Devil Songs Rushed…
…furiously down the tree-cloaked mountain, a thousand swaying fir sounding like Satan’s own whisk broom cleaning prayer from the air. For as they marched and the breath of the Hinterbeast gusted so fiercely as to knock the boy off his feet and send Prentice Dolphin to his back, he spake from memory a passage from the Third Eucharist prayer and heard it not, the words stolen by the devil wind, snatched from his mouth and taken down the mountain and over its mighty shoulder to be swallowed below by the forest dark.
“Prentice,” yelled the crossbowman, “…ake ma han…”
He pushed up his hand from under his tangle of vestment and noted that his left hand still held firm the leathern grip of the upper stave of his crook, above which the wrought image of The Blessed Mother being borne to Blessed Shore by the Dolphin whirled.
‘My Faith waxes, firmly with the Holy Spirit!’
Besides him the boy was extricating himself from the snowdrift they had been blown into off the rocky way, by climbing hand-over-hand the rope lead of the lama that stood solidly against the gale.
His vestments tended to catch in the wind. This was no excuse for weakness on Crusade. The massive packs of the soldiers, their heavy crossbows, wagging lengths of pike, all of these impeded them far more, these men of the sword whom he so envied secretly in his worldly heart.
The crossbowman cheered him as he placed hand to the back between his shoulders and pushed him upward into the plummeting wind, “Head down, padre, knees bent, lean on the crook!”
The march up into the gap between the jagged crags where the Old Baily hung in stark dilapidation became adventure, caused his blood to course and a passion to rise within him to fight the Devil’s own breath.
‘Blessed Mother, thank you for placing the taste of Your Holy Son’s passion in my mouth. Grace me with strength up this wicked Calvary!’
The clouds rushed in darkly and the gale became hail, beating their faces, ringing on the pikemen’s breast and back plates. The Elder Pikeman ahead beat the flat of his short heavy sword against the iron grounding spike of his pike, thrice, and the men marched backward, in time, outward, also in time, and he was pushed into their midst by the crossbowman who also dragged the boys and his lama with the other hand.
Now, as the hail rained into their very faces like a slapping drumbeat of Hell-sleet, he found himself behind and within a wedge of men, packed shoulder to shoulder, pikemen in the outer rank and crossbowmen inner, so that they, in their height and girth and depth, made a walking wall within which he was assaulted only by the devil sounds of this terrible place.
The crossbowmen no longer pushed, just held his hand between Prentice Dolphin’s narrow shoulders and screamed in his ear, a scream come as a distant devil-snatched whisper, “A quarter hour, padre, en we in da Baily.”
Their shoulders were heavy with ice, their helmets crowned with bear-hide seeming now like mushroom stems of frost, his cowl crusted over his head, the jackets of the crossbowmen massive with the stinging freeze, the sky dark and the air whirling white, the cuirasses of the pikemen dull steel on the back-plate and the collars only frosted as the steel of the dented and scratched front-plate repelled the hail.
Finally, amidst the rattling roar, the darker under-sky of the Baily eve sheltered them, and they tumbled down afoot, in an awkward scramble into the remains of a flagstone court, walled off by the surrounding snow and ice a solid ten feet deep, so that the once majestic eve of the Courtyard of Presentation, where knights once rode into the three-walled court to address the gatekeeper, now had the aspect of a window, or a springhouse entrance, into which no horse could find access. It was a testament to their skill that the pikes were not all snapped or snatched from hand, but held as one at a slant to admit the pikemen.
A spark, and a crackling of tinder and a torch took light. Then the torch was raised in an ashen, wind weathered hand to light the cressets on either side of the great oaken door. The Elder Pikeman held the ring and key to this door—this yet a Fortress of Justice, despite whatever profanity transpired between the ditcher and some fat wench under this eve on occasion—and unlocked the portal to stillness and cresseted repose where they would find a reprieve from the howling ice without.
The chamber within was lined with pews that had once been arrayed before the altar of the chapel, yet were now lining the walls as makeshift cots for soldiers, to keep them above the cold, flintstone flags of the grey floor.
With some relief he spied the boy besides him who assured him in soft words, “Master Prentice, the lama is tied under the eve in the court, bucketed with horse feed.”
He nodded down into the weary face of the already worn boy and, despite his office, was moved to imitate the soldiers and rub the boy’s red wool and then pat his little shoulder in approval.
‘There is nothing in the catechism about validation of boys for service. The military tradition, I suppose rules in such things.’
The altar was intact and a crease of joy crossed his face as he spied the tremendous silver-leafed bible, it’s cloth of gold marker hung just so upon its cradle, what Vesters’ Rule named the Liturgical Manger, carved of ivory and chased in lead. A chalice, cloth, vestiture sash draped over the candelabra, and wine cask were upon the dais back and he inspected these, as the young crossbowman lit the three candles, mightily impressed that these brutes had left the wine intact. For he knew that no prentice had been here to this Chapel, since Prentice Allan had come to exorcise the Hinterbeast and prey at the glacier tongue three years hence, which was the occasion of his failing health. For upon his return, the acolyte once named Brian, began to assume the duties that would fall squarely upon his shoulders with the death of his Master Prentice Allan and the assumption of the name Prentice Dolphin.
He looked above at the great oaken beams holding true, the Maplewood crucifix upon which the Cherrywood image of Holy Christ hung, and he was proud to be a member of this storied order. The Elder Pikeman said, in his diction of formal address, not in the slang of the ranks used with his men, “This is the only roofed room what remains, Father. The rectory, storerooms and barracks under the lesser roofs are asplinter and ruined. The chapel, Christ maintains from the cross, its roof not so much as pocked by the weight of snow and ice and the strokes of the wind.”
The men all stood about, expectantly and he gathered within in concord with the Holy Ghost informing his ministry, that they should be placed at ease. He ascended the dais, opened the Eucharist pix and found there near thirty wafers of unleavened bread. Then, satisfied that he could conduct mass, Prentice Dolphin turned and faced the Crucifix, spread his hands, and heard the men kneel in a body, the creak of icy leather and the rustle of crusted jackets causing his heart to soar.
‘Finally, Wan Brian, you conduct a Crusader Mass, among the men at the point of the spear of The Lord of Hosts.’
‘Something tells me that they kneel as much for the wine cask as the Blessings of Mass.’
His doubts were swiftly ushered aside in the light of the Holy Ghost that opens blind men’s eyes and grants hope in despair, he began, from memory the First Eucharist Prayer:
“We come to you, Father,
With praise and thanksgiving,
Through Jesus Christ your Son…”
“Wan Brian,” the commissioned seminary students of Vester College had jeered him, headed as they were into the priesthood and the cloisters of the priories to study and copy among the collective library of Christendom.
In that Holy-Ghosted place within, Prentice Dolphin patted Wan Brian on the sallow-copper pate of his shaven, orphan’s head.
‘We wax one.’
…And somewhere above in the storm of ice rode a grave knight on an opaque horse, with twelve grim apostles in his ruthless wake, and Wan Brian knew, knew better than any Prentice, that there, in that saddle, under that one hawkish eye, rested the fate of this crusade—“God sustain Justice Claret,” he burst boyishly after the first verse of prayer and a chorus of 26-and-half men behind him roared, “Saint Martial by his side!”
“Through Him we ask you to accept and bless
these faithful lives we offer in sacrifice…”
27 voices behind him, intoned, “Amen.”
‘We wax one.’