Jase does some shopping
With Takoda on one side and Jase on the other, they managed to get the old drunk to his feet.
“Bring em’ on in,” a voice called from behind them.
An old man with heavy, pebbled lids and bushy, white brows studied them from the entrance of ‘Wild Bill’s Saloon.’
“I do not believe John is wanted in there,” Takoda said.
“Nonsense,” the old man chuffed. The hinges groaned rustily as he pulled open one of the swinging doors and motioned them in. “This here’s Wild Bill’s Saloon. And I’m Wild Bill. Ain’t no one tellin’ me who is an’ who ain’t allowed.”
Jase looked to Takoda who returned his gaze with a shrug.
“Okay, then,” Jase said, and they navigated the unsteady man through the doors and into the smoke-filled staleness of the tavern.
“Follow me,” Wild Bill said. He led them past a bar carved from a single block of ebony stone, past round, wooden tables stacked with upside-down chairs, through the kitchen and its overhanging pots and pans, until he pushed through a set of doors into a shadowed back alley. The alley’s gray stone walls were lined with trash cans, and beside the door was a hitching post and a murky, water-filled trough.
“Go on an’ dump em’ in.” Wild Bill pointed to the trough. With a soft, ‘kerplunk’ he dropped in a bar of soap and a wood-handled brush. “Go on, now,” he said at their hesitation. “Y’all ain’t gonna upset em’ any more’n he already is.”
“I don’t need no Goddess damned bath,” the judge mumbled.
“Come on, in you go,” Takoda said, and with Jase’s help, they dumped him in.
Sputtering, he tried to crawl out, but Wild Bill put a hand on his chest and shoved him back down. “Do I need to call Wilma out here ta wash ya again?”
“No, by the Goddess,” he said. “I don’t need no nursemaid.” With red-eyed malice, the judge eyed Wild Bill before pulling his shirt over his head and wiping the horse dung from his face. When he did, the patchwork scrolled tattoos of a Solar Knight were revealed beneath. He fished through his impromptu tub until he located the soap and brush. Hoisting them from the water, he squinted at them sullenly.
“All right then,” Wild Bill said, apparently satisfied with the Judge’s progress. “I’ll look for ya inside.” He turned to Takoda and Jase and nodded towards the door. “I’ll send someone out to check on him and bring em’ some clothes. Until then, can I get you two something ta eat?” He leaned closer and sniffed, his nose wrinkling in disapproval. “I don’t know what you two been into, but you both could use a bath.”
At Jase’s look of surprise, Wild Bill laughed. “A proper bath,” he chuckled, “not the horse trough kind.”
For the first time since they’d strolled into town, Jase had an opportunity to assess his condition. His left knee was cut, and his pant leg was torn halfway down his calf. His arms and face were a patchwork of scratches, and based on Takoda’s appearance, he was likely covered in soot and dirt too. Although he couldn’t smell himself, it was likely they both stank of burnt plastics and a righteous amount of B-O. Digging into his pocket, Jase fingered the gold chits his Aunt had provided for money.
“I'll be needing clothes,” Jase said, “and a bath sounds great.” He looked at Takoda’s torn wardrobe figuring he ought to buy the young commoner a new set of clothes too.
“If you could find my companion and I some more appropriate attire, I’d be more than willing to pay for that as well.”
Wild Bill’s eyes gleamed and a smile curled his lips. “Why this little fella’s quite a pip, ain’t he?” He leaned down, hands on knees and looked into Jase’s eyes. “How old are you little fella? Nine? Ten?”
Jase’s face grew hot. “I am not a child.” He knew it was foolish, but he drew the signet ring from his shirt and held it up. “My name is Jase Phillip Hildebrand of the Texas province.” He squared his shoulders. “I am on a holy mission for the church and demand your assistance.”
Wild Bill drew back, his eyes bobbing from Jase to Takoda. “Boy he’s a real pistol ain’t he?” Wild Bill straightened, brushing a spot of dried dirt from his apron. “An’ that ring looks right authentic. Where’d a boy like you get ahold of a thing like that?”
Sputtering angrily, Jase was on the verge of an explosion, when Takoda laid a hand on his shoulder and drew him back. “You are quite right about the bath, Mr. Wild Bill,” she said, “And if you could find some clothes, I am sure we could come to terms on payment.”
Wild Bill studied them, his eyes gleaming with mirth. “All right then. Follow me.”
Jase and Takoda soon discovered Wild Bill’s not only held a saloon and an impressive kitchen, but a small dining hall, a suite of upstairs bedrooms, and community baths too. Jase washed away the grit and fatigue and slipped into an ill-fitting pair of denim jeans and a baggy woolen shirt. When he stepped into the hallway, Jase found Takoda leaning against the wall waiting for him.
“You look reinvigorated, Jase Hildebrand,” Takoda said, “Though I think your clothes might leave something to be desired.”
Jase scratched at the itchy material before shoving the over-sized sleeves back up his wrist. He wondered how peasants wore this scratchy stuff without going mad.
“Hopefully,” Jase said, leading the way along the hallway and down the stairs, “they’ll have a shop where I can buy something better.” Though anything would be an improvement, Jase doubted they had anything better than what he wore now.
They meandered into the bar and discovered the judge at one of the tables with a wooden bowl couched in his hands. As they watched, he lifted a spoonful of broth to his lips and slurped at it noisily before dipping it back in. Approaching the table, they pulled out a pair of chairs and sat down beside him.
“Can I get you two something to eat?”
Jase turned to find a rotund woman with a cheery round face and a bun of white hair piled atop her head.
“I can mix up a stack of pancakes, or if you’d like, some sausage and eggs.”
“Pancakes would be nice,” Takoda said.
“An’ how ‘bout you?” she said, her gaze falling on Jase.
Despite the day’s effort, Jase’s stomach hadn’t completely settled, and whether due to the smoke, or the low G’s, he didn’t think he could keep anything down.
“Just toast and jelly,” he said. “And a big cup of coffee if you’ve got it.”
The old woman’s smile disappeared, her lips pursing into a look of motherly disapproval. “Now young man, don’t you think you’re a little young for coffee?” Her hands twined in the apron bunched at her waist. “Wouldn’t a big glass of milk be more appropriate for a growing boy?”
Jase started to rise, an argument forming on his lips. Takoda waved him back down.
“Sure,” Jase said through gritted teeth. “A glass of milk would be fine.”
He glanced over and noted the judge scrutinizing him with bleary red eyes. It was then, Jase noted the tattoos he’d seen earlier. They covered the man’s face. They weren’t the sloppy markings some wore in imitation of the solar systems most exclusive order, but the actual Polynesian face markings of a real Solar Knight.
“Don’t pay no attention, ta Wilma,” Gage said, his eyes never leaving Jase. “She wouldn’t recognize and Earthler if one crashed down an’ landed in her lap.”
He turned to his soup and lifted the bowl. Slurping noisily, he upended the contents then with a satisfied sigh, leaned back in his chair. When he glanced up, he noticed Takoda for the first time.
“Takoda? What the hell are you doin’ here?” He made to rise, then with a pained groan closed his eyes and dropped back into his seat. “Good Goddess, what was in that whiskey.”
He pried open an eye then leaned across the table and extended a hand. “Good ta see ya.”
Takoda reached over and they shook.
“How’s that card cheatin’ master of yours?” Gage asked.
Takoda laughed. “He is doing quite well, though I doubt he would agree with your assessment of his card-playing skills.” She gestured towards Jase. “John, this is Jase Hildebrand, Jase Hildebrand, may I introduce you to John Gage.”
Jase reached across the table as his hand was swallowed in the big man’s grip.
“Are you really a Solar Knight?” he asked. Despite Gage’s powerful shoulders and the tell-tale tattoos, it was difficult to imagine him as a member of the Gaean order’s most elite troops. Jase had encountered them before. Dour, capable-looking men and women, they’d been in attendance each time the Cardinals had made their rounds to visit the royal families. On Earth, they served as bodyguards to royalty and high ranking Gaean priests, but he’d heard they served other purposes elsewhere in the solar system. Based on the man before him, he assumed qualifications on Luna were somewhat less strict than those back on earth.
“Yeah, that’s right kid. But I’m retired.”
“John is the regional judge,” Takoda added.
“Was,” Gage said. “Was the regional judge.”
Takoda’s brows knit together in a look of confusion. “I thought judge appointments were for life.”
“Yeah,” Gage said wearily, “not always,”.
Wilma hustled in on the swirling aroma of cigarette smoke and hot pancakes. She dropped off a platter of hotcakes and syrup, tall glasses of milk, and a plate of toast. In a fluid motion belying her girth, she scooped up Gage’s bowl, wiped down the spot in front of him, and vanished through the kitchen doors managing to pause long enough to playfully muff Jase’s hair.
“I really, don’t like her,” Jase said, brushing back his locks.
“They kicked you off the bench?” Takoda asked.
Gage nodded tiredly. “Yeah. Seems they don’t much care for judges who get drunk at the regional conference and knock out the Archbishop.”
He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Probably time I was movin’ on anyway. I think I’ve burned too many bridges 'round here.”
“That’s perfect,” Jase said, drawing a surprised look from Gage. “Takoda tells me you’ve traveled quite extensively, and I’m in need of a guide.”
“Yes,” Takoda agreed. “When I decided to join Jase Hildebrand on his quest, I knew of only one man who might know where to find what he was after.”
At this, it was Jase’s turn to look surprised.
“Look,” Jase said, turning to Takoda. “I appreciate all you’ve done, but I really don’t want to impose. Besides, I’m sure there’s things you should be doing back home. Crops to bring in, things to fix. You know.“ He circled his hand in the air. “Peasant stuff.”
Takoda’s face fell as Jase realized what he'd said. He held up his hands in an open-palmed sign of contrition. “That didn’t come out right. All I meant was, I’m sure you’ve got more important things to do than follow me.”
Gage’s eyes ping-ponged between Jase and Takoda before he burst out in great gasping gusts of laughter. Then he squeezed his temples as a pained look washed over his face.
“Kid, don’t make me laugh, my head’s about to split.”
Gage pushed up from his seat and leaned heavily on the table. “Look, kid. I wish ya luck on whatever is you’re doing down here but take a word of advice.”
Jase looked up, his plans disintegrating in front of his eyes. “Wait, you can’t go.” He pulled the signet ring from his shirt and held it up for Gage to see. “I’m on a holy mission from the church. You’re a sworn representative of the Gaean order, sworn to the service of the priesthood. He looked wildly about as if expecting a Cardinal or a Bishop to materialize from the woodwork and verify his plea. “I...I order you to obey! I am Jase Hildebrand on holy writ from the most high Cardinal Veraldi. You are duty-bound to obey!” He halted gasping for breath.
His words seemed to freeze the old knight, his painted face a tapestry of indecision. Then a slow smile crept across Gage's lips and he chuckled.
“Nice try kid, but like I told ya.” He tapped his chest and smiled. “Retired. I don’t owe the priesthood nothin’.” He turned and flapped a hand over his shoulder. “Besides, ya got a priest with ya already. Or didn’t ya know?”
With that, he stepped through the swinging doors and vanished from view leaving Jase with no advice on finding the Oracle and nowhere to look.”