The wagon headed up the ridge towards the perch, snaking up the hillside, while the sun sat lost out of sight. The hills felt alive. Eyes in the trees while distant wails and nearby cracks irked at the soul. The horses moved forward with precaution and looked on with uncertainty. One misstep could send them plummeting over the cliff's edge. An often mishap to weary and untried wagoners.
There was a sharp, bitter cold in the air, that bit at the bone, making the party of three shiver beneath their furred garments. Boone tugged on his coat, sticking his chin further beneath his black bandana, until his lips and nose were lost, leaving only his eyes left exposed.
Rynan was the least bit affected...or seemed to be at least. He jerked forward from the wagon's bed. "Pappy Jeroco, much obliged for taking us." He smirked and his cheeks half-mooned. "I knew you'd come around. Boone said you wouldn't but I always knew you would...we're grown boys after all."
Boone glared back at Rynan, holding a rifle cocked and ready to fire if need be. He thought about giving the giant boy a fright. But there was no time for games. Their dire predicament made for earnest devotion, and so, he couldn't fall into his childish behaviors.
Rynan retreated from the boys gaze and covered himself with furs and bags. Might of been why he was so warm, Boone thought.
He twisted forward, catching his Pappy's glaring eyes, puffing down his pipe, and whipping his reins steady. Keep quiet, pappy told him before they'd left. Rynan's just a queer boy with a queer head. No need to make our affairs his own. And pappy was right. Boone recalled the time he told Rynan they'd put Old Belle down due to rabies. For several months, thereafter, Rynan believed every time he felt anger it was due to being bitten and turned. Nearly lost his head over it.
"You were right," Jerocobish said softly. "God had no place at the table...Not from me, no how."
Boone was staggered by his honesty. "I know you did it for Ma Jean." He replied to ease the tension between them. "One day you're gonna have to stand up to her, ya know."
"And that day I'd be shot dead and riding to the prairie."
"Who said you're going to the prairie?" Boone's tone was light-hearted. Jerocobish face wrinkled. The boy egged on, "Your blasphemous tongue has likely got you eternal severance, to wander alone in the drylands begging of thirst."
Jerocobish hacked and snickered. "As long as there's cherry Tobacci I think I'd survive," he winked.
"You can find cherry Tobacci just about anywhere... If they have it, you'll find it." They laughed together until their voices carried in the cold, leaving them silent once again. Boone frowned, "what's gonna happen to Ma Jean, Pappy?"
He looked out beyond the horses. "She is the toughest woman I know. Strong as brick. A true Rigger, if only carrying the name. She knows not how to quit."
And with that said, Boone left it at that.
The higher they climbed the colder and darker it became. The trees and hills pressed inward, surrounding them like a massive green quilt. As the wagon plowed forward the road grew muddy and worn, torn down by horse hooves, wagon wheels, and the recent fall rains. The Wagon Run they called it; a road that stretched all across Texionya; from Duragho in the south to Railford in the north. Built by the pioneers who colonized the lands long before them.
After several hours they came up over a ridge, and the trees sat beneath them while the sky and sun hung above. Boone spotted it first; The lip of the perch and the enormous statue that stood overlooking Lone Creek. Danielion Crockernard, he thought, as it grew on their approach. He darted a finger as valiantly as the stone mold. "There!"
Rynan rolled to his knees. "The Colosseum!" He shouted, eyeballing the log walls that extended half the perch. At that distance it appeared like stacked twigs, but as they drew close it rose taller and stretched longer, hanging along the cliffs edge while large golden-white birds swooped overhead.
The wagon came through the hills up onto the perch flat that was wide as a city block and stretched near quarter mile. It had a rocky surface, covered in green dewey moss, and black marks left behind by cannon fire and soot; battles Boone had only known from Ma Jean's stories.
The boy felt the wagon jerk and halt, and his boots hit the ground. "Have you ever seen anything like it?" He asked in wonder.
Hundreds of wagons sat snug on the surface, sitting around scorching campfires. There, squatters ripped at charred meats, sung rustic tunes, and drank bottles of rot liquor. Only able to enjoy the festivities, and unable to pay the coin needed to gain entrance inside.
Rynan plopped out of the wagon last snagging his furred coat on the hitch. He yanked himself free, tearing the hide as his jaw dropped. "Perty as the prairie," He said. The sky twinkled off his eyes; blue as cornflower, cloudless, while the sun glowed and throbbed golden-yellow.
"Where's your sisters at?" Jerocobish asked, unamused.
Rynan slurped and swallowed. "Guarding the Mayor, why?"
Jerocobish slid his pipe into his hand, out a pocket or a sleeve, Rynan couldn't quite follow. He flicked a match off his belt, filled his lungs and made haste towards the entrance. It was a long walk but it freshened their sore legs, ridding away the numbness that lingered from their bumpy travels.
It came quick, a crack and a holler that shook the ground beneath Boone's boots; like they were in the path of a stampede. He turned an ear. It's begun! A man likely dead just beyond the fort wall. He grabbed his chest and felt a scorching sting, from the thrill of the colosseum or the fear of losing Ma Jean, he couldn't quite put a finger on it.
Boone felt his shoulder tighten. On examination he found Rynan's thick digits squeezing with mindless might. "Somebody's been killed," the boy said, with a strain in his throat. "I don't much want to see that." He stared blankly to a vaulted piece of wood written in common hand.
Boone squinted after him, "Crockernard," he whispered.