A story of cowboys and wizards in 7 parts.
Doe Johnson, the territorial governor, did not care for the news his adjutant James, standing with Captain Cartigan by his side, presented. He had work to do, important work. He took in the two men standing before him, shaking his head. Talk of fantastical towers and wizards, evoking old world legends held no purchase for him out here in the west. They belonged in children’s books.
“Strikes me as sheer nonsense, Barton. And I must say, it disturbs me to see you so captivated by foolish stories.”
James stood firm. “I know how it sounds, and if I hadn’t been in the tower and witnessed it myself, I’d think it was nonsense too.” James put his hands on the governor’s desk and leaned in. “But it’s not.”
Johnson leaned back in his chair and shook his head some more.
“We’ve got to do something, Doe! These kinds of things don’t just happen for no reason, and if we do nothing, then it’s on our heads.” James gestured towards Captain Cartigan. “We need to take control of this.”
“What do you think, Frank?” the governor asked.
Cartigan looked askance at James before answering. “I share your ambivalence, governor, but I agree, all things considered, we need to take a look. It’s less than a day’s ride, and I’m willing to take a detachment and see it for myself. If Mr. James has lost his senses, we’ll know then.”
James rubbed his chin. “We’ll need to convince this wizard, Mathias, to let us in,” James said. “Though, if he doesn’t–”
“If he doesn’t,” Cartigan said, crossing his arms, “then we have the means to open it ourselves.”
James turned to the cavalryman. “What do you mean?”
“The new artillery piece. You didn’t see it?” Cartigan smiled and pointed towards the window. “It’s a 3.2 breechloading rifle. It’ll blow a hole through that old wooden door.”
James went to the window. “I don’t know. It’s a hell of a door.”
Cartigan laughed. “That’s a hell of a gun, Barton.”
James stared at the gun. “I suppose it is.”
“All right Frank,” Doe Johnson spoke up. “You’ve been itching to use that thing, and I got other things to attend to.” He wagged his finger at James. “But this better not be some wild goose chase, Barton, or I’ll have your sorry ass out surveying the desert.”
“We’ll get it sorted out governor,” Cartigan said.
Of Fenton’s men watching the tower, one was hidden on a rise where he could watch the tree line at the edge of the forest. With a spyglass, he kept his eyes out for any movement. A deer skirted the tall grass between the trees and a shadow lurked beyond them. He saw the unusually large horse and its rider. Taking a red kerchief from his pocket, he waved it behind him.
A posse, led by Jorgenson and Clement, was waiting when Mathias came out of the forest. The men had their rifles loaded and pointed at the wizard. Mathias stopped and ran his hand along Cyrus’ mane, calming the horse.
“And what, pray tell, do you gentlemen have in mind?” the wizard asked.
“We been charged with bringing you in, that’s what,” Clement shouted.
The wizard stroked his beard. “And if I resist?”
“Now you don’t want to do that, mister; don’t make no sense. Why, we got you outnumbered ten-to-one, and even if you might be hiding a pistol in that city-dude outfit you got on, why we’d still shoot you plain off that big ol’ horse a yours afore you could pick off one or two of us. Don’t seem like a good play, if ya ask me.” Jorgeson spit out a mouthful of tobacco juice.
“Perhaps you’re right, gentlemen, for I carry no weapon aside from this small knife.” He placed his hand on the four-inch blade sheathed on his belt.
“All right then,” Clement shouted, “we’ll have four a you boys out front, followed by this fella here,” he pointed at Mathias, “and the rest a us’ll be behind him. Got that?” One by one the men nodded. “Then let’s git.”
Kotitai and his warriors watched the men ride off with the wizard.
“How many men do you think they have guarding the herd?” he asked out loud. “If any?” Kotitai raised his hand, and he and his warriors headed in the opposite direction of Fenton’s men.
Cannon was at the small desk in the outer room at the Fenton Cattle Company. Waiting. Worrying. They should be checking the watershed and the range, readying for the drive to the stockyards at Casper City. There was real work to do, not this damned tower business. He didn’t like sitting around waiting on some wizard. The boys were out watching the tower when they should be bringing the cattle in.
“It ain’t smart pulling the boys in like this,” he told Fenton earlier.
“Forget the cattle, I want that wizard, goddammit,” Fenton told him.
Cannon got up and stretched just as Fenton came rushing out of his office.
“They’re riding in,” he said, wild-eyed and breathless. “They’re got him.”
The two went out to greet the posse rolling into town. In the center of the posse, with a bemused smile, rode the wizard. They stopped in front of the building.
“Off the horse, mister,” said Clement.
Mathias slowly dismounted and stepped towards Fenton. A man tried to take Cyrus’ rein, and the warhorse reared, causing the other horses to move away. An angry neigh and Cyrus bolted past the men.
“Get that horse!” Fenton screamed.
Mathias laughed as the horse flew down the road. “Don’t waste your time, gentlemen. You’ll never catch him. Look! He’s already out of sight.”
“I don’t care. Go!” Fenton howled.
Jorgeson and another man headed after the horse.
Fenton pointed to the stone building on the other side of the street. “Put him in the jail.”
Cannon led Mathias away.
Preacher Dovetail gathered the flock. Word had gone out that a meeting would be held at the church, and the preacher meant to get a handle on all this wild talk. He held the Good Book to his chest.
“Now I know there’s been a lot a talk about that tower,” he said, focusing on Amos Bryant who was sitting up front. “And now I hear tell that they got that devil in the jail. But we can’t face the forces of evil without coming to an understanding of what it is we need to do here.”
“What’ll we do, preacher?” a voice cried out.
“First, we pray for strength and vigilance, that we not be corrupted by the sickly-sweet words of this devil. Second, we march right down to that heathen Fenton and demand he join us in this righteous task. There’s no room in this valley for unbelievers. Third, we face this menace, demanding it leave this bountiful valley using the love and righteousness of our forgiving God.”
“How’s love and righteousness ‘sposed to beat the devil, preacher?” another voice called out.
“Oh, ye of little faith. For does not the Lord shield us in such turbulent times? Does not faith wield the mightiest sword? I call on you, brothers and sisters, to join me in this noble and righteous task that we may stand tall in the eyes of our Lord and savior.” Preacher Dovetail cast his eyes heavenward.
“I… I got a field needs tendin’, preacher. I–” Amos Bryant shrunk into the pew as Preacher Dovetail set his disapproving eyes upon the plowman.
“This is not a time for moral cowardice.” The preacher closed his eyes. “Let us pray.”
The murmuring of the congregation quieted.
“Lord,” he began, “give us the strength and steely resolve to face this menace. Gird us such that we are not felled by temptation or sin; that we are strong in our love and conviction, that you Lord will stand beside us as we bravely march forth. We pray Lord, that through you we will drive away this demon and be blessed forevermore. Amen.”
“Amen,” the congregation repeated.
Taking a deep breath, the preacher strode down the center of the church, with the members of the church falling in behind him.
Harcourt Fenton was at his window when Cannon came into his office. “What now?”
“We got that damned preacher and his people coming this way,” Cannon told him.
“What’n the hell does that idiot want?”
Cannon pushed his hat back. “What the hell do any of us want with that tower shaking. This is your town, Mr. Fenton.”
Fenton grabbed his hat off the desktop. “And it’s gonna stay that way goddammit!” The two left the office and joined the men guarding the door. The preacher was waiting at the foot of the landing. “What do you want, preacher?” Fenton bellowed.
The congregation massed around the preacher Artemas Dovetail, all staring up at the man running the town.
“Evil doin’s are a transpirin’ Fenton. God’s called on us to act as his army against deviltry and we demand that you do your part to help,” the preacher told him.
“Help with what?”
“God’s calling, Fenton. Ain’t no place for a heathen in times like these. We hear you got that devil in the jail.” Preacher held aloft the Good Book.
“It’s my jail, preacher, and he belongs to me. Now git before I lose my temper and tan your hide, you got me!” Fenton turned to his right-hand man.
Cannon cocked the lever on his Henry repeating rifle, as did the men standing next to him and Fenton.
“You wouldn’t dare shoot God-fearing men and women,” the preacher stuttered, pulling the Good Book back to his chest.
“Don’t tempt me preacher. Now git.” Fenton pointed to the edge of town.
“This ain’t over, Mr. Fenton,” the preacher said as he turned away.
Once the townspeople had dispersed, Fenton crossed the dusty street to the jail. Inside, Mathias sat on the straw bunk in the lone cell, his eyes closed. Two men on the other side of the bars were watching him. Fenton grabbed the wizard’s staff leaning against the wall and struck the bars of the cell. Mathias opened his eyes and grinned at his captor.
Fenton stood near the bars of the cell. “Ready to talk?”
“That depends on the substance and manner.” Mathias stood and approached the bars. “Take care with that staff. I’ve had it a good many years and would be quite aggrieved if it were damaged.”
“I want to know how you go in and out of the tower,” Fenton said. “Tell me, and you can have your staff and your freedom.”
“But I told you, Mr. Fenton, I do not control the tower or who enters it. The tower does.”
Fenton’s face grew red. “Don’t feed me no goddamned nonsense about that. Buildings ain’t alive. I’m not some idiot like that preacher.” He moved closer to the bars, his nose between them. “You know the way in, and you’re gonna tell me.”
Mathias sat down on the straw bunk. “It is not within my power to do as you ask. It would be best if you released me.”
“Not till I get what I want, wizard!”
Mathias raised his right hand, and a thin bolt of lightning jumped from his finger, striking Fenton’s nose. Fenton howled and jumped back, dropping the staff. Mathias opened his hand and the staff flew between the bars to it. He placed the staff next to the bunk.
“GODDAMMIT!” Fenton furiously rubbed his singed and throbbing nose. He then drew the pistol from his holster and pointed it at Mathias. “I ought to kill you here and now, you bastard–”
“And then what, my dear Fenton?”
Fenton stood shaking, glaring at the wizard.
“Kill me and the tower will be further aroused, maybe even angered. You don’t want that.” Mathias blew the lingering smoke away from his finger.
“I want that tower, goddammit!” The spittle flew from the mouth of the enraged man.
The wizard shook his head. “Why? What use is it to you, when you already have so much. Do you not have land, wealth, and station? What else does a man need? An aging tower? It is merely a pile of stones that have weathered the years. Inside there is nothing more than forgotten memories and a few books. Books you would never open, much less read.” Mathias pointed his finger causing Fenton to jump back. The wizard laughed. “And yet, here you are, consumed by it. Is it calling you, Mr. Fenton? Singing to you.”
“It belongs to me,” he said.
“It belongs to the gods, not men.” The wizard’s smile faded. “Beware the tower for it breathes anew for fools like you. It–”
A trumpet sounded in the distance. Cannon opened the hard-wooden door to the jail. “They’re here,” he said.
Fenton turned to him. “Who?”
“I told you James would bring the army,” Cannon said.
Fenton let the pistol fall to his side. “How many?”
“Prit near fifty, I reckon.” Cannon glanced at the wizard. “And they got a big gun with ‘em.”
©2020 David William Pearce