A couple days passed, and Silk and Digger spent them resting.
With a half-eaten apple in one hand, Silk stood in front of a board covered in relics from the War: wanted posters. The War went everywhere, changed everything. It’d been one of those confusing wars—no one knew for sure what side they fought for day to day. It got confusing after only a few years. The War had lasted for forty years. When Silk had been growing up, an urchin on the far southern docks, the War was already old. Just the War. It didn’t need a name. Probably the history books would call it something, but no history books had been written about it yet.
No one ever knew what side they fought for, no one except the choice few like Engelkind and the gods. Failing in that certainty, there was a certainty about what sides fought the War. On the one side stood the gods themselves: Ythig and his pantheon, ruling from castles and leading vast armies who believed the old stories and stood by how the way things had been for all recalling. The gods defended themselves against an insurrection: a coalition of atheistic men rallying to cry that mankind had outgrown the gods. Ironically, when that coalition of rebels lost their leader, the person who replaced him was a god. A new god—a god who never appeared in any old story. People took it as a sign that they would win.
And they had won. The coalition of men, led by the new god Kunig and his warlords—Engelkind being first among them—defeated the gods and threw them from their keeps. The gods lost the War.
Silk inhaled cigar smoke around a bite of apple. The War’s outcome was so monumentally impossible. The whole of Eardbána—the only known continent in the world—took on a greyish cast. No parades or celebration marked the end of the War. Quietly, the new regime established, and the population went along with it. The new god, Kunig, assumed rule in the south, and Engelkind and his armies moved into the greatest fortress in the middle belt of Eardbána. The most pivotal warchiefs who had supported the gods took up abode in the northland of Wildhagen. Kunig declared them exiled. Ythig and the old gods disappeared. Folk presumed them also exiled, but rarely inquired because they feared Engelkind’s secret police.
The gods had lost the War. The concept could hardly be understood. Perhaps the impossibility of it affected men—perhaps the feeling that the gods no longer watched them made more of them turn bad—perhaps fewer people chose to police each other any longer. Silk thought it was because Wildhagen had become a no-man’s land. The only real authority there was the exiled King of Wildhagen, who stayed in hiding because his power was now illegal. Whatever the reason, boards for wanted posters had more posters than ever. Engelkind offered most of the rewards. Many stated that the reward would be paid forward regardless of the criminal arriving dead or alive.
Silk blew a smoke ring at the poster-covered board. A handful of the posters were slashed through. They had the highest rewards and names Silk recognized. Brillig Oxley—Strags Curran—Gerick Cham—all of them vicious murderers, highwaymen destined for the gallows. They had been war heroes, for what side didn’t matter. Now they were wrong-minded psychos. This was the effect of the War. These men could not recover.
Digger walked up next to Silk and looked at the board with him. They stood for a moment with some town folk walking past behind them. Silk blew out a lung of smoke.
“How did you become sheriff here?” he asked.
“I go where the wind takes me,” Digger said.
“That’s sort of ridiculous.”
“How long are you going to stay here?” Silk asked.
“Well,” Digger said, drawing out the word. “That rather depends on you, as it happens.”
“Aye. As per preparing to become the Wiga, I’m obliged to learn from anyone who can beat me in a fight.”
“Is that a fact?” Silk said, scratching his cheek and raising an eyebrow.
“Aye. A tradition passed down through the ages.”
“I hate tradition,” Silk said. It was true, though he respected magic. It sounded like one of those magical contracts, like the legend about how the gods had declared that Engelkind could not be killed. A legend, most said, though the now eighty year old warlord gave the tale some credence. The gods made magical promises like that sometimes and men lived with the consequences. Some things could not be negotiated. The gods had a tricky way of declaring things that would happen no matter what.
Digger shrugged again. “Tradition means little to me one way or the other.”
“You’ve never gotten around it, though,” Silk said. Digger shook his head. Silk looked close at Digger’s calm expression. Digger’s eyes had a touch of resignation in them, as if he had tried to outwit the tradition and had failed. The look on Digger’s face made Silk think the consequences had been grave. It must be strange to live a life with a destined place in the world. Silk took joy in little, but he did find a great deal of comfort knowing that he made his own tomorrows.
Digger smiled and looked at Silk sideways. Such a child. Silk puffed on his cigar. He turned back to the board of wanted posters.
“These posters that have been slashed—the outlaw was caught?” he asked.
“For these here, I caught them,” Digger gestured at a handful in the corner. “Some of those were caught by locals or by travelers or mercenaries,” he pointed with an open hand to several others. None of them that he had pointed to so far had very high reward. “These,” he pointed at the three with the highest rewards—Oxley, Strags, and Cham. “These men turned up dead on the highway into the north.”
Silk smiled. “No one has tried collecting a reward for them?” He thought he knew the answer but he asked it anyway.
“Some have tried ,” Digger said.
“You didn’t give them the money,” Silk said, more a statement than a question. He smiled around his cigar.
“They weren’t up for hunting these brigands,” Digger said. “Anyway, whoever it was that killed them is still roaming the hills.”
“Do you know anything about him?” Silk thought he knew a little more himself about this vigilante. Van Vleidt said that Silk would find the vigilante useful. He wanted to know what Digger knew anyway.
“He’s stuffing these in the mouths of the outlaws’ corpses,” Digger took a little piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to Silk, “wrapped around a rock.”
Silk took the piece of paper. Come and get me, it read in simple, straight letters.
Continued December 13...