Prentice Dolphin Chapter 2

Bannermen Sang… 

…in their hoarse, wordless chorus as their destriers pranced in the courtyard and the banner of the  opaque cross upon the field of snow fluttered in the  frigid breeze. The ringing of iron shoes on granite  flags, the hollow scrapping of horny hoof on granite  same, the swag of leather-sheathed scabbards  against leathern saddles, the soft slinking of mail  against all, the furious flutter of banners, and the  ominous clink of the visor of that awesome opaque  helm, greeted him. Upwelling within swelled a kind of  humiliation buoyed with elation he had never known, not even upon Elevation and Induction.  

He stood as straight as he might a head below the  slobbering bit of the black destrier and looked up with  no little trepidation into the face of Justice Claret, a grin with crusading zeal, his waste-burned bronze  face contrasting starkly with his beard of silver and  snow, his falchion-cleft nose and eye acting like a  crossbow sight for his one blazing ocularius, dancing  an icy grey under that silver brow.  

Leaning straight upon his dolphin-headed crook of  ivory, shifting his cowl back upon his shoulders,  shifting unfamiliarly in his walking boots, and forcing  himself to meet that baleful visage, bringing one hand  to the rosary at his breast from which the dolphin borne image of the Blessed Mother shone above  Christ upon the Cross, he intoned as manfully as possible, “Justice Claret, Our Lady of Angels blesses  us with your presence.” 

The fierce man, old enough to be his grandsire,  snarled, “Prentice, the gargoyles yet bray, the breath  of the Hinterbeast yet plays down the Passages of  Damnation. Why do you not sing within the Sanctuary?” 

Only the banners flapping in the wind provided the  context for his response, as the Dozen Sanguine  Apostles of Justice Claret observed a stark silence, as  did, eerily, their bone-crushing steeds.  

“Justice Claret, The Blessed Mother of God bade me  with a painted tear to admonish the Hinterbeast, to  stand upon its icy tongue and cast out the demons  that possess its hunger for Christendom. Acolyte  Wells and Servitor Bund attend my person and the  Holy Relics. The Mysteries shall accompany us.” 

The legendary knight, his fiftieth winter in the saddle  behind him, glared down into he who spoke on behalf  of Blessed Mother Mary. 

‘Blessed Mother, let me shrink not.’ 

The old Crusader then snarled down at him 

crookedly, that ancient blade stroke having frozen that  side of his upper lip. 

‘Jesus Christ, give me strength from the Cross.’

Justice Claret then regarded him with a look of pity, a  dismissive judgment that said that this, narrow shouldered, prayer-booked kneeler, this singer for  mercy, this comforter of the suffering Faithful,  deserved no knightly escort. The thirteen crossbow  men in their quilted jackets and the thirteen pikemen  in their dented cuirasses, arrayed against the high  walls of the narrow court, hung their heads and  glanced sideways at the least among them with wry  and silent snickers, it being obvious to all that Justice  Claret would not be sparing a knight from his duties to  escort his domiciled counterpart, his generations  delayed junior, on his silly quest to pray away the ice.  The ice had been exorcised for generations now, by  hundreds of pious Prentices, all of them his senior  and most his better, and it waxed ever deeper into  Christendom with every passing year.  

The twelve knights sat their destriers in mailed and  visored silence, forming twin columns behind their  Master, between the Sanctuary Gate from whence  

this frail messenger from Mary had embarked on his  thus far graceless mission and the outer Gate of  Soliloquy, beyond which leered the forests and  loomed the peaks of Hither Heathenry. 

Prentice Dolphin had never ridden a horse. It was not  given to his calling. The lowly prentice, all of them manning the sanctuaries that ringed Christendom with  Humariums against the Blight, like monk and priest,  prior and bishop, cardinal and Pope, all above them,  walked as did Jesus among his flock. Hence the workings of the horseman baffled him. Justice Claret  did not click at the horse like a merchant, whip it like a  farmer, shake the reigns like a messenger, or spur  that beast like a knight. No, he used his knees  

somehow to convince that great black destroyer to  turn about, whip Prentice Dolphin across his bare face  with a tail that dwarfed Servitor Bund’s heavy  

sanctuary broom, and rode out between the ranks of  his knights, leaving the insulted Prentice to wonder at  his failure.  

As the iron rang on granite and banners flapped in the  icy wind, he wondered within, ‘Does Justice Claret  declare me unworthy? If so, why? Did I mis-deliver my intent?’ 

The ringing of iron on stone ceased, then began with  a crooked cadence. To his horror, the Crusader now peered at him from beneath one narrow brow through  a visor slit of an eye, clanged shut his visor, struck his  brazen spurs to the black scarred flanks of the mighty  destrier, and charged, charged down upon Prentice  Dolphin as if he were a very heretic caught  

haranguing the serfs in some hamlet, beneath the  boughs of a heathen tree…  

‘God Almighty, pray grant me courage!’

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