Pirates of the Anglican Communion:
Dead Man's Province, Part Quatre
Note: To read Part 1, go here. For Part 2, go here; For Part 3, go here.
After traveling through a dry, barren wasteland for many hours, the Band of the Three-Legged Stool slows as its members approach a river.
Bishop Schori holds up her hand in the universal sign for "stop." On foot, she, Father Jake and Sparrow cautiously approach a rough, wooden bridge spanning the river. It's old, and worn, and bleached white with age. Beneath it, sluggish black water oozes past.
The smell wafting up from the water is rank. It tells a tale of dead things, of decay, of lost hope.
Schori turns to Jake and Sparrow and asks, "Will this bridge carry our weight?"
The two men gingerly step on the first plank. It creaks, but holds.
"Perhaps we should cross it one rider and one horse at a time," Sparrow says.
They stand staring into the sludgy water. The smoky mist rising from it seems to fill the land on the far bank.
Jake understands why MadPriest looked so drawn. As the band drew deeper into the wasteland, an oppression settled over him like a shroud. He felt it pushing him down, as if into the earth itself. The pinched expressions around him tell him others are suffering from it, too.
Jake shakes his head, trying to jar loose the sense of doom.
Schori looks at him with concern.
"We must pray before we take another step," she says.
Schori calls the entire band together. They stand hand in hand, or hand on shoulder, head bowed, as she prays, "Dear mother God, look after us as a hen looks after her chicks. Shield us from danger under your wing. Bless us that we may accomplish your will here, in this strange land. Bless us that we may then return home safely."
She anoints each rider and each horse, and pronounces individual benedictions. Then she approaches the convoy of vehicles.
"I don't think your trucks and vans will make it across this bridge. I don't know what we'll find on the other side. What say you; do you wish to turn back?"
"We stand together," Jeffrey says. "We will not turn back."
"Lisa the Crucifer will hold high the cross. It will be as a beacon for us," he adds.
Lisa, dressed in white, steps forward with determination, holding the cross before her. Its golden light radiates around her.
"Very well," Schori says. "Onward. I'll go first. If it's safe, you, Jake, then Sparrow, then Lisa, then the rest of the horse riders, then those on foot. Remember, one at a time."
Sparrow says, "No, milady. My charge is to protect you, and bring you safely to Lambeth Palace. I cannot let you perish here, in this unholy water." He looks down at it with disgust. "I will go first, and make sure the bridge can be safely passed."
After a bit of arguing and a coin toss with Jake to settle the argument of who will go first, Sparrow proceeds.
Cautiously, he steps onto the bridge, holding his horse's reins. The horse follows hesitantly, with a little nicker of anxiety.
The bridge creaks ominously. The horse's eyes roll with fright, white showing all around.
Sparrow takes another couple of steps. One board breaks, but he and the horse scramble past it. They make it to the misty land on the other side.
The horse's flanks continue to tremble in fear.
Sparrow removes a coil of rope from his saddlebag.
"Jake," he calls. "Catch this. Wrap the middle of it 'round Bishop Schori, and hold fast your end, until she's safe across the river."
"Aye," says Jake. He carefully girdles Schori with the rope, then cinches the end of the rope's length around the saddle horn on his horse, for good measure.
Everyone holds their breath until Schori arrives safely on the other side. Sparrow and Jake hold the rope so tightly, her feet barely touched the planks as she crosses.
Schori loosens the rope around her and wheezes in a gulp of air.
Her horse, like Sparrow's, quivers in fear.
Jake ties the rope around Lisa, then, holding her elbow, he escorts her across the bridge. His horse follows closely behind him.
Another plank breaks, and the horse slides toward the edge, scrambling for footing. Jake pulls on the reins with all his strength, and the horse stops. The animal then follows Jake so closely his nose stays under Jake's arm, as they complete their tortuous journey.
One-by-one, the remainder of the band cross the bridge.
"It's only your prayers got us all here safe," Sparrow says, bowing to the bishop, who bows back to him.
He hears a cracking of twigs in the woods lining the road. Sparrow draws his sword as he turns toward the sound, but it's too late. A horde of screaming Fundamentalists attack the band, beating them with Bibles.
Sparrow senses danger, draws his sword, but it's too late.
Sparrow sees Jake, Schori, Jeffrey, and the rest valiantly trying to repel the blows, but in this place, they're vastly outnumbered. Growly screams, quoting Leviticus and Deuteronomy, are almost as terrorizing as the two-handed swings with heavy Bibles.
Under the hail of thumps to his head, Sparrow falls to the ground, unconscious.
What will happen to our intrepid band? Will it survive this attack?
Be sure to tune in for the next episode of Pirates of the Anglican Communion.