Muleskinner Blues
Chapter 24

Copyright© 2022 by Joe J

We rode into New London the next day at noon. We could have made it earlier, but Deming and his men dawdled along all morning. As we neared the edge of town, Deming and his detachment all of a sudden formed up into two parade ground columns, one on either side of Sarah, Tonya and me. Instead of ambling along purposelessly, they now sat high and alert in their saddles. Deming angled the column towards the south end of town, in the direction of the large and well maintained park square that fronted Liz’s headquarters, rather than entering town by staying on the main road.

Seeing the reaction of Deming and his troops put me on guard. I pulled my John B. down to shade my eyes, switched my reins over to my left hand, and flipped my duster back to expose my new right-hand pistol in its fancy holster. Tonya noticed the change in my demeanor and reined her horse over next to the big mule I was astride.

“Something fishy is going on, so stay on your toes,” I warned before she could say anything.

Tonya gave me an exasperated look.

“We are out of the badlands and almost inside the city. What could happen to us here?” she asked perplexedly.

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized I almost made a fool of myself. Of course Deming and his men were going to sit up and look sharp. I should have remembered all soldiers did that when they were headed towards the flagpole. I relaxed and mumbled something, but to save what little pride I had left, I kept my pistol uncovered and my reins in my off-hand.

It turns out that we did run into something unusual as soon as we were part way down the broad tree-lined avenue that pierced the center of the park like a redman’s arrow. What we ran into was a fair sized crowd of folks lining both sides of the avenue. I reckoned most of the people living in New London were there. As we rode by, the crowd clapped, cheered and fell in behind us. I was growing more curious by the minute.

We continued up the avenue until we reached a raised platform that had been erected on a grassy spot a few dozen yards off the street. Liz Smith was standing on that platform, along with a handful of other men and women. Everyone on the stage was dressed formally, including a man dressed in a military uniform with a star on his collar.

Lieutenant Deming halted us in front of the stage and confirmed my suspicions by reporting to the uniformed man. The man on the stage directed Deming to ‘take his post’, and the mounted soldiers peeled off and returned to the street. I started to turn and depart with them when Tonya stopped me.

“Dismount and I’ll take your mule, Jeremiah. Liz wants to talk to you,” she said.

The bad feeling I’d had before returned as I slid out of the saddle and handed her my reins. Why would Liz want to talk to me now, when she obviously had something else going on? As soon as my big feet hit the ground, Liz’s assistant Lucy materialized and led me to a set of steps leading onto the stage from the rear. Liz was standing on the bottom step waiting for me. I bowed as gracefully as a lumbering oaf of my size was capable, and she rewarded me with a smile.

“It’s good to see you again, Jeremiah. I’ve been told you have completely recovered from your injuries. I am well pleased with that.”

I nodded in reply and she continued to speak.

“You told me last time I saw you that you believed in what I am trying to accomplish, do you still feel that way?” she asked.

“More than ever,” I replied.

She gave me another of those sweet smiles.

“Great!” she exclaimed, then the smile faded and she looked deep into my eyes. “Listen, Jeremiah, you have an important role in what I want to accomplish. I need you to trust me and go along with what’s about to happen. If you agree to that, I promise I’ll tell you everything as soon as we are back at my place.”

What she asked gave me pause, because I was never one who appreciated surprises. I thought about it for a few seconds as she stood there looking at me expectantly, then made a quick decision.

“I trust you, Liz,” I said, giving voice to my thoughts. “So have at it.”

Liz flashed me a delighted smile and grabbed my arm.

“All righty then,” she said as she tugged me up the stairs. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

We walked up onto the back of the stage. Liz left me there in the care of Lucy as she strode confidently to the front of the stage. A big rousing cheer broke out for her as she fiddled with attaching something to the bodice of the long gingham dress she was wearing. A man wearing muffs over his ears, even though it was a very warm day, gave her a hand signal and she started talking.

“Hello, citizens! It’s a great day in New England today, and we have a number of things to celebrate. For starters, we are a sovereign nation in control of our own destiny, instead of a city-state consumed by the past. If you recall, in recognition of our sovereignty, I asked for recommendations for a flag to symbolize our nation. From the large number of entries, this is the design the committee chose.”

A man and a woman walked out on the stage and unfurled the flag. I almost choked when I saw it, because it was the ‘Bonnie Blue’, the unofficial flag of the Confederate States of America. The Bonnie Blue was a royal blue rectangle with one large white star centered in the field of blue. The flag originated in South Carolina, and the single star signified that the confederate states were removing their star from the United States flag. The only addition to the New London version was the words ‘Unity’ above the star and ‘Progress’ beneath it.

The flag was a big hit with the citizens of New London. Liz gave them a few minutes to whoop it up, then she moved the event along.

“As you all know, this event is being broadcast to our friends in Paradise Valley. While you were examining the flag, one of the vid-techs informed me that eighty-five percent of the online citizens there are watching this along with you. To those folks, we extend our wishes for friendship and peace. I want to remind them — and you — that our new flag is a symbol of our commitment to the principle of uniting all of humanity and moving us forward towards a new and better destiny, even if certain members of the Pleiad have circulated the misconception that I suffer from some sort of Megalomania and that all outlanders are criminals or misfits.”

Liz had to stop talking as the crowd burst into boos and cat calls. She held up her hand for silence and continued after order prevailed.

“Of course, neither of those rumors contains even a drop of truth. Yes, I exploited my heritage as a way of rallying people to my cause, but now that we’ve united, we have an elected parliament who will select a prime minister this week. The prime minister they select will run the government. As it was in the day of my namesake, Elizabeth the Second, I will be the figurehead of our country and serve in any fashion the citizenry deems appropriate.”

Liz was quite the orator. Her voice was strong and determined and her words inspiring. She stood silent and smiling as the crowd cheered and called her name, then quieted them down again. What she did next was more unbelievable to me than the idea of traveling forward in time.

“So, my friends, we have a flag for our country, we have an elected government and we have a figurehead.”

Liz paused and made a motion for me to join her. I gulped and shambled forward.

“What we didn’t have until just recently, was a hero; a person with a combination of personal courage, training, experience and skill, to be our strong right arm as we move forward. We have the Pleiad to thank for reaching back in time and delivering such a man to us.”

She took my hand as I walked up beside her and turned me to face the crowd.

“This is Jeremiah Brock,” she said raising my hand, “a man who, until three weeks ago, was a citizen of the state of Wyoming in the wild west of the 1870s. Jeremiah was an officer in the American Civil War and a lawman on the old west frontier.

“More importantly for us though, is the fact that he took on and defeated the Juicers that had been plaguing us, and rescued eight innocent citizens in the process. Mister Brock has agreed to continue helping us, both here, and if the citizens of Paradise Valley agree, also back in his own time.”

Liz had to pause then as the crowd cheered and clapped. When they wound down, Liz continued.

“In recognition of his commitment to us, I am appointing Jeremiah as First Knight of the Realm. The First Knight will be my advisor on matters that include his areas of expertise.”

Can you for a minute imagine that? Yet there it was for what remained of the world to see, Jeremiah Brock, uneducated and unrefined muleskinner, kneeling as Elizabeth the Seventh touched a sword to my shoulder. I walked off the stage in a daze and rejoined my smiling friends.

Deming escorted us straight to Liz’s house from the square as soon as Liz finished speaking. Liz had some sort of speech she was presenting to the citizens of Paradise Valley over the viewing devises everyone but I seemed to have.

Deming’s troopers offered to secure our mounts for us, but I declined. If I rode an animal, I took care of it. Sarah and Tonya followed my lead. It took us fifteen minutes to square away our mounts and pack mules. It was a long fifteen minutes, though, because the women teased me mercilessly about my knighthood.

I had my doubts about being a knight anyway, truth be told. The time I came from was less than a hundred years past our rebellion against the tyranny of the very form of government that I was now serving. Anti-royalist sentiment was still strong in America. I sighed when Tonya finished with her horse and curtsied.

“I’ve completed my task, my Lord,” she shamelessly emoted in an atrocious British accent.

I tried my damndest to suppress a smile as I nodded sternly.

“A passable job, wench, so I’ll spare you the cane ... for now. Attend the baggage and report to me when you’re done,” I commanded imperiously.

Tonya stood there stupefied as Sarah giggled. I was much more familiar with the aristocratic British accent, having heard it often back in my time, so my impersonation was much better than hers. Tonya finally caught on to my tease and laughed.

 
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