Authors: Lucas Thorn
She watched them chat together, and reflected how peaceful it would have looked if she hadn't know what lay beyond the walls.
She searched the shadows again, and thought she saw a goblin staring up at her from the shadows between a few houses. But as she narrowed her eyes to focus tighter on where he'd been, there proved to be nothing there at all. Just a barrel which had been broken in the battle, its contents already consumed by mud and snow.
The houses were mostly dark, with no lights in their muffled windows. Most of those who lived inside had already fled, or were gathered in clumps among the guards and mercenaries. Ready to assist in any way they could. Even if just with some soothing words to fighters whose nerves were stretched to snapping point.
Rest was an elusive spirit this night.
As if to echo the threat of impending death, ice glittered along the eaves of the houses like rows of frozen fangs. The cold appeared endless. But the clouds above the town were thinning, revealing patches of black between the fractured grey. Blackness punctured by stars.
Catching sight of a few speckled lights above, she remembered her dream. Of shadows folding on themselves. The vivid memory made her stomach crawl.
The sound of metal heavy on stone made her start and her eyes found the sight of Pad, working with a hammer and chisel beneath the gates. She assumed he was attempting to bolster them against the rams which would soon be deployed against them.
He worked fast, directing a few other men with chisels.
Everyone under the gates looked nervous. A few guards moved a little further away as though expecting the heavy stone arches over the gate to fall on their heads.
“What will you do now, my friend?” Eli yawned suddenly, scrubbing at his scalp with his fingertips. “There are too many of them to fight, you know. They will get inside. They will kill us all, I am sure of it. And then they will find you, yes? It seems you are wanted by everyone.”
Her voice was gentle, but she didn't try to hide the steel in her voice. “What the fuck are you doing in my room, Eli?”
“You were unconscious, Nysta. I could not wake you even when I pinch you hard in the cheek. I could have left you there. Could have killed you, too. But I am an honourable man and so could not leave you here alone. Not like you were. What would the world say about Eli? The whole of the Deadlands would say he was too afraid to face
Sharpe and his evil bastard sonsofbitches. No, Nysta. I stayed here to make sure you woke. So you could help me to kill them when this is over. And you will. Help me, I mean.” His eyes sparkled in the dark. “Because now, you owe me.”
“You sure all the bastards are out there? Seems they left one in my room. I thought about slitting your throat, you know. You snore.”
The mercenary chuckled. “We are all bastards in the Deadlands, my friend. You know this is true. You know it because you are the hardest bitch I have ever met. No no, Nysta. Please do not try to deny it. From me, it is a great compliment.”
She ignored that. “You sound sure it was Sharpe who sent him here. It didn't seem to me like anyone sent him. Reckon the choice was all his own.”
Eli climbed to his feet, rubbing at his knees as he did. Nodded emphatically. “Of course it was Sharpe. Who else? Pryke would not even piss without someone telling him to do so. Pryke is a worthless piece of shit, my friend. Trust me. It was the great
Sharpe who sent him here.”
“Pryke came at me before.” The elf said, still not convinced. “I winged him out there in the hall. Thought I'd given him enough reason to stay away. Could be he just felt the need for payback.”
“He will do what Sharpe tells him to do,” Eli insisted. “And if that bastard told him to bring you to him, then that is what he would do.”
“He wasn't trying to take me anywhere. Figure he was trying to send me to the Shadowed Halls is all.” She rubbed at her throat, feeling the echoes of the man's fingers digging into her neck. She didn't want to be distracted by the private war of the two men. If she was going to kill anyone, it would be for her own reasons. “More I think about it, Eli, the more I reckon he was on his own. When Sharpe arrived last time, he looked pissed at Pryke for being here in the first place.”
“Bah! You don't know our
Sharpe like I do, Nysta. The man is a weasel. I have known him many years. And he breeds weasels like Pryke to do his dirty work. You say Sharpe showed up when you cut Pryke the last time? Then why did Sharpe come here in the first place? What was he looking for? Looking for Pryke? I doubt this. He was looking for you, my friend.” Eli stepped toward her, arms wide as he tried to sway her opinion. “Maybe this one time Pryke does not do what Sharpe wanted. Maybe Pryke, filled with anger from your last meeting, comes on his own. But it does not change the fact that Sharpe rules this town like the Lord he thinks he is. Not Pryke. And it is Sharpe who wants you. He wants you so bad he can taste it. Because he knows with someone like you at his side, he could make his dream of being King come true. You would be a great tool for him. This is how he thinks. Even now, with an army outside his walls, he thinks only of a future where he rules the world. He is mad. Crazy. And right now, he is sitting somewhere in this town and he is thinking of nothing else. Only of you. You are the key to his vision. You mark my words, my friend.”
“And why are you so sure of that, Eli?”
He winced, and sadness welled in his expression. “Because he cannot help himself. We all have our obsessions. For me and you, it is the little things. Survival. Revenge. For him, he has bigger dreams. Dreams he cannot ever hope to achieve. It is the way he is. And this is not the first town he has tried to rule. Nor the first time he has tried to put himself on a throne. He has led many men to their deaths chasing this dream.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but snapped it shut again as she heard a dull thump just outside the window. He'd heard it too, and his hands shot to his knives.
“Fucking Sharpe,” he murmured, loud enough for only her ears to hear.
He said nothing more as she pressed a finger to her lips.
Peace Makes Plenty
from a sheath across her ribs, the elf shifted her weight slightly to angle away from window. The curtains were closed, but enough light speared through the gaps and around the edges for even Eli to see clearly in the room.
She glanced at him once, her fingers taking hold of the curtain. Suddenly aware of how trapped they were in the room, she jerked her head toward the door.
He nodded, creeping back slowly to press against the door, spinning his beautifully efficient knives in his hands.
The glass on the window let out a muted squeak as someone used their hand to wipe the frost from it.
She could hear them press their face against the glass.
A snuffled breath.
She flung the curtains aside with a snarl, using her boot to kick at the clasp and send the window smashing outward. The small figure let out a yelp and had to snatch hard at the window to stop from tumbling down.
Frozen air hissed into the room, whipping at the elf's jacket.
But this time it wasn't Pryke. Or any of Sharpe's men.
Instead, it was a goblin.
She sighed. “You fuckers are beginning to piss me off. Always appearing out of nowhere like this. Reckon if I kill you, another would pop out of the shadows?”
The little creature, terror spread across its face like a wet mask, looked up at her. A pleading expression in its glowing green eyes.
“No kill me, Bloodhand,” the goblin squeaked as she reached a hand out and grabbed hold of his throat. “I Spoonfed. Quietly send me. Give words to Bloodhand! Is all! Words.”
“Words?” The elf's violet eyes stared grimly. Her gaze flicked toward the goblinknife on his hip.
“Just words,” the goblin nodded. He spread his hands wide, far from the handle of his heavy goblinknife. “No fight, Bloodhand.”
Eli stepped up beside her.
“Is that a goblin?” He sounded amused.
“Little bastards have been following me,” she growled, dragging the goblin inside.
“It is as I said, my friend. The whole world is after you.” He slid his knives away. “I still would not trust him if I were you.”
“I ain't in the habit of trusting anyone,” she said. Then pulled the window shut, ignoring the curious looks of several guards posted in the street. Pulled the curtains half-closed, then nudged the creature with her boot.
He sat up, rubbing his head where he'd hit it against the window on the way inside. “You tough, elf,” he said reluctantly. “Me remember from before. See you in forest. You kill good.”
“You said your name is Spoonfed?”
“I Spoonfed,” the goblin nodded. He looked proud of it.
“Funny name,” Eli observed.
“What funny about name?” Spoonfed jumped to his feet, small hand wrapping tight around a large goblinknife. Defiance burned in his green eyes despite the obvious advantage in size Eli had over him. “Eventide say it best name. What name you have? I tell you no name. Because Eventide not give one. So, you fuckface. Nameless.”
Eli bent down to glare into the goblin's eyes. Fingers tightening around the handles of his knives. “You say that again, you little bastard.”
“Eli,” Nysta snapped. “Take the door.”
The mercenary muttered under his breath, but obeyed.
Dusting himself off, the goblin turned toward her. His feral grin showed teeth sharp enough to tear through bone.
“As for you,” she said, spinning
Peace Makes Plenty
in her fingers. “Talk. Say your words. But make them fast. I ain't known for being patient. And watch your mouth while you do. Might feel inclined to let Eli cut you up if you piss me off some more.”
“I not worry,” the goblin shrugged. “He nameless. I die, I go to Eventide's Hall. Knock on door and he know my name. Let me in. It warm.” His large luminous eyes boiled as they stared unblinking at Eli. “But when he die, he stay out in cold. Eventide not know his name. He warm only when goblin piss on him. He beg for pissing on. Me laugh ever and ever.”
Eli scowled. “It is me who will piss on you. Nysta, my friend, kick him back out into the snow. Let the little bastard fall to the street. Maybe it will break his mouth when he lands. Why would you want to talk to a goblin, anyway? He will tell you only lies. All the world knows they are nothing more than rats.”
“You quiet,” the goblin sounded imperious as he held up his hand. “Me talk Bloodhand. Only named speak now. Eventide not give shit what you say.”
“Now you're both pissing me off.” The elf heard noise outside and took to the window again. Saw a group of guards rushing down the street. She frowned at them. But spoke to Spoonfed; “You gonna get to the point?”
“Quietly send me. He say Spoonfed give words.”
“Yeah, you said that. And I got it the first time. Still waiting for you to get around to actually saying what you're supposed to say.”
“I not good word carrier,” the goblin said without trace of embarrassment. “He say we more goblins now. Many goblins.”
He scratched his head. Face screwed up in concentration, he counted off his fingers. Grinned happily and said; “Ten.”
“Ten,” Eli sighed. “Big help.”
“Shut up, Eli.” She turned to the fuming goblin. “Where are they?”
“Some in town. Some in trees.”
“How many here, in the town?”
“Tell Quietly we need him at the gates. The Grey Jackets are going to try for the gates. We'll need to hold there.”
“I tell him,” Spoonfed said reluctantly. “But he not do that. He say one at gate, then eight come behind. Kill Grey Jackets. Lots of them. Open way for Bloodhand to kill thief. He say Bloodhand be ready.”
“That's only nine.”
The goblin scratched at his armpit and shrugged. “Bigshot go for wagons. Man with big sword, he have treasure. But he take magic sword to gate, Quietly say. Where Bloodhand can kill him good.”
“Treasure?” Eli's face lit up. “Did you say treasure?”
“Goblin treasure,” Nysta pointed out.
Spoonfed peered up at them, unsure what to make of their exchange. “We take treasure back. Eventide happy. We best there is.”
“It good plan.”
The elf thought about the armed men waiting in front of the small fort. Thought about the handful of weary defenders who struggled without the help of a healer.
And wondered if ten goblins could really tip the balance in their favour.
“If you say so, feller,” she said, accepting his beaming grin. She pressed her fingers to her temples. Pain pulsed acidly through her skull. “It's a good plan, I guess. Better than any others I can think of. And a handful of goblins won't make much difference no matter where you are, I guess.”
The goblin's face was grim, his wide froglike mouth parted to show those sharp bladed teeth. “We kill Grey Jackets when gates fall. We good at killing Grey Jackets. Better than humans.”
“I hope you are better at killing than you are at sneaking,” Eli countered.
Spoonfed's cheeks flushed. “You nameless,” he sneered. “You nothing. You fuck self.” And he bounded toward the window with a dismissive sniff. “I go now. Quietly say I hurry back. He want words. I take words from Bloodhand?”
“Just tell him to be there, feller.”
“It be good fight,” Spoonfed licked his lips in anticipation. A fox before a henhouse. He paused on the window's ledge. “You see. We fight with Bloodhand. Bloodhand kill thief good.”
When he was gone, Eli shook his head. Sighed deeply. “Ah, Nysta. How well do you know my good friend, Ffloyd?”
“Not sure he thinks of you as a friend, Eli.”
“He has a saying.” The weasel-faced mercenary ignored her barb. “Have you heard him tell it?”
“We are so fucked. He says this a lot. This time, I think I believe him.”
She watched Spoonfed as he slipped into an alley.
Thought she caught sight of another set of green eyes looking up at her. But they were quickly consumed by the shadows.