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First Hymn
Masks of Wan Fate
© 2023 James LaFond
JUN/25/23
“See how daunted with desires I bend
As time wears me I shall grieve the more…”
-Inferno, Canto 26
Milkmaid Lynn Jamison possessed but one book, a vellum pamphlet of verses extracted from Dante’s dreamy tour of Hell with the ancient pagan poet Virgil as his guide. That, in 1314, the Demi-Angel Virgil did guide Dante through the underworld, where the Florentine poet would converse with the ghost of Ulysses concerning his journey into the Atlantic Ocean, and that this record inspired the mariner of neighboring Genoa in his westward quest for the East Indies in 1492, has in likewise inspired the Disciples of Dante in the eager exile above The New Dead Sea. The inspirational geographic passage heads the 8 page booklet:
“Where Hercules ordained the boundaries of man, where dim a mountain rose, from the new land a whirlwind sprung.”
Thus Canto 26 is a source of off quoted passages by The Disciples, whose doctrine has spread due to their diligent English copy art, by which their members in a plane, dull calligraphy produce and distribute small vellum books to those who read, who are many among the folk tended by the Disciples, due to their controversial teaching of the vulgar word. To be caught in Easter New England with a copy of Dante’s Inferno in the Latin or of the booklet of quotes, called ‘The Cantos,’ in vulgar English is a crime punished by branding and enslavement. In Awes West, however, in the lands guarded by The Knights Trace, where bibles are more plentiful than in the east, due to the copy work of Dante’s Disciples, The Cantos have become the prized possession of those people blessed with the ability to read.
Darla’s Bad Cow
Wife—1
“When the Day Star suffuses His golden tresses in the urn of Aquarius.”
-Canto 24
Kyle Plowbent’s milk house moaned a windy song, the barn door slapping on its cord, the cottonwoods groaning like a rheumatic crone should the willows rustling like shades from Inferno rattling woe in the forest of the self-killed.
Lynn was done bleeding, so was at the utters early. A moon-bleeding woman was not to milk cows lest the milk be spoiled. So poor Mother had been bent to this task these last five days, and poorer Lynn, half-orphan of Hunter Jamison, had endured bailing hay with her stepfather Kyle. Kyle was not a bad man, but an unlucky one who meant all well and good and for whom the constant shower of woe fallen upon his rounded and stooped shoulders could in no wise be understood.
“He is a good man, Lynn,” Mother ever said, when Lynn rolled her eyes at Kyle’s lack of imagination, his inability to think outside of the direct line of power being good and descending down to him and transferring through him to those under him, all being good…
Lynn on the other winged hand of thought saw how mother was alone without her soul companion, Hunter, how Kyle was near to broken so bent he was in service to his betters, how Lynn knew herself to be up for sale as a wife, and that they and she, liked a milked-out cow, like a laid-out hen, would be killed and ate by the cruel world of woe that was yet believed to be ‘good and for you,’ by the weak-willed, sot-brained and slow. Lynn had a real problem with stupid people. Mother was bright but ever dimming in the bed of Kyle Plowbent who was dull and—Lynn so thought, having such grand recollections of her father—thence night sent.
There was a wise woman though, the grand lady of Shinglemill Hollow, Widow Darla Dane, who did require eggs, already gathered this dawn by Lynn, and also milk, a fine glazed jug already filled off of Bessy’s swollen utters. Darla would know the answer that question that troubled Lynn so.
Up off the stool, her blue linen dress brushing the fresh-laid straw, in her wooden milking and egging shoes, painted fair blue and drawn with golden laces by her own artful hand, Lynn, waddling she thought, as her hips widened and she felt more like a sideways cow with a goblin butt and duck walk every day, made her way into the just risen sun in the direction of her grand refuge.
Darla’s house was a lodge pool log cabin shingled with cedar and hung with a great ponderosa plank door, the first house to ever be raised here a ‘round hundred’ years ago. Darla painted and lacquered the log house inside and out in sky blue—being whitened indigo—with the window shutters, door and eves painted sun dressed yellow. Lynn beamed whenever she walked towards the fair blue house of the Matron of Shinglemill Hollow, proud every time when she did it in her wooden shoes painted in loving mimicry.
The door swung open and Darla stood in her black dress and white apron, in perpetual mourning for the loss of her son, The Knight Jamison and then her grandson, Hunter Jamison. She had taken again the name of her father, Heath Dane, when the ranks of her menfolk had been entirely withered and no man was left to uphold the name of the man she had married, Ranger Jamison, homesteader of Shinglemill Hollow, the Lord’s First Woodcutter and sometimes ranger, a friend to the Shoshone, who had died by Utesh hands in a tribal scuffle. An especially florid poet like Dante, now doubt, would be able to read all of this on the sorrow-lined face of Darla, whose hair was died indigo in mourning as well, but smiled widely throughout life’s woetide, when she saw the smiling face of her great granddaughter.
“Lynn, my you are the picture of beauty—look at you, what a wife you will be!”
They hugged and Lynn cried, exactly two reluctant tears, “Oh, Granny, but I don’t want to be a wife, a man pawing on me in January, getting fatter every year as I bear another September Brat to rear! Besides, men are so beastly!”
Darla hugged her and walked her inside to sit by the fire on aspen log round stools before the porridge pot, “Oh Baby, you are so sweet. The only problem is you are too smart by half and get impatient with simple folk. Your father was the same, what drove him to hunt so, and where is he?”
“Up with Big John Hide?” mumbled Lynn.
“Maybe. But I hope, he sits with Jesus in Heaven. He was a good man. His father was too—how I loved the cattle drive up Chalk Creek where we would trade with the Shoshone. You know, Lynn, I had this one stubborn cow, a beastly bad cow you might say. She would side kick you. Hefter Hay I called her. I once broke my prod beating her, and not wanting to chance getting side kicked while walking past her on the trail to take her nose ring and leading her across Chalk Creek, I decided to ride her. That darned bad cow ran like a mule, up to the creek and then stopped dead and there I went, right in. She had her funny joke played on me. Then up came Ranger Jamison, and we pitched camp early on Chalk Creek and ate steak and cow tongue right there.”
“Grandpa killed Hefty?”
“Deader then a duck at Easter dinner! You see, a man, beastly as he may be, if he has it in him to love a woman, not just a using her like some serving wench down at the Lord’s keep, but real and infatuated, LOVE a woman, then that girl, plain as she may be, she has herself a knight, just as Mother Mary has the Arch Angels Four to set higher matters right.”
“Am I plain, Granny? I feel like a goblin. I walk side ways now—my butt is hideously expanded!”
Darla stood her up with a motion of her wax paper-skinned hand and looked her over and with her eyes appraising obviously a high worth, like Kyle assessing a cow, she declared, “Lynn, Jamison, you are a darling beauty and I reckon you will have now problem in child birth...and my, my, your wondrous hair, all of the squaws of Heathenry would claw one anothers’ brown eyes out to have such a lustrous head of hair...and your eyes are blue like our wonderful highland sky. We have never let you go to Keep Bernie for holiday or tithe pay, for fear The Lord would keep you for rude use, so pretty you are. That is why I, your Mother and poor bent Kyle, why we inquire quietly at fair, at church and especially on Reliquary Day, as to learned and traveled men that might not be so dull as to set you crazy.”
Lynn thought within for the best placed question.
“Granny, how do I know if a man can love me and not use me cruel?”
“You look into his face and you will see it there, something more than hunger, something hoping for grace.”
“Will I then control him, just like that? Mother does not control Kyle, they are kind of apart...but together, in an awkward way, bumping and stumbling in thought rather than of like mind.”
“Baby, some men are not good enough for themselves, like my bad cow, and live bitter lives and give us a hard way to go in their frustrated woe. But a good man, that has eyes for more than these bountiful hips, and pretty face, who appreciates the sunny laces painted on your little wooden shoes, he will give over entire parts of his life to you to queen-like control...but not all. A worthy man does not surrender all. Somewhere in the best men, there is a streak of Big John Hide.”
“That is scary to consider, frightfully so.”
Darla then whispered in her ear, “Don’t you forget it, Lynn Jamison, that the best man has got a frightful thing in him like the Beast of the High Divide. And if his wife loves all the rest of him, then on her side will fight his night side; just like My Man done for Hefty Hay, the man that deserves your strong wifely hands and softly nightly smiles, he will be your champion. It’s either that, the nunnery tower or being rutted to a rag by Lord Bernie and on down the ranks to a worn out hag as Time steals your charm and earns you my lonely seat.”
“That’s it? All I have to chose from?” asked Lynn with deep questing and watery eyes.
Darla stood and grinned, motioning up at Mount Tioga and beyond, through the sunrise window that faced up the long, haunted hollow, “Or get up with Big John Hide?”
They both shivered, and then smiling, laughed in tones tolling each their varied years.
Wife—
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