“Wait…” Digger said. He turned back to Silk. Silk had already turned back on his walk to his inn. He sang an old marching song as he went. It felt good to be getting on with his life. He’d been feeling far too decadent of late. Moving forward excited him.
“Come along, Wiggend Lordling,” Digger said, using an old title for the son of the Wiga. “I believe that your tenure as an employee of the state has ended.”
Wexerly, the bright-eyed leader of urchins, looked from under his too-big hat and too-big coat at Silk Golinvaux and the one they called Digger McGrath, the Wiggend Lordling, as they had their conversation. He watched from behind some dustbins with the young lads who followed him, smiling as the man, whose name was Collin, put up the poster proclaiming Silk enemy of the state. Collin, when he saw the poster, did a double-take on it. He looked with fear around at Silk, who grinned as he walked away with Digger McGrath. When he finished securing the poster Collin hurried to whisper in Digger’s ear, to tell him that Silk was an outlawed criminal—as if Digger had not seen the sign. Collin spoke urgently in Digger’s ear, making it clear by his posture and frenzied pointing at Silk’s back, that it was a big-ass deal. Digger paused to listen. In his profile, Wexerly saw subdued pain. Digger had already committed to go with Silk. He had also agreed to protect Súthende from danger. Collin perceived a threat: Silk the Beast stood not ten feet away, and the state had declared him an enemy.
Digger’s shoulders rose and fell in a sigh. This was not how he had wanted to tell the good people of Súthende his life outgrew them. It made Wexerly smile. Sometimes the will of the gods manifested itself, knocking lazy asses into action for them. Wexerly liked Silk because he had embraced that—somewhat atheistically, perhaps, but with joy nonetheless.
Digger finished explaining to Collin that he would no longer be sheriff. Collin, with horror on his face, shoved Digger. The shove hardly did anything—Digger swayed. After it, Collin ran away, shouting, “Police! Police!” which, according to the urban legend—never tested—would rouse Engelkind’s Secret Police.
“Old Collin’s gone and done it now,” Ned said.
“Garn,” Stodge said with a little awe. “He’s got bigger balls than you’d guess looking at him.”
Wexerly ducked behind the dustbins. Crouching, he pivoted to look at his gang. Due to recent mortalities, and some of them going off to better lives, and several being at home with their families, Wexerly’s staunch companions amounted to only two today: round Ned and tall Stodge. All covered in grime, they squatted with him among the garbage in the alley, his loyal followers—the most recent in a long line of gangs he had led. They looked up to him, the urchins, because he was a bit wittier, a bit scheminger, and a bit older—in fact, more than a hundred years older, but he looked like a boy. It was partly his gravitas that allowed him to lead; the searching lads saw in Wexerly a seriousness that they lacked. At the same time, he always smiled and joked, and they liked that. If ever asked, the boys never quite knew why they followed Wexerly. They would invariably give the reason, “He took our last leader in a fight.”
“We’ll have to keep our heads low,” Wexerly said with a smile. “Things are about to be exciting.”
“Why?” Ned asked. “What’s happening?”
“You know who Engelkind is?” Wexerly asked.
“Not really,” Stodge said, scratching his greasy head under his hat.
“He’s the king,” Ned said.
“Close enough. You scared of him?”
“Of course—he’s the fucking king, isn’t he?”
“Sort of,” Wexerly said, smiling.
“And he made the Secret Police,” Ned said, he said it quickly. No one wanted to be caught talking about the Secret Police.
“You ever met anyone who’s in the Secret Police?” Wexerly asked. Ned and Stodge looked at Wexerly like he was stupid.
“It’s secret, isn’t it?” Ned said.
“That’s why,” Stodge said.
“Oh—right,” Wexerly said. He smiled. “Come on, lads—there’ll be a riot.”
Already, men from the town had begun rushing toward the shouts of “Police—police” raised by Collin. They called out to others to join the chase. Soon a crowd ran after Silk and Digger, brandishing cudgels and staves, some with crossbows. They shouted that the Secret Police would soon show themselves. It was the duty of men to give the Secret Police a hand until they could gather.
Wexerly led his lads through the alleys, avoiding the massing mob. The truth of it was—and Wexerly knew—no Secret Police existed. Some semi-intelligent citizens were frequently tapped by lieutenants of Engelkind. The lieutenants told men in secret that they had been recruited to the junior level of the Secret Police—if they performed well, they would be promoted to the inner circle. But no inner circle existed . As a result, those few instigators who thought that they would any day be included in the secrets of the Secret Police did everything they could to please the “real” inner circle agents, no doubt watching from every dark alley. They knew full well that if they misbehaved then they were likely to meet an accident; that part at least had a good deal of truth in it. The system worked well to police itself, and it reacted quickly to perceived threats like Silk, enemy of state. Wexerly found the whole equation funny—though he sometimes reflected that it was, in fact, tragic. The frightening part to Wexerly came in the form of the few men he’d seen who he could explain as nothing but actual Secret Policemen. No one had ever believed him about that, though.
He ran through an alley and paused at the end. The wind rushed past—the cobbles felt cold on his bare feet. Ned and Stodge asked what had happened. They heard a second later what Wexerly had: the crowd incited by Secret Police hopefuls rushed past, shouting and waving clubs. In an alley across from Wexerly he saw a bit of red and gold, and Wexerly ducked behind Stodge. Silk emerged from the far alley with Digger. They ran the opposite way of the crowd.
“What’s up?” Stodge asked Wexerly.
“Silk over there knows me,” Wexerly said.
“You don’t want him knowing you’re around?” Ned said, looking wise and serious. Wexerly nodded.
“We need to get to Hole in the Wall, though,” Wexerly said, mentioning the café and reading room where he and the gang occasionally went to get warm. Hole in the Wall was run by friends of Wexerly’s, some friends who would be interested to know what caused the ruckus.
“Aye,” Stodge said.
“We’ll get you there,” Ned nodded, pulling the brim of his cap down.
"Thanks, lads," Wexerly said.
Continued on December 17...