All the electric zing of the prettiest uppercut Silk had ever received tingled up and down his body, which made a long arc up, back, off his feet. He gave the Digger kid credit. This was not the easy fight that Silk had put money on to win. In fact, at the moment of the uppercut, Silk thought that he might--impossible as it sounded--lose. Fire and brimstone, what a ludicrous thought.
Still, it was a real thought that went through his head as he fell to the ground. His bare shoulder hit the cold stones of the courtyard and he skidded for a few feet before coming to stop in a smear of the red blood leaking from abrasions on his bare brown chest and face. He tried to keep the world, spinning in his dizzy head, from moving too much.
What a day.
He had arrived in Súthende early in the morning. Hardly anyone in the town walked the streets. Those that did stared at Silk as he passed. Silk attracted attention most places. He rode a palomino war stallion so he loomed over everyone, and he dressed in red leather and velvet with gold brocade so he caught the eye. Even when he walked he stood taller than many people. In this cold end of the world, where men tended to be pale-faced and tawny haired, Silk’s dark skin and black dreadlocks made him stand out even more.
Arriving at the best inn he could find in the small Súthende, Silk handed his horse’s reins to the boy at the door. Silk went inside the inn and asked for a room from the man at the bar.
“Aye, we’ve got one,”the man said, looking up at Silk’s face. Silk grinned at the man. It was a cheerful grin—disarming. The man looked put at ease. He led Silk upstairs and opened a room for him. Silk asked for some food and a bottle of wine, which the innkeeper brought and left by the door. Silk ate it quickly. Then he lit a cigar, took the bottle of wine with him, and went out into the town. He couldn’t bear to be still in the quiet room.
Súthende was a town of a few thousand. There were a couple inns and markets, and enough people for a healthy gambling population . Silk ambled down the street, saying hello to people he saw. None knew his face—not yet, anyway. He’d be famous soon. Every new town he entered he tried to become somehow famous. A comfortable level of fame greased the bearings in his shenanigans.
And news was hard on his heels that would ruin his reputation. Súthende would be the last town he could be popular. The thought of having notoriety again somehow thrilled him. He’d been feared, held in awe, and, since the War, generally respected—or feared so that men held their tongues in his presence. He was the Warlord Engelkind’s primary hit man—his name the stuff of legends and monster stories. As such, Silk Golinvaux could mention his own name and everyone fell in line, did what he said without question. His presence created order. It had been more than a decade since he had needed to fight for anything. The pseudo-calm felt nice, to a certain point. Without expecting to bash a few heads in daily his life had attained a new and unknown level of decadence and gaiety—comfort, almost. The leisure had allowed him to explore the intricacies of his position; as Engelkind’s hit man, Silk had always understood the significance of his movements inside Engelkind’s armies and larger military strikes. The title of“hit man” had been assigned arbitrarily when no one could quite figure what Silk was meant to do. He performed assassinations throughout the latter years of the war, certainly, but he also conducted armies in military actions, designed siege weapons occasionally, delivered politically touchy messages to enemies and friends alike, and aided in guerrilla strikes on enemy establishments. The guerrilla strikes perhaps fit his talents best. They demanded most of the talents he gained in the farthest south among the dark skinned pirates around the southern peninsula.
Every year he kept a personal tally of his accomplishments, always pushing for the next most impossible task. He had achieved as he went the level of freedom he always wanted: he commanded nothing and could not be commanded, but everyone knew his name. And he had accomplished every feat of cunning he could imagine. Only one great task remained to be mastered, and it required an abandonment of everything he had done before it. His culminating work: he had declared open war on Engelkind. Just himself—no other people, unless he gathered more to his cause. He was not likely to attract anyone to it. Engelkind was the big dog. Opposing Engelking got people killed.
Silk’s letter to Engelkind announcing his personal declaration would have arrived a day or two ago. News of it would spread and get this far north soon…. Or Engelkind would ignore it. Silk ran that risk. The proposition sounded ludicrous. A man declaring war on another man—not quite reasonable at first blush. And Silk had been careful to declare war on Engelkind the man, not on his institutions. In his position as warlord ruling a third of the world, the most effective armies in history at his disposal, Engelkind could very well ignore Silk’s letter. He’d deal with that if it happened. Engelkind would never ignore Silk’s actions.
And, first action, Silk waited for an agent from the north, due to arrive in Súthende soon.
Silk turned down an alley, pulling his gold-brocade-hemmed hood onto his head. At the end of the cobblestone alley several men played dice and gambled on the game against the back wall. He exhaled a drag off his cigar and sipped from the bottle of wine. Stepping lightly, so as to not startle anyone, he came to stand next to a big man near the back of the small crowd watching the dice rolls. Like any bored farmers and craftsmen would, the crowd found the game of dice enthralling. The cheered one of the men playing—booed another. Silk watched the game with the others, feigning as deep an interest as the others. He kept his cheer of a good roll quiet and his reaction to a bad one neutral. After a few more rolls he judged that he’d stood there long enough to be taken for granted by those nearest him.
Another good roll from the favored dice player. The crowd cheered. The big man next to Silk chuckled and clapped.
“Good roll, that,” Silk said.
“Aye—our lad has a supple wrist,”the man said.
“You got money on him?” Silk asked. The man, smiling, tapped the side of his nose knowingly. “Who’s your bookie?” Silk offered the man the bottle of wine. Smiling wanly and raising a suspicious eyebrow, the man took the bottle of wine and raised it to his lips anyway. “I know of a game that I think I could make a killing on.”
That got the man’s attention. He lowered the bottle and looked closer at Silk. Silk scratched his cheek and yawned, blocking most of his face from the man’s view without looking suspicious. It was enough to distract this big man, most probably.
“I hear there’s a big time fighter from the south in town bragging he can best the sheriff,” Silk said.
The big man chuckled again. “No man can best our sheriff,” he said, raising the bottle of wine to his lips. He looked thoughtful, though, considering the angles of a fight like that.
“I’m not so sure,” Silk said.“This fighter was in the Wars—part of some elite militia.”
“I was in the fucking Wars,” the big man said. He handed Silk back his wine. The big man looked curious. “No man can best our sheriff, not even some southern elite militiaman.”
“Might be the case,” Silk said.
“You just consider switching your bet,” the big man said.
“Might have to do that,” Silk said. He turned to leave. As he did he listened to the big man asking the next man along if he’d heard of this alleged sheriff versus the southern stranger fight. The second man also insisted that no one could best the sheriff, but he also expressed that the “southern shitegob” must have the stones of a horse.
Silk smiled. He meandered through town. Down that alley—more gambling is happening there. Turning down the alley he inquired about a bookie because he had heard that the Man Monster Silk Golinvaux was in town, raring to start a ruckus. After planting that seed in the imagination of a young, greedy bookie, Silk needed another bottle of wine. In the wine shop he found he let drop that he heard the other wine shop he’d seen had told him that they were going to go and set up a little shop out in town square to sell wine to the spectators already planning to show up to the big fight between the out of towner and the sheriff. Silk took some satisfaction in the sight of the shopkeeper’s boy running out of the shop, clearly on some urgent mission, a message on a piece of paper clutched in his hand.