The cottage shook from three bludgeoned blows against the cedar door.
Boone sat up in his bed, his heart pounding, his eyes red, surrounded by gray specks showering from the ceiling. He shook the rattle from his ears."Rynan!" He said, flailing off his furs and leaping to his feet.
He raced out of the bedroom, down the hall, and into the common room without a sense of decency; his hair a matted mess and his body covered in wool white undergarments. He slid to the door, yawning, and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
It swung open and behind it was a giant boy holding a luscious smile. Taller and thicker than most men with hair as vibrant as the sun. He beamed, "Boone!"
Boone was swept off his feet kicking freely in the air while his back popped, eyes bulged, and lungs collapsed, being squeezed like a ragged doll. The giant boy chuckled and jumped.
"My arm!" Boone squealed, awkwardly pressed between Rynan's breast and armpit. It was a disgusting feeling; Boones cheek against the giant boys sweety chest. He retaliated, driving his foot into Rynan's thigh and his hands into his face, pulling until his head slipped through the oversized arm. Boone fell backwards, collapsing into the cottage, sliding, and gasping until the color returned to his face. "You black-spotted toad...Can't you see I'm a wounded man?"
"What happened?" Rynan grabbed his belly and chuckled. "You've turned soft as a tiny."
Rynan brought the boy to his feet and he dusted himself off. "It's nothin but a scratch." Boone showed off his bandage. He abruptly pivoted and his voice fell deep as his eyes grew intense. "I challenge you to a duel, Partner."
"And I accept!" Rynan dropped the sack from his back, tilted his chin, placed his hands at his side, and looked up through his eyebrows. "Call it, Vermin."
Boone mirrored his stance. "Draw!" He whipped his good hand up and shot two fingers forward, "Bang...yer dead!"
Rynan grabbed at his heart. "And I thought we was friends..."
"We was," he spat. "But friendship's like a bottle of whiskey...once it runs dry all you have is piss."
Rynan chuckled. He pulled a slip from his back pocket and held it to Boone's nose. "Guess you wouldn't take an interest in one of these then."
Boone raised an eyebrow and swiped the slip into his fingers. "You didn't..."
Boone couldn't find his breath. He glanced down at the parchment; blue as the colonist flag and stamped with the emblem of the Patriot of Pride; a soldier holding a sword to the sky and the License of Liberty at his chest. Boone's eyes followed the black lettering while his lips moved softly, Crockernard Colosseum presents The Iron Alchemist vs The Stormslinger.
He spoke, "how did you come upon this?"
Rynan held himself tall. "My sister's the Sheriff of Sundown City, and her diligence is to the duel."
"Lone Creeks got a Sheriff."
"But them there are killers," Rynan prodded a finger at the ticket. "Sheriff Woodsby has never handled Outlaws such as these. That's why my sisters here...her and the LockIron Legion."
Boone glowed, "the Legionnaires have come to Lone Creek?"
"Sure as day. And they'll be in attendance just as we is," he grinned. "So yer comin?"
Boone lowered his head at a daunting thought. "I'll have to ask Grandpappy..."
The four of them sat huddled around the table, the room quiet while the smell of baked bread lingered in the air. They waited until Jerocobish had his fill of boiled eggs and toast before they handed him the ticket; his half-moon glasses sat at the tip of his nose as his eyes peered stiff, lips around his pipe, studying the parchment.
Ma Jean protested. "Blood and violence... That'll rot a boys soul." She turned to her grandson and spoke with a rattle in her throat. "There's been enough talk of death in this house," She bowed her head. "May God forgive us."
"But I'm fifteen, Ma Jean. Death is all around us. Besides, every other Sunday there's a hangin just after church and God knows we're there as witnesses."
She crossed her arms weakly, "we're there to pray their souls travel unblind and to the prairie lands." The words struggled through her lips. Since the Alchme Trials she'd grown more sickly with each passing day. Her skin a shade lighter and eyes a shade darker. Ma Jean insisted it was a brief spell that'd pass over in sure due time but Boone began to wonder. He watched her chest rise and fall with sudden, sharp spasms. "You know nothing of death, my dear child."
"I've seen more death than most boys my age," Boone said proudly, his hands shaking. "If you keep a calf in the dark it'll never grow to be a bull...ain't that right, Rynan?" The giant boy said nothing and Boone gave him a good nudge.
He responded with his mouth full of his tenth serving. "He's no calf, neither," he spurt chunks.
Ma Jean smiled softly. Jereocobish blew smoke. And Boone grew annoyed.
"Some help you are," he whispered. Rynan shrugged and reached for his eleventh. Boone turned to his Pappy, "come my age you killed a man and you're straight as an arrow. Never took into drink nor bothered with relentless nights over it." He waved his hair from his face to show how he'd grown. "I've got as much grit as you have."
Jerocobish shifted his focus to the boy, a bother on his face. Boone knew the submissive look well. Like a beaten down dog. "Yer Ma Jean is correct," he sighed as smoke rolled off his lips. "God wouldn't attest to such savagery...therefore, neither will I."
Boone slammed a fist down, shaking the dishes, unable to be persuaded by their verdict.
"Have you lost your head, Child?"
The boy ignored Ma Jean and kept a stern eye on his pappy. "You speak of god but often enough you're asleep in the lord's house and pray with one eye open." He pointed, "Ma Jean's credence in the matter is to be respected. But, with all due respect, Pappy, to bring God to the table, only if to serve your purpose, is blasphemy in its own right."
"Then I'll leave God out of it!" Jereocobish stood up tall and strong as any man, draped in shadows and smoke. His eyes grayed and pierced downward while his arms crossed over. Boone coward. Rynan frozen mid-bite. And Ma Jean bowed her head. "Until you've seen the innards of a man and smelt his soiled remains you have no right to speak freely." He puffed. "And long as you're under my roof you'll stand detained from seeing such pageants. Is that understood?"
Boone hesitated. "yes, Pappy," he mumbled and rose to his feet. "I'll excuse myself." He stormed from the room without another word.