Episode 10 – A Gauntlet Is Thrown Down
When Marshall arrived back inside he couldn’t hold back the memories anymore. They came to him in rapid-fire bursts to explode in his mind like barrel after barrel of buckshot barrages. He halted a handful of times to catch himself with a hand reaching for the support of the wall as he made his way for his room.
Waiting for him like a silently patient old friend was his patched and frayed bag laid at the foot of the bed. Moving in automatic empty motions he began to open a series of makeshift straps and buckles along its weathered exterior to unleash its contents. Within a scarce few breaths he had already began unrolling cloth packages that smelled sweetly with the familiar scent of well-maintained machined metal.
As Marshall examined each one in a systematic series of visual inspections he found them all appearing just as satisfactory as when he had packed them. But even the rewarding routine of reviewing his gear couldn’t push the painful punishments from his mind. He could see every angry face and hear every cruelly hurled taunt as the past poured back into him. The torment alone wasn’t what still hurt; it was the burden of being beaten for trying to do what was right.
Their preferred penalty was a gruesome and grizzly affair they pulled straight out of the historical archives. They called it ‘the gauntlet’ and it always managed to bring out the most barbaric behavior from his peers. He would be forced to run between two tightly lined rows of recruits as they repeatedly assaulted him until he managed to reach the other end. It wasn’t the kind of thing easily forgotten, nor was it the sort of thing many ever endured more than once.
“I am happy to see that you were able to lend a hand, Mr. Heart-Helmed,” Grandma Grael declared from the doorway. Without waiting to be invited in the miniature maiden marched straight into the room to stand beside Marshall as he still looked on at the arrangement upon his bed. “You know I haven’t seen one of those in ages,” she confessed as she pointed at a particularly peculiar piece.
It was an aged antique, to be sure, quite unlike anything still in modern use almost anywhere. A pair of barrels, one atop the other were met at their rear by a revolving cylinder that ended with a sawed off stock that held a lever along its bottom. Most men had moved past making use of any such weapon to opt for a more modern one considering such a relic to be quite simply a foolish firearm. But even Grandma Grael could appreciate the simple truth that the trusted and true design of guns like this would never jam on you. Nor would it require external power sources. All you had to do was feed it bullets, crank the lever and pull the trigger. It was the kind of technology that was built to last; simple and dependable.
“You mean my ‘Hole-Maker’,” Marshall found himself asking as confusion mingled with curiosity at the remark. “I’d say it is,” Grandma giggled and Marshall whipped his head around to face her. “Hold the horse here, wasn’t it you who explained that it was foolish to be governed to action by your feelings out here?”
Without any damage to her demeanor, Grandma Grael prepared herself to correct him and licked her lips. “If you will well recollect; what I said was that it wasn’t wise. I never said it wasn’t right. Which is often enough the case, the right road is typically the one that is the most difficult. Now, tell me pup; how in all the heavens did you lay hands on a pristine pair of old Tamel’s?”
She punctuated her question by pointing down at two handguns coupled together before her. They were anything but new as well, revolvers too but perhaps not quite as old. Both of them held the blued steel smooth shimmer of a cared for creation with almost no sign of the wearing age or mishandling could bring. Seeing such sights brought back her own memories as well forcing Grandma Grael to redirect her thoughts back to those presently appropriate.
“Never mind that now,” she interrupted while waiving her hand as if clearing away old cob webs. “We can talk more about such tales another time. Tell me, pup, what is it that you aim to be setting yourself to? Or do you have any plan at all?”
Still distant as a man adrift within a dream Marshall reached down and picked up the handle of a heavy edged blade that ended abruptly, broken off a couple feet from the hilt. “There is an old saying; ‘to throw down a gauntlet,’” Marshall recited. He didn’t have to look back at her to understand that undoubtedly she was familiar with the expression but he continued to explain anyway for his own benefit. “It means to declare a formal challenge – like two warriors tossing down an armored glove to dare the other to face them. I aim to be that gauntlet and cast myself against those who plague this town.”
“Well, I figure Gauntlet is as good a name as any,” Grandma Grael confessed. “But boy, you might want to speed up a step or tree if you plan on making a difference. While you was out back old Mr. Mitchum called to warn me to steer clear of going out for a bit. It seems that he spotted that Dizcord’s lot heading into town in some fierce manner of hurry and likewise disposition.”
“The Sheriff isn’t about to make any move the stop them is he?” Marshall asked the question aloud already confirming what he had suspected since coming to town. Something about Arbiter burned at him inside; what kind of man could wear a badge and swear to an oath only to turn a blind eye? He locked away his thoughts of the past behind a wall he had made out a simple promise. All those who had dared to try to punish him with pain for seeking to demand justice had only helped him to understand that nobody could give it to you. You had to make things right for yourself and stand against such people. Which is exactly what he planned to do; he was going to bring the gauntlet to them and see how they liked having to run for a change.