The Hinterbeast Roared…
…whistling into their faces its stinging, ice-shard spittle, the crags towering to east and west, here the path descending from north and from on high, sending momentarily a shiver into his soul.
‘If God did not will it, how would this come, and why from On High?’
“Let the Holy Ghost take you. Do not lose Faith.”
‘That was unsaid, unbidden. The men, they are at attention. Their Justice is not at hand. I am needed.’
He wanted dearly to lean on the Elder Pikeman, to ask after Justice Claret and his absence. But he must keep Faith.
Before and above them loomed a tongue of grinding ice, sounding like stone sanding stone in a mason’s yard. The very tongue of the ice now choked the pass save for a narrow track around it. The trees of the terrible forest were now gone, apparently affrighted by the ice like any other living being.
The “roar” of the Hinterbeast, this thing of hungry, descending, questing hoar, ground out again like a groan within the mountain and the start on his face moved the Elder Pikeman to educate him as he fumbled for his rosary pouch.
“Prentice, the ice grasps rocks, boulders as big as houses, and grinds and gouged the mountain face like the pox and the fever does to man. Every winter—and now even in autumn, it grows. And never a summer does it retreat. When I was a cadet, the ice had yet to descend the mouth of this pass a mile above. Justice Claret reckons that by the time you are his age, that the ice will be tumbling down over the gulch into Outer Soliloquy, the last stones of the Old Baily like grit embedded in it’s undertongue, like sandpaper to scrub the soil from stone be-like a carpenter planes bark from plank.”
He wanted to wretch, to cry, to ask of God. But God had unleashed Satan and his beast to test Man, and here Man would pass that test and rise up in Crusade.
First, he drew out his rosary featuring David and Goliath above an empty cross, awaiting the savior, blessed the boy ever beside and behind him, and placed it on his neck.
“You are David, the Acolyte. It is yours to proclaim the Mystery of Faith.”
The pikemen slapped their pike-hafts on their breastplates and the crossbowmen clacked their swords against their steely bucklers like symbols and the boy, now Acolyte David, beamed, grinning, placed hands together, bowed, and looked back into his eyes.
“David, pray bring the brazen chest under the bear hide cap, within the right-hand satchel upon the lama’s back.”
The men were standing around in an informal circle as he unlatched the brazen chest and the rosaries of service for military men gleamed in brass. These were not of wood and steel and lead like those collected by the wench Shepherdess in her ways of Eve. These were blessed by the Pope at Vester and reserved for awarding crusading soldiers of The Order.
The Elder Pikemen barked, “Double rank!” and the men arrayed themselves in two rows facing the
grinding tongue of ice and it was Prentice Dolphin’s supreme honor to walk to each man, reach down into the brazen box held by Acolyte David, and withdraw a brass-beaded rosary, fronted by a medallion of brass etched with Archangel Gabriel of the Sword, above a crucifix of lead, hung with the brazen image of Christ.
Upon each corded neck, below the militarily braided beards of the men, ranging from 18 to 68 years of age, including their hoar-bearded sergeant, he said the blessing:
“Oh Father, Hail Mary, Glory be to the Father.”
Once all men had been decorated, the sergeant last, Prentice Dolphin chanted, from the Third Station of the Cross:
“My Jesus, falling under the cross, I adore you as my God in your very weakness. By the pain of your fall grant us the grace never to relapse into mortal sin.”
The men stood dumbfounded, having, apparently, never been so addressed, and the Elder Pikeman, sergeant to them all, bellowed, “Kneel you sons of whores!”
“Oh my, I never guessed. We Prentices our foundlings got from mothers perished in
childbirth…these poor fellows from the wombs of the wicked.”
He found himself on one knee, clutching his staff in a knee-jerk sympathy with these poor souls who he saw now were taken from the sewers of harlotry and then cast like so many hounds out into the waste to defend that which failed them at the moment of unholy conception.
‘They are shadow bitten little christs raised…’
“Padre,” came a snarl on his ear as he was lifted to his feet by one old, leathern hand and the snarl ground into a menace of whisper, “fer da men, stan, en address dis cursed ice-crawl!”
He was upright, and blessed that all eyes seem to have been downcast and failed to notice his indiscretion, his eruption of doubt.
‘I was not trained in exorcism. This was a lark of hubric longing… Yes…I can do it.’
“Do not kneel before the foe of Christendom! Rise, take up your weapons in rank!”
He turned and faced the grinding mountain of ice, the tip of its tongue taller by half then Justice Claret upon his destrier. From the 13th Station of the Cross he chanted to the patron of their order, in realization that their great fellowship was based on their motherlessness, all of them half or full orphans from the unattended mangers of their misbegotten lives, brought together under God in this holy cause:
“O Mother of Sorrows, with the livid and bloodstained Body of your beloved Son in your arms, obtain for us the grace never to crucify him again, nor to pierce your own soul with the sword of sorrow.”
It was now time for him to invent a tract, as he had never qualified for exorcism and barely curation:
“Thing of snow and ice, menacing the lands bequeathed these men to protect, may the swords of Gabriel, Martial and Michael, wielded by our Faith in Jesus Christ, be plunged into your icy heart—Lord in Heaven, hear Our Prayer!”
‘That was terrible,’ and the men shouted at the ice, “As Earth, as in Heaven!” and every man’s sword was unsheathed and thrust into the towering tongue of ice, which he fancied, groaned.
He looked around with some pride at these burly men he had managed to inspire and was himself inspired as they withdrew their swords and wiped them with oiled rags and he looked to the glinty-eyed sergeant and blurted, “The Holy Ghost moved me to seek the Icy son of Satan’s heart and this is obviously but its tongue or snout. We must strike deep. What are our orders from Justice Caret?”
The men were all silent as the sergeant answered, “To follow you where the Holy Ghost directs you. His Justice has followed the Holy Ghost, at the advice of Archangel Martial, who has assured him that he will be called to us when we have called forth Satan’s Children.”
He would never forgive himself for what he blurted, but would ever see to atone, “We are bait?”
The old man grinned like iron, “There is a way into the very heart of heathenry, nearly closed, a deep dark path Prentice Allan dared not undertake. Final-like, in you, Prentice Dolphin, I your courage, we have the cheese to set out for the Devil’s vile mice—en da Justice is a Big ole Cat.”
‘Oh, grand—I think I shall be sick.’
The Elder Pikeman then raised his sword and his booming voice, leading a chant, “Prentice Dolphin!”
And to this the 22-and-a-half voices of the men rang back, “Smites da Devil!”
‘Oh, my qualifications do elude.’
But even as doubt rose within him, so did the fanatic emerge from his orphan soul and seek a bond with these brutal men, his whirling Dolphin-headed crook held high in one wan hand and the last of the brazen crusader rosaries in his other hand, the rosary soon taken by the old sergeant, who draped it around his neck.
Then, after decorating the man who had once been Wan Brain, the sergeant drew his sword and cut the Prentice’s left cheek, drawing blood upon the blade as the bleeding subject looked on numbly, and then plunged it to the hilt into the ice with a sizzling oath, “By the Sword of Gabriel!”
The rest of the men then all touched the blood on his cheek with their right ring finger, where the signet of Mother Mary was worn by the military men of The Order, and dabbed it on the pummels of their sheathed swords, with each of them the address, “Happy death, Padre,” and then resumed their place in the ranks.
Acolyte David then dressed his cheek and the Elder Pikeman addressed him, “The underpass to Heathenry passes through High Barbary. There will be battle. Prentice Allan, God forgive his wan soul, shrank from that bloody course. God willing we slaughter the barbarous heretics so that we can get you and your mystery through to Heathenry. There it will be your battle, your task to unleash the mysteries upon the remaining Heathen. For the barbarous upon being put to the fire of question have spoke of Rendel kind like out of da very tales o’ yore beyond the Mountain Door.
“Lead on Sergeant,” he heard the echo of the strangely committed voice of a Prentice on Crusade, as he saw its outsized shadow cast across the snowy track to the west as the sun rose above the eastern mountain.