They waited for a moment. Ned looked out of the alley, down the way that Silk and Digger had run. Determining that they had gone far enough away, leaving the street quiet, he looked back and winked at Wexerly. The three boys hustled across the street into the alley that Silk and Digger had emerged from before. They pattered down the alley, took a left at a fork, and ran on through the shady, breezy passage. Noise grew ahead of them. Past the end of the alley people loitered and shouted.
“Look alive, the mob’s caught up,” Ned said.
“Should we wait or go around or such like, eh?” Stodge asked, slowing down as they got closer.
“We can squirm through,” Ned said before Wexerly could. Wexerly had opened his mouth to say something like it, though. He smiled to hear Ned taking the initiative. “Come on, boys.”
Ned darted out of the alley. They went into the crowd. Mostly, the angry people in the mob ignored the boys. Their attention stayed on Silk and Digger. Silk and Digger had been cornered against a store front, with angry mob on every side, brandishing crossbows and staves. It really bespoke to the brilliance of Engelkind’s governance that a group of people who hours earlier had been happy to host Silk as the visiting war legend and Digger as their sheriff would turn so completely against them both so quickly. Engelkind had released a decree that Silk had passed out of favor. Without questioning the validity or the wisdom, the population itself reacted to quell this danger, without even calling out the guard. Things like this showed how on-edge people were these days.
Digger and Silk had gained their horses. They sat above the milling, shouting mob. Pinned in, they had nowhere to go. That would never do. Wexerly and his gang pushed through the crowd to the far side of the street. A three storey scaffold with bricks and mortar stacked on it stood in front of a building on this side of the street.
“I want to give Digger and Silk a bit of a hand,” Wexerly said to Ned.
“Eh?” Ned said, intent on getting through the mob intact.
“Keep going—I’ll meet you on the way,” Wexerly said.
“We’re with you, Wexerly,” Ned said. Stodge nodded. They were crowded together by the press of people. It was becoming breaking point. Someone threw a brick at Silk. It missed, but Silk’s hand still went to one of the swords on his saddle. Reluctance slowed him—bless his little heart.
“All right,” Wexerly said. “Shove through.” He took the lead and pushed through the hot crowd toward the scaffold. He reached the base of the solid scaffold. There, Wexerly found an iron bar for levering rocks. Sticking it through the base supports, Wexerly plied pressure and broke one of the legs.
“The scaffold is going,” he shouted to the crowd. Not many heard him. Those that did looked around, shouted, and shoved the others out of their way. The scaffold came down onto the cobbled street, the wood of it exploding to splinters, the mortar dust and bricks heaving into the air and out on every side. It gave a great break of a noise, and a screaming call from the mob accompanied it. A shocked pause waved the crowd. The rubble from the scaffold stretched all the way across the street. The collapse distracted the crowd enough to give Silk and Digger space to escape.
“Victory,” Wexerly muttered, smiling. He turned to his gang, who looked on, trying not to look as awestruck as they were. “Let’s get going.”
“Aye,” Ned said. He turned down another alley. Wexerly and Stodge followed.
Quietly, Stodge fell a bit back and walked close to Wexerly. Stodge was a bit older and more aware than Ned. Stodge had already guessed Wexerly had more to him than an urchin ought to have. It never bothered Stodge knowing it. Rather the contrary, it gave Stodge something to think on. He often asked questions. Wexerly welcomed them.
“What was that for then, eh?” Stodge asked. “What do you care about them out of towners?”
Wexerly smiled. He wanted to give Stodge the true and complicated answer: Silk’s mission, Digger’s partly associated quest, shook the foundations of behind-the-scenes wars that always happened, between men like Engelkind who had too much power, and people like Wexerly and his friends who had been consorts to the gods since ancient times. Things moved that no one ever suspected. And today, Wexerly and his friends supported Digger and Silk—today, Wexerly’s goals and Silk’s complemented each other. Wexerly wanted to tell thoughtful Stodge that changes in the world approached like a tide. Stodge might even understand the news.
Instead, Wexerly patted Stodge on the shoulder and said, “It was the right thing, mate.”
“In the long run?” Stodge said with a questioning tone. Wexerly often said “in the long run.”
“Yes,” Wexerly nodded, smiling.
Stodge gave a quick jerk of his head, satisfied.
“Nearly there, then,” Ned said from ahead. “Streets are clear through here.”
They ducked out of an alley into a street clear of traffic. Wexerly heard the crowd moving to the west. Pausing for a moment, he judged the distance. Digger and Silk rode through an intersection several hundred yards along. The mob had fallen behind. They’d be getting out their own horses and organizing a chase soon. For now, Digger and Silk had enough head start to escape. Wexerly was satisfied.
Ned led the way into Hole in the Wall. The room inside had a litter of couches, pillows. It smelled of hookah and coffee and shelves of books lined the walls. It did almost no business, not in these little towns. That was all right, though, because it was a front for another organization. The other organization had no name yet, but it had funding at the top. Wexerly liked to think of it as the Runagates.
Two Runagates manned Hole in the Wall. The older of the two, Jarvela Gunnar, stood at the wooden counter, his long, blonde dreadlocks flowing over his tattooed hands as he bent over a page of music spread in front of him. He glanced up at Wexerly with his big, blue eyes, and he smiled.
“Hey ho, little cherub,” he said. “I’ve been hearing shouts from the street. Tag went to see what’s happening.”
“Digger’s skipping town,” Wexerly said. Jarvela chuckled. They’d been watching Digger, waiting to see what would happen for weeks.
“Is that so?” Jarvela said.
“He’s headed north with Silk Golinvaux.”
“Why such a ruckus?” Jarvela asked. He straightened up and folded the music in front of him.
“You recall that rumors have been circling about Silk planning something?” Wexerly asked. It had been a rumor for a long time. Silk never stayed still for long. When he’d been seen in the company of Van Vleidt, talk circulated that change was eminent. And when Van Vleidt turned up dead—the rumor was, assassinated, and the rumor among Wexerly’s friends, assassinated by Holy Assassins—it seemed inevitable that Silk would do something. What he would do could not be predicted by anyone. Wexerly still didn’t know what Silk had done—only how Engelkind had already retaliated.
“Of course,” Jarvela said.
“Whatever plan he had, he done it,” Wexerly said. “Engelkind declared him enemy of the state.”
“Things are happening, mate,” Jarvela said.
“Best be getting along north, then. I’ll get set—we’ll leave as soon as Tag gets back. Are you coming with us?”
That had been the original plan when Wexerly showed up in town. He and Jonne Jarvela and Tag Tegren arrived at the same time, just after Digger. They kept an eye on him, integrating with the workings of the town. When Digger moved along, Jarvela and Tag would mobilize . They would head north to spread the word to other Runagates: Digger was on the move . The Runagates believed, accurately or not, that Digger’s movements influenced the coming of a war. Wexerly only cared about the ride. And back when he had arrived in Süthende with Jarvela and Tag, the plan had been to watch Digger till Digger left and then Wexerly would go with Jarvela and Tag on the next leg of the adventure.
Now Wexerly had the option. Time had come to make a move. Jarvela looked with his sharp eyes close at Wexerly. “Well?” Jarvela said. Wexerly looked at Ned and Stodge. Ned squinted, unsure exactly what about the events around him affected him. Stodge knew, though. Stodge—tall, gangly Stodge—made every effort not to look Wexerly in the eye. Stodge feared that Wexerly and the gang had reached a parting.
Continued on December 19...