A Tale of wizards and cowboys
Artemas Dovetail held the Good Book in his hand and thumbed through the pages, looking for an apt passage. Liquor and the scourge of drink being the focus of Sunday’s sermon, he pressed on. As shepherd to this wayward flock, it was his duty and calling to bring them into the light and the good graces of God, his lord and savior. As such, he would not relent until providence led him to the perfect verse from which his parishioners would see the error of their ways.
A loud thump on the outer door of the church broke his concentration, and with a lurch, he rose from his chair and strode out of his small room to the banging on the door.
A breathless Amos Bryant greeted him. The preacher set out his hand such that this lost soul might enter God’s house. Bryant sat in the first pew he could reach.
The preacher sat across from Bryant as he caught his breath. A wan smile found the preacher’s long gaunt face. “Brother Bryant, what brings you here in such haste?” he asked.
“Evil doin’s, preacher! Evil doin’s out in that tower!” Bryant answered.
“The tower?” Preacher Dovetail stood and walked to the outer door of the church, and looked to the distant tower. A faint cloud of dust was drifting to the west. A gathering of men on horseback, he thought.
Bryant joined the preacher at the door. “I been in it,” he said. “A stranger named Mathias got it open and…” Bryant turned at the preacher.
“And?” The preacher looked at Bryant.
“And… used magic.” Bryant’s eyes were wide and glassy.
“You saw this yourself, brother?”
“I did, preacher. Deviltry, like you said. So, I rushed over here after I told Mr. Fenton—”
“Fenton!” The preacher thought little of the grasping godless cattleman and blamed him for the sorry condition of the people here on the land he so self-righteously claimed to own. “A sinful covetous man, Mr. Fenton,” the preacher said.
Bryant dropped his eyes. “I had to preacher. If Cannon and his men heard I told you first, why I reckon they’d whip me something fearsome, and…” Bryant looked down at his shaking hands. “I ain’t strong like you, preacher.”
Preacher Dovetail put his hand on Bryant’s shoulder. “Be at peace, brother. I do not judge you as such, for all men are weak and sinful. Come.” Preacher Dovetail led Bryant back into the church. “Tell me of this Mathias and the tower.”
“Well, he done approached me and asked about the tower, and asked if anyone’s been in it. And then he asked if I wanted to go in, and I was weak, preacher, and let my curiosity get the best of me like you said last Sunday. And he waved his walkin’ stick, I think, and by gum them big doors done opened right up. And then he done the same with the doors to the tower without even touching ‘em, and that’s when I felt the breath of Satan and skedaddled.”
The preacher rubbed his chin and stared at Amos Bryant. Not a particularly learned man he thought, and prone to exaggeration, but something about the startled look on Bryant’s face gave the preacher pause. “What did Mr. Fenton have to say when you told him?”
“Cain’t rightly say preacher. I done told Cannon. He said he’d let Mr. Fenton know.”
The preacher leaned towards him. “Have you told anyone else of this, brother?”
“No. Done come right to you, preacher.” Bryant watched the preacher thinking on his words.
“We must be careful, brother,” the preacher said after a moment of contemplation. “Satan often acts to stir fear and recrimination. We must be wary of that, for unsure words and careless gossip do more for the devil than man.” The preacher stood and motioned that Bryant do so as well. “For now, I ask that you keep your tongue quiet, even to the missus, until I have a chance to witness this and seek guidance from the Good Book.”
“You don’t doubt me, do ya, preacher?”
Preacher Dovetail smiled and placed his hand on Bryant’s shoulder. “I do not doubt you, brother, but Satan is both wicked and clever and seeks to sow mistrust among those who believe and wish to spread the word of our lord’s love and forgiveness. Do this for me, will you?”
“Okay, preacher.” Amos Bryant looked down at his boots.
“Then on your way.”
Preacher Dovetail kept a keen eye on Bryant as he headed, tentatively, in the direction of his field and the tower beyond.
The more James went through the old books on the wizard’s table, the more questions he had. Mathias said nothing and rarely looked at him as the night passed. The first rays of light crept in through the windows, signaling the start of a new day. James started to rise, only to realize he had no strength in his legs.
“I don’t suppose I could trouble you for a room?” he asked the wizard. “Only for a few hours. Your books were such that I lost track of time, and I find myself quite tired.”
“There are beds in the quarters below us. You may use any you like,” the wizard told him. Mathias passed his hand over the fire in the hearth and it diminished to a small crackling flame. “Follow me.”
On the second floor, James found a bed to his satisfaction and fell quickly to sleep. The wizard smiled. “Some things do not change,” he said as he closed the door, and returned to the wizard’s room.
The stone was calling.
He approached it warily. Did he not expect to commune with them via the stone? He looked at his hands and fingers, stretched out before him. These bodies, he thought, so thoroughly isolating and yet so captivating. He had to be mindful of that.
White light began to stream out of the stone, and the wizard set his hands upon it. His mind traveled out of space and time, leaving the physical body of the earthly wizard behind. The gathering was waiting for him. He shared what had transpired since his return to Earth and the gathering absorbed it. Voices blended and together they counseled and set upon a course of action for the future of the tower.
His eyes adjusted to the red fire glow of the room as his hands left the stone, and he was once more an earthly wizard.
Mathias returned to the lookout, curious if the light carried from the wizard’s room through the night had done its work. He purposely brightened the flame to act as a beacon to the surrounding lands telling them that the tower once again was occupied and waiting. He tapped the stone of the tower at his feet with his staff and felt the tower vibrate in response.
“Awake friend,” he said mirthfully, “our time is at hand.”
To the north at the edge of the forest, his keen eyes detected men watching, but these were not the men of the town or those riding with Fenton. These were the men of the Tia, the people the plowman Bryant referred to as injuns. They had been watching for some time.
To the south, along a slight ridge separating the plowed fields and the grasslands, three of Fenton’s men were hunched down watching the tower as well. Though they thought themselves hidden, as he supposed the Tia did too, he saw them clearly. As he did Fenton, standing at his window in the dusty distant town.
“Should we expect others, friend?” he asked of the tower. A surge of energy through his boots to his fingers was the tower’s response. “Then we’ll give our guest a few hours before we proceed.”
The wizard returned to his room and took out his pipe. He tapped it, igniting the pipe-weed, and drew the weed smoke deep into his lungs.
His mind drifted to days long past.
Preacher Dovetail, like the Tia and Fenton’s men, spent the night watching the tower and the light emanating from the windows of the wizard’s room. He found himself both thrilled and terrified by the prospects of facing Satan. Him, Artemas Dovetail, and here of all places, to defend his flock from certain damnation. He clutched the worn copy of the Good Book tight in his thin hands. The distant light brought vivid images to him of demons and his standing before them, his Good Book held high, and the power of God shining forth.
He did not notice the Widow Perkins approaching with his morning meal.
She cleared her throat. Nothing. Exasperated by his disinterest, she spoke, “Preacher Dovetail, I’m here as I always am. Your breakfast is fast going cold.”
The preacher turned to her, his eyes unfixed, glassy, before coming into focus on the grumpy woman before him. “My apologies, Widow Perkins, my mind was elsewhere.”
The widow Perkins set the tray down. “So, I gathered.” She looked at the tower through the window. “You no doubt saw the light in the tower, preacher?”
“Yes,” he said, as he tried to make sense of what was before him. Porridge and biscuits. That’s what it was.
“Felicity Gumpt was running around half-mad last night telling everybody she could see there was lights on in the tower. Well, you know how folks is,” she said, while pouring coffee in the preacher’s tin cup.
“Yes,” he mumbled. He brought the coffee to his lips. Bitter and harsh was how Widow Perkins drank her coffee, and as his keeper, she was obliged to share this rather vile drink with him. It had cooled, which did it no favors. He shuddered as it trickled down his parched throat. “And what are you hearing from our flock as concerns this mystery light in the tower?”
The Widow Perkins frowned at the preacher’s evident dislike of her coffee and, no doubt, her efforts to keep him fed and the church cleaned. “Maybe that Mr. Fenton and that gaggle of idiots that works for him got in, or as that damned fool Amos Bryant was sayin’,” she crinkled her nose at the name, “deviltry is afoot here in our valley.” She pointed to the breakfast. “You need to eat, preacher, and judging by your bloodshot eyes, get a few hours a shuteye. A man working himself to death is of no benefit to others, I always say.”
Chastised, the preacher sat down and ate his breakfast under the stern eye of the Widow Perkins. He knew she was right, and he’d need his strength if, as she said, that damned fool Bryant has ignored his admonition and gotten the flock all worked up over the arrival of Satan in their midst.
He lay down on the hard bunk as the Widow Perkins cleaned up.
Mathias roused the sleeping Barton James. The sun was high in the western sky. James stared at him, dazed, shook his head, as if clearing away the dust, and rose. The wizard handed him his hat.
“I imagine you have people to report to, do you not?” the wizard asked.
James nodded. “Yes.”
His disorientation continued as Mathias led him down the stairs to the great hall and the door leading to the courtyard and his waiting horse. The warhorse, Cyrus, stood close to James’ horse, gently keeping the horse from straying. James mounted his horse and was led to the main gate by the great warhorse, with Mathias walking at his side.
James turned to Mathias as the gate opened. “What am I to tell people about this place?”
“Whatever you care to,” the wizard answered.
James looked to the valley and the town in the distance. “You know they’ll all be coming?”
“I would expect nothing less,” the wizard said, a wry smile on his face.
James again shook his head, and rode through the gate. As it silently closed, Mathias climbed to the parapet and watched the government man slowly make his way back to his people.
©2020 David William Pearce