Authors: Elisabeth Wolfe
Look Behind You
Elisabeth G. Wolfe
Copyright 2014 Elisabeth G. Wolfe
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The Order of the Silver Star
Every nation, every land, has heroes. Some places simply seem more prone to produce heroes than others.
There is, in fact, a reason for this state of affairs. After the Flood, God set about establishing areas suitable for human habitation, and among them He set aside certain areas to imbue with special blessing. Their climate might be mild or harsh; they might be small islands or large swaths of continent. But in every case, He foreknew that those lands would attract a certain kind of person—and, as Satan was sure to rear particularly monstrous threats to the humans who settled there, those lands would need to give rise to particularly heroic protectors. Divine aid would always be available to those who called on the name of the Lord, but there were some things humankind could, and should, be able to do for itself. So India, for example, would have its Sikhs and Gurkhas; New Zealand would have its Maori; the British Isles would teem with examples through the ages, not least of which would be the Order of the Round Table.
But what G. K. Chesterton would later call “a nation with the soul of a church” needed something different. So for all the grace God shed on that land from sea to shining sea, He reserved a special measure for the one state that would bear the name of a virtue.
In some ways, Texas would always be wild: the summers hot, the surface water scarce, the weather unpredictable, the creatures strange and fanciful. Wild men and madwomen would find their wildness amplified, and weaker minds and wills might well be broken there. But Texans, on the whole, would be hardy people, exactly the sort of stock from which a line of heroes might easily spring.
And spring it did, and with it legend. Like any order of heroes, it had its share of triumphs and failures, breakdowns and dissolutions. It was composed of men, after all, not of angels, and few recognized their brotherhood as the renewal of knighthood that it might well have been. But though they never bore the name Merlin foretold for them, it fits them all the same.
The Order of the Silver Star lives still. These are their tales.
The trouble with knowing the future, Merlin reflected as he looked out his window and waited for his scribe, was knowing how to describe it in terms that would make sense in the present. The prophets who wrote the Bible could wax poetic, of course, but Merlin wasn’t a prophet, or a poet, for that matter. He was just a wizard who knew things.
When it came to the New World, Merlin generally kept his knowledge to himself. Even that ridiculous Irishman, Brendan, had not yet set out on the voyage that would take him to Hy Brasil, later to be called Florida. (Celebrating Mass on the back of a whale, indeed….) Absent such testimony from a source most of their contemporaries would consider reliable, who would believe Merlin’s descriptions of the vast continents that lay to the west of Britain, never mind the roles those continents would play in later history? Yet in this case, he needed to record what he knew. Camelot could not endure forever, but the people of Britain needed some reason to keep its ideals alive. And Merlin himself would not be here to provide that reason when the time came. Even if his words were lost before their fulfillment, as now seemed likely, they should still survive long enough to serve their purpose.
Merlin turned from the window as the door opened. “Ah, Olwyn, here you are. Do come in.”
Olwyn bowed and closed the door behind him. “How may I serve you, milord?”
“You’re a better poet than I. I have some observations to record, but I should like them to be phrased in a memorable way.”
Olwyn bowed again and took his place at the desk. Then he picked up a wax tablet and stylus to take notes from Merlin’s dictation, which he could then recast in a poetic form before committing it to parchment.
“No kingdom stands forever,” Merlin began. “And neither does any brotherhood of men. Albion and the Round Table shall prove no exception. But ideals need not die. The ideal of Albion, as you know, is ‘might for right’—and in days to come, more nations than ours shall embrace that ideal. One of those nations shall give rise to the Round Table’s heirs.”
Olwyn jotted his notes and nodded his understanding.
“When St. Peter Outside the Walls burns and men begin to wear shoes with wheels, that brotherhood shall rise for the first time. Its sign shall be silver, a star in a wheel. Not everyone who bears that badge shall be worthy of its honor, of course, for they shall be human, and all humans have faults. But though the Order of the Round Table shall serve long in fame alone, the Order of the Silver Star shall serve in fact for many lives of men. War and scandal may interrupt that service, but the Order itself shall not be destroyed by them. Justice shall be the lone star by which it stands on its own two feet, and its name shall be known and feared throughout the world. And when its might does indeed serve right, it shall receive aid beyond the reach of men.”
Olwyn looked impressed as he finished writing down what Merlin had just said. Then he paused. “But where shall these things be? You have made no mention of Britain.”
Merlin shook his head. “No. No, preserving Britain shall not be their task.”
, he added to himself,
for the time when it will be….
November 6, 1932
Here we go again
, Texas Ranger Matthias Schneider thought grimly, his skin prickling as his hands tightened around the grips of his revolvers.
He’d been in this same position two years earlier in Sherman, backing Capt. Frank Hamer as they tried to keep a mob of four thousand or so from lynching a black man accused of rape. They’d have managed it, Matt still thought, if they hadn’t made the tragic mistake of putting the prisoner in the vault for safekeeping, having no way of knowing that all the people who knew the combination would be gone when some idiot firebombed the courthouse. The poor man had died, and the Rangers had barely escaped the fire with their lives, only to face a full-fledged riot that had taken even more reinforcements and the National Guard to put down. And of course, only two people had gone to jail over it, and they were both out already.
Cases like that were almost enough to make a man lose faith in the justice system.
The situation today wasn’t quite so severe. The tiny West Texas town of Lilburn boasted only two hundred souls, which meant that the crowd facing him was only about forty strong. Precisely why they wanted to lynch the Chinese man Matt was guarding never had become clear, though it apparently had something to do with the elections coming up that Tuesday. Poor old Tan Li Wei didn’t know enough English to understand the charges, and the statements the police chief had given Matt were confused and contradictory. Was Mr. Tan plotting with Mexicans to incite a riot on Election Day to keep people from the polls? Was he intending to vote illegally? Was he campaigning for or against some candidate whose election or non-election would spell disaster for Lilburn? Was he trying to talk women out of voting, into voting, or into his bed? Nobody was sure. All anyone seemed to know was that Mr. Tan Must Die.
So here Matt was, on his own, all 6'3" linebacker of him, blocking the door to the jail, staring the mob down with steely grey eyes that had seen murder and mayhem in oil towns like this one all across the state. He’d never backed down before, and he wasn’t about to start now.
“Come on, Ranger,” bellowed a bush-bearded fellow at the front of the crowd (and if he weren’t a crook himself, Matt would eat his hat). “Give us the Chinaman.”
“Mr. Tan has a right to a fair trial, same as you,” Matt replied, and several people blinked and frowned at his Texas German accent. “If you have a beef, tell it to the judge tomorrow.”
“Ain’t no need for a judge, Dutchy,” sneered another man. “You don’t get outta the way, we’re comin’ in to get ’im.”
“Well, if you feel lucky, come ahead,” Matt shot back, echoing Hamer’s words back in Sherman. “That is, if you’re not afraid your story won’t stand up in court.”
There was a long, tense silence. Then Bush-beard and five or six other men rushed up the steps and promptly fell down them again with the print of Matt’s revolver barrels blooming on their heads. Matt straightened his white Stetson over his dark hair and readied for another attack, but only Bush-beard jumped to his feet again. The rest of the crowd looked uncertain of the wisdom of trying to go through a Ranger who might shoot next time, but they were still unwilling to let things go.
“Wait, stop!” called the Methodist minister from across the street. “In God’s name,
Mr. Tan’s done nothing wrong!”
The appeal to God seemed to break some kind of spell over the mob. The men blinked and wavered, suddenly far less certain of what they were doing.
But Bush-beard wasn’t swayed. “I’m gonna kill that damn Chinaman!” he roared and rushed Matt again.
Matt knocked him down again and took aim at the fellow’s chest to discourage him from getting up. “Who accused Mr. Tan first?” he asked the crowd at large, not taking his eyes off his suspect.
There was a long silence before someone piped up, “I heard it from Mr. Johnson there.”
A few murmurs of agreement followed.
“You Johnson?” Matt asked his suspect.
Bush-beard only snarled and tensed as if preparing to jump up again. “I ain’t letting’ no damn German—”
Matt thumbed the hammer back, shutting him up and stopping him from getting up.
“Yeah,” said one of his friends who’d been in the first assault. “Yeah, that’s Mike Johnson.”
Matt holstered the gun in his left hand, then grabbed Johnson’s shirt and hauled him to his feet. “You’re under arrest for attempted murder and incitement to riot.” When he glanced away for a moment, he could see the crowd already beginning to fall back. The door opened behind him, and he carefully backed inside, pulling Johnson with him and keeping his .45 trained on Johnson’s heart. By the time the door shut, all but a couple of men had left.
Matt and the chief marched a growling Johnson back to the cell block, with Matt’s gun ensuring that Johnson wouldn’t do anything stupid. As they walked into the cell block, however, Mr. Tan jumped to his feet, shouting, “Dat him! Dat him!”
While the jailer unlocked a cell on the opposite side of the hall, the chief went over to talk to Mr. Tan. The story came out a little jumbled due to the language barrier, but evidently, Johnson had broken into the Tans’ house with intent to steal their money, rape Mrs. Tan, and kill at least Mr. Tan, if not both of them. Mr. Tan had been able to hold Johnson off with a shotgun, but before he had had time to figure out how to explain to the police what had happened, Johnson had started his smear campaign.
Johnson howled a slur and tried to lunge at Mr. Tan with an old Celtic curse on his lips. Matt cut off both the spell and the assault by backhanding Johnson into his cell and slamming the door shut behind him.
“These bars are cold iron,” Matt noted as he locked the cell door. “The
can’t help you now.”
Johnson tried to spit on him but missed.
“I go now?” Mr. Tan asked.
“We’d better make sure nobody else wants to hurt you before you go,” the chief replied. “But I can send someone to guard your house for the night if you’d like.”
“Yes, yes, thank you.” Mr. Tan nodded and bowed and chattered what Matt thought might be some kind of blessing.