Prentice Dolphin Chapter 8

Shrill Heresy Whispered the Spears of  Barbary… 

…among the snow fields before the wretched hamlet  of heretics known as Mountain Door, Prentice Dolphin  shivered in the snow, his feet wet from the long  march, his heart wrestling with devils of doubt. The  sixty odd spears whipped in the wind ahead of them,  the people of this place long since expecting them, to  be sure. The many wooly-headed, ashen-hued, wide eyed, hide-clothed figures of the Barbary folk whose  ill-constructed huts and ramshackle long-house clustered before the anciently-bored hole in the  mountain that ate the road that ran into its maw, were  standing in a semi-circle of vile reception. The men,  some sixty of them, were in the front of the crescent.  Women and children and old men, numbering twice  that number, were gathered in gaggles behind them,  with large dogs also heeled besides the old men, two  or three of these beasts with each of the half-dozen or  so elders, distinguished by their great dragon-headed  canes. 

The Elder Pikeman barked his order, “Advance to a  bowshot and form shield, Prentice in the center.  Junior [addressing the young crossbowman who had  been Prentice Dolphin’s guard], stay with Prentice. If  the Justice does not relieve us before we are cut to  pieces, cut his holy throat. A Prentice of Soliloquy will  not be raped by this mangy pack of dogs in human  form.”

‘Raped?’ 

The men were silent and grave, and he continued,  “Bigun One!” 

The largest pikeman stepped forward at attention, a  giant of a man, with a face like a bear, brown eyes  darkly alight with a battle hunger, great hands flexing  away the chill of the snowy morning. 

“Ground your pike for the rally point and buy us  sometime between the lines.” 

The man then advanced with his 12-foot pike, this  being the pike with the unit banner fluttering beneath  the cross piece, tied a red sash, and his rosary to the  cross-piece beneath the blade, and slammed the butt spike into the frozen earth. Their banner set, the men  rushed to positions around it, the young crossbowman  guiding Prentice Dolphin, attended by Acolyte David  to its base and admonishing the Acolyte, ‘Don’ led dis  fall, Davey.” 

Each pikeman, planted his heavy weapon as a stake  and kneeled next to it, forming a circle, more dense in  the front than the back, exactly a pike length from the banner haft. Between each pikemen was a  crossbowman, his weapon cranked and loaded, his  sword and spare bolts thrust tip-down in the snow covered earth, and his small shield strapped to his left  forearm. The junior crossbowman kneeled before  Prentice Dolphin and handed his shield to David and  bade him protect the Prentice with it.

Fearlessly, and with an air of mockery, the pikeman  addressed as “Bigun One,” swaggered out between  the lines and began making rude and obscene gestures and shouting profanities, challenging the champion of the enemy to a single combat.  

Prentice Dolphin almost choked, realizing the stakes on this gamble and Junior, noticing, whispered, “Da  jacks ‘ill send dere chief so-as our bully cuts down  dere brain.” 

A tall, wooly-headed beast of a man stalked forth with  much fanfare, a great axe in hand, waving the crooked weapon on high to the cheers and jeers of  his fellows.  

Soon the two men were engaged in a dance to the  death and the great axe rose, and the hand wielding it  fell along with the weapon as the ashen arm of the  hideous and ill-kept foe was loped off at the elbow by  the lunging slash of the sword of Soliloquy.  

Within a heart beat Bigun One was grabbing the  nappy wool of that starting head and using his sword  to separate it from the body. With the wail of  women—of whom many must have been this chief’s  wife—and a hiss of anger from their ragged ranks, the  Barbaries objected in their crude tongues as Bigun  One held that head high for all to see and walked  deliberately back to his fellows.

The Elder Pikeman now narrated the obvious, “Here it  comes, boys, the dogs! Don’ loose ‘til they reach the  pike heads!” 

Bigun One was lumbering as fast as a giant could run  as some 20 hounds with little hair, but being huge and  having great flat faces, tore across the open after him,  as he bounded between the pikeheads and had to roll  on the ground to prevent knocking Prentice Dolphin and David and Junior over like dolls. 

A breath later twelve crossbows sung and as many  slathering hounds choked out their lives on bolts  driven through snout, eye, breast and throat.  

But five of the beasts were among them, ripping and  tearing as the sixty men across the snow-covered  meadow gave throat to curses and charged… 

The Elder Crossbowman, man who had never addressed him, shouted to him, as he cut the head  from a huge dog, “A prayer, Padre—a fuckin’ prayer!”

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