Here our story of cowboys and wizards concludes.
The men of the 41st regiment, led by Captain Franklin Cartigan, passed the townspeople huddled along the edges of the small dusty town of Bliss. The 3.2 in. artillery piece, pulled by a team of horses, took center stage at the head of the column. The captain tipped his hat. James rode silently beside him.
Fenton and Cannon stood on the steps of the jail watching the soldiers approach.
The captain rode up to them. “I’m Captain Cartigan, Mr. Fenton. Here as a representative of the governor. We’ve been told there are strange goin’s on in that tower of yours.”
Fenton glowered at James. “Like what?”
“You tell me. I’ve already heard from Mr. James.” The captain looked around at the townsfolk watching. “Something happening that I should know about?”
“Town business, captain. Don’t need the army here,” Fenton said.
“Who’s in the jail, Fenton?” James asked.
“Who says there’s anyone there?”
“Then you don’t mind our taking a look?” the captain asked.
Fenton turned to Cannon, who had his eyes on the jail door. “The wizard is in the jail,” Fenton admitted with a scowl.
“I’d like to speak to him,” Cartigan said, dismounting his horse.
James dismounted, joining Cartigan, Fenton, and Cannon, as they entered the only stone building in town. The four of them approached the jailed wizard. Clement and Jorgenson stood by the door. In the thin light of the jail, Mathias’ face was cast in shadow, obscuring its features.
Cartigan stepped forward. “You’re the man from the tower?”
“I am no man,” came the response.
“I see,” said the bemused soldier. “Will you let us into the tower, Mathias? That is your name, is it not?”
A deep laugh came from the darkening figure within the cell. “It is only a name I’ve taken recently.”
The captain’s amusement faded. “Will you let us into the tower, whoever you are?”
“The tower shall decide,” the deepening voice said.
James stepped next to Cartigan. “Let us in, Mathias, please.”
“And if I do not?” His voice echoed through the small jail, causing the men to flinch.
“We’ll blow it down,” the captain told him.
The eyes of Mathias began to glow white. “Know this then: The tower does not take lightly any attack upon it. Beware it’s wrath.”
The men stood silently as the dust from the dirt floor began to rise, filling the room. Fenton was the first to step back, followed by Cannon.
Cartigan shook his head at the cowards. “It’s on your head if I must blow down the towers doors,” he said.
Mathias only laughed.
Cartigan walked out and alerted his men. “Let’s go,” he commanded.
James and Fenton went to their horses to join the cavalrymen moving towards the tower. Cannon turned to the wizard whose face he could no longer see, before stepping outside. Mathias took the staff and laid it across his lap.
Kotitai and his warriors found the cattle pasturing to the east of the tower. A faint light filtered out of the tower windows.
“It is time,” he said.
There were no cattlemen with the herd, as all had been sent to the tower. The gallop of horses, along with the ominous sound of hard metal wheels striking ageless stone roads let the Tia know that the army was near.
“Our old friends are with them,” Kotitai laughed.
An older warrior approached Kotitai. “Is it wise for us to take the cattle? They will know it is us. Can we trust this wizard?”
“We are not trusting the wizard,” Kotitai said. “We are trusting our elders and the words handed down.”
“But he spoke of the end–”
“Yes, but it is not the end of the world. Not even the gods are so powerful as to end all things.” Kotitai faced the worried men. “We were promised our share of the cattle, and we were cheated. We are only taking what was rightfully promised to us. If those men are foolish enough to fight the gods, let them. We were given fair warning. Herd the cattle and drive them into the canyon.” He turned away from the tower. “We will be safe there.”
As quietly as they could, the warriors of the Tia corralled the cattle and drove them towards the opening of the box canyon. A walking warrior kept low along the top of the rise between them and the tower, watching for Fenton’s men. He saw the gun and whistled to Kotitai, who came to his side.
“They are such fools,” Kotitai said to the warrior. “Beware the tower light. If it grows too bright, come down.”
The warrior nodded.
Kotitai motioned to the other warriors. The canyon loomed in the distance.
Captain Cartigan ran his fingers along the metalwork of the door. James and Fenton stood by, their eyes following Cartigan’s fingers. He pounded on the door to test its worth. It did not give, but he was sure he felt a tingling sensation course through his fingers. Rubbing his hands, he stepped back. In the past, he had only glimpsed the tower from a distance, while on patrol or chasing the Tia. Up close, it was more formidable, more imposing. The stone was too thick for the gun, a waste of shells, but the door…
“Do you still believe you can blow down this door, Frank?” James asked.
Cartigan gave it a moment. “We only need to break the lock,” he answered, pointing to where the center edges met. “No doubt, there is a brace along the inside of the door, but we can blow a hole in that and force it open.”
James didn’t want the door broken. A thin low voice told him it was unwise. “Maybe we should send some men over the walls?”
“To do what?” Cartigan answered. “I’ve no interest in bivouacking and dragging this out, Bart. Let’s get in. the door can be repaired or replaced.” Cartigan signaled to the men to set up the gun.
The rest of the cavalrymen set a perimeter behind the gun. The captain signaled to the gunnery sergeant to fire.
The gun went off, striking the outer door of the tower.
Preacher Dovetail once more gathered the faithful at the edge of town. With Fenton and his boys riding off to the tower, only Mathias and the two men remained inside the jail.
“Time is of the essence,” the preacher told them. “The devil has foolishly allowed the others to leave. It is now up to us to confront this demon and end this scourge.”
With the Good Book in hand, he strode to the jail, the faithful in step behind him.
Jorgeson and Clement had retreated to the door of the jail, leaving it open, fearful as the white glow of the wizard’s eyes grew. In the dim light of the jail, neither was willing to enter. The glowing eyes obscured the room.
Cannon was in Fenton’s office, staring out the window in the direction of the tower.
Preacher Dovetail and the congregants gathered at the steps to the jail. Clement noticed and nudged Jorgeson, who turned to see what was so important.
Neither saw the figure that was once Mathias rise, for he was morphing into his true self.
“We demand you turn over that devil,” Preacher Dovetail shouted, once again holding up the Good Book.
“What’n the hell’re you doing, preacher? Git!” Clement shouted.
The figure moved to the bars of the cell.
“We will not git, Argus Clement! It is you who will git, for the righteous Lord commands us in his name to expel this deviltry from our midst,” the preacher shouted.
Clement shook his head. “You’re damned crazy, preacher. Go on home, ‘fore you get yourself kilt.”
“Begone Satan!” the preacher cried.
“Begone Satan!” the congregation echoed.
Cannon, hearing the voices, cursed under his breath. He made it to the front door when the artillery gun’s blast echod through the valley.
A great wail was heard, causing the people in the street to cover their ears. A shaft of light filled the sky with bolts of lightning jumping from all sides of it, high in the evening sky.
It was coming from the tower.
The figure in the jail cell raised his staff. The bars blew out, smashing against the stone walls, causing them to crack. Jorgeson and Clement started to run. A blast of hot air blew them past the door and onto the preacher, pinning him underneath them. The congregation pressed together as the figure, now draped in a black robe, stepped out of the jail.
He stood in the street, the staff in his hands.
Cannon came down the steps of the office, his pistol in hand. The preacher Dovetail pushed the frightened Jorgeson and Clement off him. Holding his Good Book, he stood next to Cannon.
Another artillery shot boomed in the distance.
The figure grew like fire, looming over them.
“I send ye back to hell, devil!” the preacher shouted.
The wind swirled on the dusty dirt road running through the town of Bliss. With a deep echoing baritone, the figure spoke. “You were warned,” the figure said.
Cannon fired at the figure, but the bullets flashed and dissolved.
The figure laughed and grew taller. The congregants pushed and shoved each other, trying to run away. They fell in the swirling winds and screamed as the devil continued to tower over them
Waving his arms, Preacher Dovetail tried once more to rally his flock. He turned to the growing figure, now a hundred feet tall. In a reedy croak he said, “I renounce you–”
The figure pointed his staff and lightning flashed from it, knocking Cannon and Preacher Dovetail off their feet and onto to the ground, blinding them and leaving a jagged scar across their foreheads. Another bolt struck the townspeople and they suffered the same fate. Swinging his staff, the figure brought down the buildings of Bliss, filling the air with swirling dirt, bits of broken wood and dancing sparks.
The tower was calling.
Kotitai and the warriors watched from the safety of the forest. The army continued to fire their gun at the tower door, and each time the tower grew angrier, sending lightning bolts above their heads. Soon the entire tower grounds were filled with light that rose high into the sky, so bright it was blinding.
Kotitai pointed to the figure striding from the town, tall as the trees, with fire shooting from its staff. “The elder tales are true,” he said. “The gods have come for what is theirs. Let us go.”
The Tia retreated to the depths of the forest and their home in the canyon.
“You’ve got to stop, Frank, it’s no good,” James shouted.
But Captain Cartigan did not hear. He was taken by the tower, lost to his desire for battle. It mattered little that the shells had no effect, only that he continued to fight. The horses had thrown their riders and run, racing to the shadow of the warhorse on the distant rise. The cavalrymen and the cattlemen were struck by a terrible fear that left them mute and unable to move as they shook on the fields before the tower.
Fenton stood next to James, glassy eyed and raving, using words no one recognized. Only James seemed to have his wits about him, but the other did not hear him shout. A gust of wind sent him sprawling, and it was then he saw the figure looming above them.
It was the figure from the book.
“But he was destroyed, sent into the void!” James shouted.
A blast from the figure’s staff destroyed the gun. Cartigan fell, his hands clutching at his eyes. A wave of the staff knocked Fenton and the rest of the men to the ground, screaming. All of them, like the townspeople, left blinded and scarred.
The figure stood above James as he tried to stand.
“Why?” James cried.
The figure laughed in an ugly crackling voice that filled the valley. “Because men never learn.” He drove his staff into the ground, sending James through the air and onto his back. “Remember me and beware the malice of the gods.”
Thün raised his hands above his head. Lightning filled the sky, stretching to the heavens.
James screamed, clutching at his eyes.
Light passed from the world.
“Are they dead, brother?” Tön asked.
“There are merely stunned. I kept my promise. And you, brother, here for your precious stone?”
“I am.” The dwarf King signaled to his kin, gathered behind him. “We have waited far too long,” he said, as he walked among the men strewn about the field. “You are a wicked soul, brother.”
“How so? This?” He gestured to the fallen “Merely a reminder, nothing more.”
Tön shook his head. “To you perhaps.”
His brother laughed. “You care too much for them.”
“Are you leaving then?” Tön pulled a pipe from his coat and ignited the pipeweed.
“No reason to stay. And you, brother, are to dwell forever under the mountains in the dark and gloom?”
The wizard, lately called Mathias, and, long ago, by the name Thün, mounted Cyrus and rode into the west.
The Tia watched the last of the dwarves, and the last of the stone, disappear into the mountain. A day later, the townsfolk and the soldiers awoke to find their world in pieces.
The town was nothing more than strewn timbers. Nothing stood except the shell of the stone jail. The cattle were gone, though the horses slowly returned. The people themselves were marked, all of them, with dark eyes that saw the world only in black and white, and a jagged thunderbolt torn into their foreheads.
To the north, not far from the edge of the forest, stood a ring of trees, large white oaks older than time, and the remnants of a statue to a long-forgotten king where a mighty tower once stood.
Below the statue was a book, old with memory, filled with elves and dwarves, men and wizards…
And spirits not to be trusted.
©2020 David William Pearce