Prentice Dolphin Chapter 5

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.’ 

‘Amen.’ 

‘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.’ 

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