or 18 is regarded as Low or High Middling, of the average and holding some promise.
-Those rangers elevated to the rank at age 14 or 15 are Sharp, Low or Middling and destined for a sergeancy.
-A ranger elevated at age 13, is, as a prodigy, named a Brash. Only one such ranger has been named, and he among the Knights of Saint George of the Cross, and headstrong to wicked he was, a cautionary figure of his kind.
-5. July, such is the chronological lunacy of the voodooist mind
Equine & Geographical Appendices
Sergeant Saddler’s Second
within leviathan’s craw
your trojan whorse
america the brutal
the lesser angels of our nature
song of the secret gardener
on the overton railroad
sons of aryаs
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