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Hither Tarnation 1
The Lone Knight: Act 5 of The Knights Trace in New Spain
© 2022 James LaFond
NOV/27/22
“Inside a grove of leafy shade he steps…
No pagan there says anything.”
-First Jest, First Chant
Before him stood, next to the farrier’s anvil, a sergeant, a sallow, thin, scarecrow of a ranger, who shook slightly as Brawn leveled his saddle gun with one hand.
At his feet, was a ranger, his face just branded with the gunpowder 'R' on the cheek, shackles recently riveted by the farrier sergeant, who was thin, pale, and hang-faced, holding a horsewhip which had just been used to open the back of the ranger at his knees, a ranger that seemed all of sixteen, as thin as the rest of them.
Behind him and above turned the rangers at the gate, skinny and pale, unwashed clothes grimed with charcoal.
There were no scouts, dead or alive.
Those were the only five souls alive in the yard or upon the catwalks. Some score of less fortunate souls hung by necks in chains, branded on the cheek, whipped upon the back and hung from the neck until dead. Brawn had ridden into the tail end of what seemed a mass execution.
‘But what mutiny of twenty and one is put down by four, four such as these sorry souls?’
‘There are no nobles present.’
He heard The Knights Brass behind him enter the gate and spread out behind him and preempted his Lord, “Where are your masters, the Lone Knight, his Squire, Factor, his paige?’
The scarecrow sergeant pointed at two of the hanged men with distinctive knightly haircuts of a flat, spiked nature, shaved around the ears, the rest of the dead owning the bowl cut mops of the ranks.
The sergeant’s voice shook, as Brawn noticed that there were no horses, no livestock whatsoever in the station, “The paige he be locked in da root cellar, by order o’ 'is Lone Knight, who be above.”
'He says the Lone Knight is above but does not believe his own words.'
The gate closed behind The Knights Brass, to the furious shouts of Saddler to “leap da walls fro’ ‘orseback en gut da traitors.”
The ranger wretch in fetters peed his naked thighs, wearing only a rag about his loins, and the two sergeants went to their knees in prayer—prayers fronted with tears and wrought with pleas.
As Brawn turned to look at The Knight’s Brass for direction, thunder split the sky and wracked the yard as the culvern atop the tower above, charged double from the sound of it, belched fire and turned The Second Knight Brass into a gory puppet of utter ruin, blown in half, his top part and head bouncing from the gate and his bottom part trailing guts and spilling off the saddle of his bucking destrier, a gunbarrel beast that erupted in fury, knocked the First Knight Brass from his saddle, to dash his head against the gate post, a head that was helmeted in a brass war hat, or else death would have been the likely fortune of the crusader.
Brawn heeled Wake and Ready through the tower door, which was half open and soon rang half off its hinges as he ducked through.
Leaping from the saddle to the fifth wooden stair, Brawn charged upward with saddle gun in left and sword in right. The hatch to the second floor. Was barred from above. It was pandemonium outside as the Rangers clamored over the walls and the few men of Hinter Station moaned like the damned.
He saw where the four-by-four beam was latched over the hatch above and blew it apart with the left barrel, wood splinters and smoke scorching his face. Bulling open the hatch with his shoulders, he shoved the hatch back with his sword pummel and was in an empty quarters for Squire and Factor.
It occurred then that there was no Stone Deacon accounted for. He dashed up the short stair to The Knight’s quarters and blew open that hatch with his right barrel, discarding the saddle gun on the floor as he heaved open the hatch with his shoulders and drew his issue, unhooding and cocking it.
Up he looked and saw and heard two sets of booted feet tramping about the culvern, reloading it, not in a hurry like rangers under orders, but almost slow, in an odd, strict—yet prancing hesitant—way like someone was then being showed something for the first time and taught to do it.
‘Knights make sorry gunners, I bet!’
Brawn charged up the stair, placed the muzzle almost against the latch base, and blasted, a splinter flew back into his nose to stick, powder scorching his face. He bull ran up through the hatch, bashing it with his big hard head and left shoulder in a hurry so as not to be cut down right off the get.
Emerging on the roof behind two tall, naked, yet stately figures who turned to regard him, Brawn was taken aback as the men turned on him. The Stone Deacon, holding the ramrod-swab, was a tall strong man with a big jut of jaw. The Lone Knight, who he assumed was the Lone Knight, as he wore nothing, was naked as the other, with no cods or penis, all genitalia absent on either, like it had been sucked up inside the body. Thus stunned, Brawn was near numb when the Lone Knight Nude spoke with the clear air of command, “Put aside arms, Fresh Knight.”
The voice sounded so clear, so true, and so far away.
The Lone Knight then kissed the Stone Deacon and whispered something, to which the Stone Deacon bent, set aside ramrod-swab, picked up the smoldering rod from the bucket of coals over the battlement brazier, and stood to prime the culvern for another blast.
Then it occurred, that what he had heard as boots were not—for the men were naked entire. As The Lone Knight walked towards him and a hard footfall sounded, Brawn saw that instead of human feet, that both fiends had goat hooves, hooves of the size of a great billy.
Dropping his issue and drawing his toothpick in his left hand, Brawn charged with a scream, an inarticulate holler that sounded like deviltry itself. The culvern boomed, shaking the tower and a crackle of muskets and saddle guns came from below as brawn back-hand slashed with Shamishar, a slash that The Lone Knight, naked and with his skin now transparent like glass showing the workings of muscle and even bone underneath, ducked the slash easily that would have shorn off his head.
This was the attack the Knight Brass had advised him on as a toothpick man new to the sword, the back hand sword slash to the throat followed by the overhand thrust to the body with the toothpick, a gambit that worked as it had been told, plunging that toothpick to the hilt into that weird purple-lunged chest, the organ seen from behind the ribs pumping its air.
The Lone Knight smiled seductively, something like Alissa, and then pressed his hand, with something of the aspect of a gaunt paw, to Brawn’s heart.
A cold chill iced into Brawn’s chest, and The Lone Knight inhaled deeply like a bellows, sucking Brawn’s breath from his mouth from arm’s reach.
Some wooden sounding man moaned in his heart as a silver-voiced woman wept and her tears tinkled like glass there in his ice afflicted chest.
There was no breath to draw this close, so he shift stepped back out to his right with a long pivot that dragged his unachored left foot as Shamishar struck down and cleaved that left goat hoof from its owner—borrower more like.
The releasing blade of the toothpick clung with purple gore as the see-through parchment skin of the fiend closed up and stopped bleeding even as the hoof gushed. Brawn backhanded up and across and sent The Lone Knight’s increasingly pale-faced head hurdling out over the battlement.
The Stone Deacon loomed over him, with an arrow feathering his neck to no effect and two rounds having ripped through his chest, gaping wounds that were closing before Brawn’s eyes. Brawn’s wide-open posture invited, quite naturally, the unnatural strong kick of what used to be the Stone Deacon, that drove the wind from Brawn. The hard hoof, as broad as a pony and awful cold hard, sent him skidding across the ponderosa planks to bruise his shoulder on the far battlement.
As he gained his feet in a crouch, the fiend leaped 15 feet to the battlement, leaped over Brawn’s backhand slash. He then billy-goated as far as a cougar might leap out to the catwalk, knocked a ranger into the yard and leaped out over the lodge pole wall to run like a great two-legged goat up the north face of the mountain at their back. A’Quah was out there on horse and went on the hunt, putting two Comanche arrows feathered deep into that ever-more goatish back by the time the fiend was lost up in the crags, as sure-footed as any goat.
Saddler was up out of the hatch with his blunderbuss at the ready, looked at Brawn with concern, then looked to the headless ruin at their feet, “Well gut me runnin’ Son, we gots stallion-dicked apes from up high and dickless goat-fuckers from down low where da Devil go!”
Brawn breathed a heavy sigh and felt a woman weeping in his chilled heart as the warmth of life returned.
Saddler was then patting him on the back, “Datz twice ye saved ‘is brass ass, son. He’ll be as right as a knight might—da otha’ dough, whad a danged mess—in here comes da danged night in a blink o’ God’s good eye.”
"Torches, cressets, forge, lamps—light this station up rangers,” Yelled the voice of The Factor.
Brawn stopped before Saddler and said, with his hands full of bloody steel, “I’m taken’ dat bitch out to the bridge Sarge.”
He could tell that Saddler loved him then, and didn’t want him to go. But the old cuss recovered, “Good on ye Knight Brass—da gates blowed ta hell anyways,” and recalling his command, bellowed, “Long muskets to da catwalks—Farrier Sergeants to dis roof en culvern, snap en to’er or ye dead men fo da moon do rise!”
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