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Acursed Nation
Act 2 of The Knights Trace in New Spain
© 2022 James LaFond
NOV/6/22
“Older and more learned knights play chess,
The younger knights still ply their swords in fence…”
-First Jest, Second Chant
The voice of The Stone Deacon soothed the men on this moonlit night:
“To be baptized in Christ with Heaven’s blessing,”
Brawn had just descended from the overwatch, where the scouts held the nighted land in observation, and brought in the horses of them all, the scouts not to be burdened with mounts or marked by fire. Likenesses of men riding, made of brush and topped with hats, were placed on the back of each pony to foil the intentions of the wendigo who somewhere out in the night, glared down with their relentless afright.
‘To be baptized in Christ with Heaven’s blessing?’
'Was that trickery spoke by Ole Billy Ree, false words to deceive me?'
'Does he twist Satan into a picture of God?'
'Does he and his kind serve God through Satan, what to baptize us through war?'
“Ye’d be dead, son. Ged yer thoughts outta yer arse!”
He stood there face to face with Saddler, filled with wonderment that the old Sergeant was so concerned with him after threatening to lope off his head before The Knight Brass.
They stood facing as The Song of Roland peeled from the lips of The Stone Deacon, who held such the best voice among them.
“Sarge?”
Saddler enjoined him, as he took a lead rope off the string of four ponies, “Ye be our scout now, yer ass en Penny Breed, but a child, en yer lost in yer uppity deep reveries.”
“Yes, Sarge, I am.”
“Why, might I aks?”
“The wendigo sing to me by accident and by intent. Tonight they sing of caves deep, of caverns whence they crawl to return to the spirit of their Master, who is not just risen. They crawl deep into the roots of the world, slithering like wolfish snakes. After a feast of Christian Knights, they must return to their deep Ever Altar. They will not emerge until their grotto mass is complete.”
Saddler was aghast, “Ye should a shooed not a lick o’ mercy ta dat fiend.”
Brawn looked at Saddler as they stood beneath the moon, not ten paces from firelight. “When you spake dat, Sarge, the ruthless part o’ me what did fer dem four wendigo, wanted to agree.”
“And?” asked Saddler.
“Then the warm glow of a friendly hand in inhuman form of claw assured my ankle that I had done right before Christ, that I had turned both cheeks as The Stone Deacon oft said was a boxer’s good caper, to sucker in his man to the gripes.”
“Is you stupit, er gone crazy like our Danged Hero Knight?”
“Both, I am sure, Sarge.”
“Let me see dat ankle. Hobble deese ponies and come to da fire.”
“Yes Sir”—‘oopsy.’
Saddler turned on him in a muted sizzle, “Ranger Brash, don’ you foist on me yer danged sass! Neva call me sir en curse me wit deir glory famished kind’s thirst for salvation battlin’ tarnation!”
“Sorry Sarge, I’d never accuse ye of a high mind if I weren’t saddle sore and battle addled.”
“Ye en yer danged backhand quip!” grinned Saddler. “I’m hard on ye ‘cause ye gots da makin’s o’ me en I wan’ ye ta be betta. Ye was born betta den me, but if I had raised ye brash, ye might ‘ave gone da way o’ Old Noose Gun and had a dreadful bum run.”
Saddler patted him on the back and made to lead off half the string, and Brawn grabbed his arm by instinct. The light in Saddler’s eyes had death there writ, then eased in the moonray as he suddenly aged, looking almost feeble, “Whad, son?”
“Am I, am I your son?”
The joke had been driven right through Saddler’s feet. “Might be, Son, might dat it be. Loog, we rangerkind, we a right cursed nation en a man, deprived of all chance at family, a coon’s age from nobility—en even dey cursed wit dey fanatic insanity—such a low man loves a woman what holds his hand and makes him king fo’ da night. Such was yer ma. But me, I were the least o’ ‘er kings, The Knight Two being her hope; a girl dat perty can be raised by a good knight, like dat Lady Blake benedicted up by the Brass Knight, like dat ole timey Queen o’ Moors what Charlemagne brought ta church. When dem too, who came en went o’ ‘er shack so regular I had ta sneak in en out da back, refused ye as deir careless seed, dis ole coon just new to middle years, undastood. Bastards is a vexed plague back Easterland, not ta be cottoned under The Creed Trace.”
‘This rough, rank coon is crying—what a bluster his grift is.’
“Fact is, son—it were me dat bounced ye on me knee, ‘avin’ sneaked in the back way….”
‘I should not be so hard on him—he’s smaller of mind than he wishes.’
“Well, ye growded up middling tall and broad like me, wedder ye da spawn o’ a Knight Two, or those three sergeants at Denver what I stretched out in da fisticuffs many a time to gain that backway company wit yer fair ma. Lord knows when I weren’t dere to whoop dey asses which a dem gained da honor ‘tween knightly visitations of the Uppity Mighty. Not a one a dem saddle scullers stood to me eva, even when I had me the worse cold o’ my life...and dat fair girl nursed me, en charged me not a penny.”
‘I’ve judged him wrong—this man doesn’t have what it takes to beat the wendigo...what makes him somehow better than I.’
“Judge me sure, Brawn—I’m a shit en if I were ‘alf da man you is, I’d a took off wit you en yer ma fer New Spain, come a dis away. I knew dat was yer thought when ye charged up Lookout Mountain, set on doin’ what I long ought to. Ole in da case, [1] I had ta find her starved to bone en yer big ass pilloried fer er apple need. Did what I could, son—wish ye were mine, but juz cain’t know.”
Brawn hugged him, not knowing what could be said to close the wound he had with words here opened.
Saddler stopped and mopped his cheeks and blew his nose out into the green late summer grass that should have been brown.
The Stone Deacon sang on:
“If Roland’s there, he’s sure to meet his match,”
“A vicious toll of Christian souls he hopes for…
Mohon out ranks Saint Peter of the Romans!”
The Paige’s harp plucked on, welcoming the Ranger back into camp, the song though to keep back the night…
Missing Sharp Shoe Brown, and smiling at Penny Breed taking his place in tiny masquerade, set a sinking doom in Brawn’s soul, knowing that orphan boys, uppity up lunatics, lost pillories, trail-weary cynics and wee he, the accidental hero of the four day crusade, were now seeking battle with The Devil’s own children: Christ’s orphans hunting Satan’s soldiers.
“Good vassals bleed to spare their lords the knife,” sang The Stone Deacon, those lyrics bringing Brawn to belt laughter hardy enough to cause the singer to pause and The Factor to admonish from across the camp, with a barked, “None of that!”
Out of the tent came Saddler, followed by the beautiful Squaw who looked hard at Brawn, then came to kneel between his boots.
She looked at his right boot and looked back into his eyes, and Brawn nodded, ‘Yes.’
She slipped off the boot and peeled down the sweat soaked sock, handing it with disdain to penny Breed who hung it not too near the fire on the drying rack of scrub oak branches. She repeated this with his left foot, which she examined first.
She then rolled up his nunspun trousers to the knee, and recoiled at the curled, blue bruise of a great hand print, that felt cool to the touch compared to the surrounding unmarked flesh. She checked the boot and saw no corresponding mark in its well-oiled leather upper. She rolled back down the pants leg as she looked into Brawn’s eyes and spoke to him in not very accented English, “You lack curiosity concerning this mark.”
“It was give under mercy, feels like a weird divining rod.”
She looked at Saddler, “I would love this one.”
Saddler started and then grinned, “Well gut me runnin’”
“Have at ‘im O’ Queen—guess the ole dog is sleepin’ in da yard—getjo ass out ma way, Brawn, I’m tired!”
Face thus saved by the discarded sergeant, the dark-haired woman without a name led him by the hand into the place where he would be brought by another way to a man’s place. He didn’t really know what to do and sat down. She began tearing off his clothes, complaining, “You stink worse than your Father—you stink of death.”
“Why,” he asked.
Her outline was wonderful, her face a blank framed in that night-like hair by the lurid glow of the campfire, “Killer you are, but yet half a man. If my maid and I are to survive this fool’s blunder you need to be your coolest self.”
“Oh,” he felt her touch as she straddled him and peeled off her buckskin dress and then kissed him and whispered huskily into his mouth, “I came to England West to breed with the best—my people need your bloodline. Your rude father’s pleasure was but a path to your unleashed treasure.”
“Wha—” she shut him up with a deep kiss, and, when he found his purpose in her she hissed hukily into his ear, “Men fight their wars by day, my kind wage our strife by night.”
“Three machete boy,
one machete.
One boy little, one middle,
one boy big en kill ready.
Bayou slows the way,
Gator great eat many.
Raft men once Chrisemen,
Ferry sweaty many.”
Notes
-1. Ranger cant is sometimes so muddled that thoughts expressed in garbled tongue are best passed over and considered in the light of the speaker’s context.
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