“You know, price the size they’ve put on you, you’re not to be attracting just any mercenary,” Digger said. They rode their horses through the hills, along the highway where the murderers had turned up dead.
“That’s reasonable,” Silk said, puffing on a cigar.
“There are only two or three scalp hunters willing to pursue a warrant so expensive,” Digger took a thoughtful tone, waving three fingers to emphasize his point. “Low-Ball and his lads might,” Digger said. Low-Ball was one of Silk’s people, from the far southern peninsula, who’d turned his skills learned pirating into a mainland trade. Though Silk knew that Low-Ball had turned governor and spent most of his time attempting to unite the southern islands into a republic, and make “honest” trade—honest understood in a diplomatic sense. In any event, Silk had little fear of Low-Ball. “Then there’s Bogeyman,” Digger went on, mentioning one of the scary stories that had graduated from merely haunting the nightmares of children to tainting the stories that hard men told each other around campfires. For years no one believed that Bogeyman existed, and the few raving men who talked of him received the “mad” label. Digger believed Bogeyman existed—as did Silk.
“He’s been tied up with business, they say,” Silk said.
“Aye, so I hear,” Digger agreed. “He’s still a danger. He isn’t already rich and he always needs money.”
“That is true,” Silk said, scratching his cheek. Bogeyman always had some expensive venture on his platter, or so folk believed.
“And my father,” Digger said with thought in his voice. “He’d be up for the chase.”
“Yes,” Silk drew out the word, smiling. “That would be a worthy chase.”
“Do you think he’d take it up?” Silk asked. Digger shook his head.
“He’s distracted with his own affairs,” Digger said.
“If you actually wish to be caught it is,” Digger said as they rode past some huckleberry bushes frosted with old snow.
“You have very little faith in me,” Silk said, smiling.
“I hardly know you,” Digger said. Silk chuckled.
“You forgot someone,” Silk said.
“Did I, eh?”
“Tetch Slander and his boys,” Silk said.
“There is them—gods preserve you if they like the scent,” Digger said.
“Why? I think it’d be rather a lark evading old Slander and the Scarpy,” Silk snuffed, taking his cigar out of his mouth. “I fought beside them often enough. Fighting against them presents all new puzzles.”
“You are an odd one,” Digger shook his head, raising an eyebrow. He clearly could not believe that Silk was serious. Silk chuckled again. “Do as you like. I’d really like to clarify this Engelkind point.”
“I have declared war on the man.”
“Right, you’ve declared war on Engelkind’s institution,” Digger was saying as they rode. Silk interrupted here.
“Just the man, not his institution,” he said, snuffling. He puffed on his cigar and looked around at the pine trees growing up the sides of the steep valley. It was the only highway out of town, Digger had said. Silk was not sure it smelled believable, but it didn’t matter much. The dead murderers had been found on this road.
“Declared war on Engelking the man—greater tang of blarney to that, but I’ll leave it aside till I know better of your character,” Digger continued.
“Most gracious,” Silk said.
“What I’m hearing as the moral to the grand story is Silk wants to see Engelkind killed, eh?”
Silk nodded. He heard something in the woods roundabout. Or, rather, heard an empty where scurrying critters ought to be audible. The silence had surrounded them for some minutes now. It had washed the valley suddenly half a mile back.
“Engelkind is a dictator and a scourge on future generations—does the young lordship’s conscience like the ‘tang’ of that?” Silk said, concentrating on listening to the woods rather than to Digger.
“Nay, I find it hard to understand. Legend tells us that Engelkind is a marked man, and that Ferryman’s own instrument is the only end he’ll meet.”
“And you have trouble believing I’m Ferryman’s instrument?”
“Aye. The story says Engelkind can only be killed by a thing unknown to this world.”
Digger was quite true, of course. Silk knew the story. He found it fascinating and he’d seen enough things try and fail to kill Engelkind the warlord to believe the legend. Ferryman occasionally marked men as his own quarry. The fact was well known. Those men only died according to Ferryman’s own design. No one had ever succeeded in directing or predicting the designs of Ferryman, the god of death and the end of things. What with Ferryman disappeared from the world, and Engelkind simply proceeding to age—he must be eighty or ninety already—it presented Silk a pretty puzzle.
He thought he had perhaps cracked it. The silence around him seemed familiar. As a clue, silence was wretched. It hardly told Silk anything. He paid attention to it, though.
“Well, we shall see,” Silk said.
“It’s too quiet,” Digger said.
They let the silence lower. It breathed through the trees—a scream with no breath, no throat, no voice. The icy sky pressed down on the snow covered ground. Before them, the road lay clear like a bated snare.
A noise like a hiccuping sob interrupted the silence. Stumbling from the trees, a man fell onto the road. His coat had ripped—he held a bloody hand to a too-limp shoulder, trying to steady the dislocation. With red shot eyes leaking frustrated tears, he stared at Silk. A grin cracked his face.
“He saw you,” the man said—Krist Novoselic gone far past the edge. Novoselic ran at Digger and Silk. Stumbled, though his legs appeared uninjured he had trouble walking. His breath came in grunts and snuffs. Digger’s hand fell on the handle of his bow, but he left his arrow un-nocked. Novoselic posed no threat; he loped past Silk and Digger, smelling of blood and sweat—muttering, “ha, he saw you, ha,” as he went. They let him go.
Digger looked sideways at Silk, raising an eyebrow. No words seemed required. The mad murderer spoke frighteningly for itself. Digger loosened his big knife in its sheath. Silk drew his curved two-handed sword, so that he looked prepared, although he thought he knew what had beaten Novoselic. With the mumbling, hiccuping breaths of Novoselic falling behind them, Silk and Digger rode their horses forward at a walk.
The road rounded a bend. Thick bushes blocked the view forward till they had made they turn. Twenty yards further on, a boulder stood in the middle of the road—the road parted around it. The boulder stood ten feet tall. On it, with no apparent weapon, stood a slim man, clutching a voluminous cloak like enough to a Holy Assassin’s around his shoulders. He had the hood up, though his face--youthfully shaped but shadowed around the cold eyes and sharp lips--stared out from the dark hood. His skin had the white cast of a corpse frozen in the snow on the ground. Silk recognized the pallor and nothing else about the person. That seemed strange. Silk expected to see someone else. His surprise, damnably, showed on his face for a second. The man standing on the boulder didn’t react. He stared passively at Silk. Silk gained control over his surprise after only a second. The man probably saw it.
A brief hiatus will be taken for Christmas. Continued on December 27...