ACT TWO (conclusion)
Spartacus, trapped in darkness on the other side of the fireplace, got to his knees and reached for the flashlight that was still tucked inside his belt. He flipped the switch on the handle, but nothing happened. After striking the flashlight against his palm a few times, the light flickered on and the passage became illuminated.
The cowboy picked his hat up off of the ground and knocked the dust from it. After slipping it back onto his head, he looked around him to assess the situation.
The situation was as he expected: grim.
To his left was the fireplace, completely sealed off by a barrier of large rocks, and to his right, the same. Many of the barriers throughout the colony had apparently been triggered when O'Connor blew the armory. If Spartacus destroyed the Great Hall of Gnomes now (assuming it hadn't already been destroyed during the explosion), he would surely be trapped since taking the passage out of the mountains was no longer an option; Ike had told him that there were several barriers in that direction, so chances were that if two of them in the passage were already in place, there would be others as well.
Spartacus put his ear to one of the rocks blocking the fireplace. There were sounds, but they were too muffled to be distinguishable. The only sound that was clear enough for him to identify was the sound of the woman singing over the intercom. Strangely enough, she sounded closer to him than the men on the other side of the barrier. Spartacus shined the light on the ceiling until he located an air tube, which was not only filtering in fresh air, but also the woman's haunting melody. Mystery solved, the cowboy directed the flashlight's beam toward the switch on the wall. He gave it a moment's consideration, then, for his colony's sake, he turned his attention to the fireplace again. There was no doubt in his mind that one of the messenger falcons would be sent to Jesse, but he could not let the fate of his decedents and the others counted among the meek rest on the wings of a single bird alone, no matter how clever it was.
Spartacus rested the flashlight on a wedge of stone and began moving the rocks in front of the fireplace to the other side of his prison. As he tarried away at his task, the painkillers, along with the adrenaline boost that comes with battle, wore off, and the arthritis in his hip took over. Prayer became the cowboy's medicine. Meditation his food and drink. Whenever his hip became too stiff to use, he would rest his body and the flashlight for a spell but would continue to work his mind. Each hour, as long as an eon, stretched into another eon, until finally the first day had waned away. By the second day, there was an usual development: the sound of shifting rocks on the other side of the barrier. Spartacus turned on the flashlight, flipped open the heel of his boot, and pulled out his emergency bullets one by one. After loading Montague, he waited.
Time reversed itself, speeding up as the sounds grew closer. The cowboy raised the flashlight to eye-level and cocked the revolver's hammer. When the barrier fell away—instead of coming face-to-face with legionnaires as he had fully expected—Spartacus found himself staring at a familiar horse's rear end.
The cowboy uncocked the hammer and waved the gun back and forth in front of his nose: “Damn, Quigley! What've you been eatin', sulfur tablets?”
The horse snorted and flicked its tail.
“Very funny,” said the cowboy. He stepped through the fireplace. The only light on the other side came from small flames that were consuming what was left of the furniture. It was obvious, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that the once great hall had been torched.
Spartacus slipped the gun into its holster and pinched his nostrils together with his fingers to block out the pungent smell of burning flesh. In response, the flashlight in his other hand flickered and dimmed with the last of the battery's power.
The cowboy looked around the large cavern for any sign of his second-in-command.
There was none.
Spartacus tossed away the dead flashlight and climbed into the saddle. “Okay, boy,” he told his horse, “it's up to you to get us out of here. Think you can handle that?”
Quigley nodded his head and then headed for the door. The horse and its cowboy spent many hours traveling in the dank darkness of the tunnels and caverns with only the ghostly voice over the intercom to keep them company.
Maybe someone else will come along and she will be remembered yet. Not as she was during the collapse of the decadent time that was hers, but as a creature that haunts the ruins of this mountain, eternally pining for the lost lover who never returns in a place where many women and children lost their husbands and fathers.
Spartacus was brought out of his thoughts by a bright light up ahead. A smile, filled with relief and gratitude, came to his lips. “Good, Quigley,” said the cowboy to his horse. He slapped the side of Quigley's neck as they entered the foyer, which like the tunnels and caverns, was filled with bodies of the inhabitants and the intruders.
When they approached the entrance, Spartacus ducked and shielded his eyes from the afternoon sunlight. He glided his other hand over the butt of one of his revolvers and used his other senses to scan the environment: the smell of decaying flesh, the taste of burning chemicals, the sound of flames crackling and buzzards fighting, the heavy feeling of death on the air.
Quigley, though walking in a zig-zag pattern around the obstacles in the courtyard, seemed to be making his way toward a deliberate destination.
“Not the stable, boy,” Spartacus said. “To the gorge—to David!”
The horse ignored the cowboy and continued on its course, carefully making its way through the debris of battle.
Spartacus lowered his hand and squinted against the sunlight. Somewhere nearby, he could hear the cry of Mercury, Whitecrow's hawk.
Quigley stopped several yards away from the stable and stood quietly. “What is it, boy?” asked Spartacus, relaxing his eyes and focusing on the stable. He wiped away the tears of the sun and blinked several times. Finally what was left of the animal-shelter came into focus; however, it was not the stable that brought the cowboy's horse to this location, but that which stood next to it.
Near the nativity, under the circling wings of Mercury, stood the crossing tree that flaunted the remains of Whitcrow. His headdress gone and his feathers scalped, he looked down upon the battlefield with eyes that were empty. Although he had suffered the worst kind of brutality, the enemy was unable to shame him, even when they branded him with the traitor's mark: the sewing of the lips. No matter what they said on their behalf, history would charge the warrior with innocence and dignity well-fought and protected through the lessons of chivalry; and so it should always be, for that's what he fought and died for. The enemy's tricks, no smoother than the grunting of a boar, could not diminish the man's character any more than they could sway the minds of humankind to their way of perceiving.
A buzzard fighting for its share of the flesh, relinquished its end of a foot and flew over to the cross where it began pecking at the Indian's exposed scalp. This caused Mercury to cry out and swoop down on the desecrator, chasing it off. The hawk then perched itself at the head of the cross, the self-appointed guardian of the white crow.
Something nailed to the foot of his second-in-command caught the cowboy's eye. He dismounted, and with a heavy heart walked up to the gruesome structure, which stood as a monument to the world that the homo sapiens had in mind for everyone else: Hell.
As Spartacus drew nearer, he could see that the object was a large piece of paper. Perhaps it's a message, thought the cowboy. He gently tore it from the nail and saw that he was right, it was message, and it was meant just for him. The message was in the form of a “wanted” poster with a drawing of his likeness upon it. He read his name and the words WANTED ALIVE FOR THE GAMES; scrawled below the edict in larger print was BIG REWARD.
Spartacus let the poster fall from his hands. With the enemy long gone, he reached into the saddlebag for one of the morphine patches and placed it on his hip. With more scavengers arriving to feast upon the dead, he began building a funeral pyre for his friend and his brother-in-arms, as much for the hawk's sake as his own; the cowboy knew that the animal would not leave as long as its master's corpse hung upon the cross, not even to hunt for food or water. By the time the cowboy had finished the pyre, the morphine was doing its work and he felt as if he were operating through a dream. As he approached the cross a second time, Whitecrow's mustang and the colony's mare entered the courtyard. The mustang charged the cowboy once, and then took up a protective stance in front of the Indian.
“Easy, boy,” said the cowboy, in a voice that sounded soothing to him but did little to comfort the horse. “Easy,” he repeated.
The mustang raised up on its hind legs before coming down on all-fours and trotting anxiously back and forth in front of the cross.
Quigley brushed by the cowboy and made his way up to Whitecrow's horse. Something passed between the brother equines, something beyond the mere meaty intelligence that humans tend to measure. A way of communicating without words or sounds of any kind, or even body-language. It was an invisible phenomenon that could only be linked to the realm of the spirit.
Quigley led the mustang away from the cross then returned to receive Whitecrow's body from Spartacus. A procession of animals, consisting of a coyote and a few buzzards, made their way toward the funeral pyre ahead of Spartacus and the horses.
The cowboy, praying in the way of Whitecrow's people, gently laid the body of the Indian on the wooden planks. Next, he poured gasoline over the handles and shafts that he had gathered from the battlefield, and struck the match. Upon dropping the flame and igniting the fuel, Mercury flew over to him and plucked out a wing feather, offering it up for the ceremony. Although he was in a hurry to get back to his own colony, which Whitecrow would have wanted as well, Spartacus continued to pray until only ashes remained.
Wiping his sweaty palm on his jeans, the cowboy leaned over and gathered a handful of ashes and placed them in a pouch. He whispered another quick prayer, this time on behalf of his grandson, and tucked the pouch inside his saddlebag before taking it and the saddle from Quigley's back and saddling the mustang. Then he reined the mare and, with the war cry “To David”, set off through the gorge with Quigley right behind him.