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Lookout Mountain
Part 1: Act 7 of The Knights Trace in Awes West
© 2022 James LaFond
“Advise me well my wisest men,
how best I might escape infamy and death.”
-King Marsille the Moor First Jest, First Chant
The rangers took the shoulder of the mountain above Golden Hollow, within spyglass line-of-sight from The Knight Brass and the Station Troops camped at the base of Lookout Mountain. The Point Camp bustled and then hummed with cards and dice and then eased off to sleep, Brawn among them, sleeping deep, stabbing that monstrous hide deep, his sword—for his toothpick grew giantly into a sword in dream—plunging ever deeper into Hell and dragging him with him bound for some magnetic purpose.
At Midnight Brawn was awakened by Saddler, “Gear-up, Son—wendigo done skulked ova da dee-vide; we gotz ta lite out fo dawn.”
Old Shacks had been left above Golden Hollow with the Rangers. Tim, The Squire and Sharp Shoe branched up Saddle Mountain, breaking trail. Saddler took Brawn up Lookout Mountain for a vantage on Winter Station Link, the stone tower above Winter Pass that could be seen from Lookout Mountain, where a like stone tower loomed. These two towers, with fire by night or smoke by day, could transmit basic signals between Denver Station and Winter Station.
Two sets of tracks, boys on ponies, had been sent up into the interior—Saddle supposed, to warn the stations there from Lookout Mountain, which had called in its rangers three days before. This was a queer arrangement, as the boys did not relieve the rangers and did not meet them. Tim opined, “Runaways,” when they reached Ponderosa Camp, an oft used way-station with a covered spring and open-sided barracks. Shacks would follow up at dawn, ahead of the main body to this point to await Saddler.
As Dawn Broke and the three trail-breakers wended their way down over the rocky shaded gulches west to that easy saddle trail up the long, low mountain of grass where bison grazed. Up towards the distant snow line to the west, Saddler nodded with a squint, “We headed fo some bad workins, Son. From ‘ere on out you gotz ta pree-dict my every order, our every need. We ridin’ Satan’s knife edge. I can be took at any moment en ye need to push on.”
Saddler then did the ‘ranger read’ swinging like a Comanche down to his right, his left foot free of that stirrup, and hung his head over the trace up Lookout Mountain. There, hanging upside down the Ranger Sergeant checked the pony prints of Tim’s “runaways” and glanced up towards the misty snow wrack dancing above the rosy dawn glow, and grunted, “Don’t add up, son. If they was ta run, they would not pin demselves up on dis ice pick. Dey also a bit weighty fo boys, not as weighty as yer wide self were, but slump-like weighty, like a German monger er some book-bent cathedral skulker back at Saint George.”
Brawn knew better than to tender an empty guess for an answer and pushed ahead without asking permission, impatient already with this errand, retrieving a critter lo two he had but for luck been.
‘Curse The Knights Two.’
“Witout a by-yer-leave ye broad sumbitch!” snickered Saddler, as he eased to follow, “Lead on, Knight Brawn!” laughed the Sergeant, seeming to shed care and stern ways the further the distance between he and The Knightly Class.
‘I suppose he may be my daddy, a like as we are in frame. But as trace wise as he is, he seems mighty small in the brain.’
The trace up Lookout Mountain was snowy and sloppy rode, with the riders up ahead none too good at negotiating the rocky, slip-prone way. Saddler grunted, “Easter boys or slaves o’ New Spain—ain’t but shit in da saddle.”
Brawn became eager, ever more eager to overtake their quarry, hoping that the authority of trace binding [1] would give him a lever with his savage trace boss to let the poor fools go. Half-baked in his young idea-prone mind was the idea of advocating for the boys once taken captive.
A pony, panicked, came prancing down the trace, a sure-footed beast a terror at something, but not so affrighted to dive off a precipice. He was a three year gelding, shaky of leg, clawed on his rump and jittered to a foam.
“Whoa, horse, whoa,” eased Brawn, his recent term of three years as The Boy of the Yard, managing the horse stock under the Farrier Sergeant, coming here to the fore.
Saddler, despite the now dire situation, stayed calm and did not issue order one, or even advise the young.
“Aright, son, trace and track?” [2]
Brawn, in his heart, became seeded with a distrust for his inner self, suspicious that he was in fact deeply evil. This notional feeling sprung from his cool reading of the situation and the fact that he was not perturbed by the monstrous sign.
“Easy, horse,” he cooed as he brushed his roan saddle mare, along the flanks of this ancy gelding and examined the claw marks on its hind quarters.
“Well rot my soul,” hissed Saddler.
Of a sudden angry that he was being left the decision by his trace boss—most senior and knowed of his kind—Brawn snapped, “Lead ‘im with Gunbarrel [3]. Stay in the tree line and cover me with your saddle gun.”
Saddler snickered and made his curious rattle-tongued sound what he mazed horse kind into compliance, as he sat upon the back of the best of mountain equines.
With a tingle of purpose in his brain and a surety of success in his guts what unnerved the better part of his soul, Brawn put his boot heels [4] to the mare, drew his saddle gun, cocked both hammers, and rode sure and steady up the grade, with Saddler whistle clicking to ease the rump-clawed gelding he took in tow, a horse with the brand of The Knights Two just above the hideous claw rake on his hind quarters.
Only the tracks of the gelding told on this trail, the snow at this higher elevation having been fresh this morning overlaying the earlier sloppy-rode snow of yesterday. The ride seemed to take forever in an instant, as if ages of impatience were expelled in a single rush of action. The square tower soon loomed above, glimpsed through the falling away trees as Saddler was left far behind, a thing that most be done with his agreement, as he was mounted on the very best of horse kind.
Brawn broke from under the trees, the ring of Ponderosa that had been felled fifty paces around from the tower, to serve as its uprights, for it was of square stacked stone, quick built in the long ago, and affording a field of fire for those within the five story tower on the highest rock slab atop Lookout Mountain. The tower had but three levels, though taller than the Tower Brass by two stories: the ground floor, with murderholes for gun ports, the second floor three floors up, with one small window to each of the cardinal directions, and the roof, under its brass reflector peak, a witch-hatted affair. To his right—aback east, spread the awesome expanse of plains that some part of him envisioned as forever in the past.
To the left towered Ponderosa pines that one could only see past to the snowy west if mounted upon the tower. The wendigo must have just come, for they could easily scale the tower, and though too thick to gain the interior by the small windows, could easily mount the top and rip downward through the hatch in the roof.
Movement showed in this southerly facing window, below the raised brass brazier and ladder used to kindle signal fires under the brassy peaked, witch-hatted roof.
That motion was forgotten, as Brawn saw before the heavy clawed ponderosa door, two fiends of three nights past, the like of those that had munched poor Dillon to his doom. They were wolf-like ripping the guts out of a barely slain horse, a paint mare, in the scarlet snow, before the hitching post and saddle horses at the one door.
‘Some mazement must take the wendigo when they feast, for they should have heard my approach.’
As if this thought were sent in a wax-sealed letter to their piggish minds, both of the fiends looked up as one, as if hearing or sensing the same thing, not looking around, not searching of eye, but knowing of mind right where to lay red eyes on him.
They were males, gross and enamored, having it seems raped the mare before killing her.
The evil thing within prodded him calmly forward, leveling his saddle gun at the largest one to the left.
It then howled in a slathering popping of jowls, clenched its clawed fists and beat its mighty hair-matted chest as the other, as if in command, circled out further to Brawn’s right.
‘Yes, our saddle guns have but one shot, dead one.’
The beast heard of the obvious his inner taunt and spread his arms and opened his clawed hands with a short charge, coming just into easy range, thirty paces off the muzzle, offering its broad splotched and hair-matted chest for the shooting.
To be continued in Ole Billy Ree.
Denver Station
Ole Billy Ree

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