I recovered from most of the concussion symptoms a few days ago, but all the bed rest required aggravated my spinal injury and gave me neck spasms. Now I am on a witch’s brew of Robaxacet and assorted pain medications, which are allowing me to function well enough to write a little, but not well enough to sleep all the way through the night. Last night I got up about midnight and wrote a chapter for the second episode of Where Angels Die. I post it here, as it might amuse some of my 3.6 Loyal Readers.
Sergeant Gurin Newfort was the most senior man in the garrison of Angel Keep, not excepting the two captains. He was a short square man with square shoulders, a square face, and a nearly square nose that had been pushed off-kilter in battle some time or other. He had grizzled temples, bushy eyebrows, and a gravelly voice. He had been serving in the Army of the Commonwealth (Ambarand Regiment) before most of the men at Angel Keep were born.
Sergeant Newfort brooked no nonsense, took no chances, and knew every word of the Prince’s Regulations forwards and backwards. It was this accomplishment that made him essential to Revel’s scheme, for he also knew every loophole, and how to use it to maximum effect. He was unnaturally lucky at dice, though he had never been caught cheating; some of the men speculated that the dice liked him, because squares stuck together. Nobody knew what he did with his winnings, but he was chronically short of money. It was rumoured that he had found a legal way to ship Angel Keep home to Ambarand stone by stone, as soon as he put by enough cash to pay the freight.
The particular stones that enclosed Newfort’s quarters were old and grey, scarred and pitted by aeons of weather. They hardly looked as if they would survive a sea voyage. His seniority got him two rooms in the gatehouse, on the second story of the garrison quarters. From the larger of these, he could look down squarely through a wide square window and scowl at the troops performing their duties in the Yellow Court. The Yellow Court was not square at all; some of the men believed that he disapproved of this, but nobody had ever dared to ask him.
When Greyhand and the paladins found Newfort, he was not scowling at anything, and the window was shuttered tightly against the cold. He was sitting quite placidly at a table in his quarters, cleaning his saddle with neat’s-foot oil. From somewhere in his clothing, Revel produced a blue handkerchief tied up into a bag, which jingled brightly when he handled it. ‘Newfort, old boy! I want a word with you.’
The sergeant glanced up at the three standing in his doorway. ‘Well?’
‘Wait for us,’ Revel told the Badger, who smiled and cleared off. ‘Mind if we sit, Sergeant?’
‘Please yourselves,’ said Newfort, and went on with his cleaning; but he had one eye on the blue bag.
Revel and Greyhand picked up a pair of small, leather-seated stools and set them at the table opposite the sergeant. ‘That was a lucky run you had the other night, even for you,’ said Revel when he was comfortably seated. ‘I was a little put out at the time, but I want to make amends. I came to congratulate you – and see about paying up.’
Up went Newfort’s eyebrows, and down went his chamois. ‘Seventy-five jei?’
‘Right here.’ Revel jingled the bag. ‘I called in some favours. Speaking of which—’
‘I don’t do favours.’
‘I want to do you a favour. Believe me, you’ll thank me for letting you in.’
‘Letting me into what?’
‘I need eight of your troopers for a patrol. There’s Taken in Limsun, you know.’
‘Easy as pease. Baron orders captain, captain orders troops. What do you want me for?’
‘We haven’t exactly got orders,’ Revel admitted.
‘I don’t sneeze without orders. You’re asking me to send out eight men without leave.’
‘I am,’ said Revel, with a smile that made him look slightly insane.
‘To Limsun, where they might get killed or Taken themselves.’
‘Why not? I’m going.’
‘This is a joke,’ said Newfort, as if he had heard of such a thing but never actually experienced one. ‘He’s joking me, isn’t he, Greyhand?’
The steward shook his head solemnly.
‘Then he’s out of his mind. His carthorse has slipped its harness, hasn’t it?’
‘All right, what’s the game?’
‘The overland road from here to Prince Jasru’s winter camp,’ Revel explained, ‘happens to pass through Limsun. The Badger and I are going to do a little demon-hunting, and then for a change of pace, we’re going to see His Highness and get his seal on a piece of paper.’
‘With eight of my men in your charge?’
‘Of course not. You’ll be coming with us.’
The sergeant’s square face was not well constructed to show blank astonishment, but somehow he managed it. ‘I will? Kid, I’ve been under the colours for twenty-seven years and five wars, and I’m still in one piece. You know why? Because I don’t break regulations, I don’t stick my neck out, and I don’t volunteer for anything.’
‘You should try it someday,’ said Revel. ‘Today would be good.’
Newfort threw up his hands in exasperation. ‘Why am I listening to this when I could be shovelling out latrines? Let me get this straight. You want me to take eight of my men and ride out in the teeth of the demons’ winter.’
‘And then pay a visit to Prince Jasru, who can make me a prisoner, a private, or a pincushion, whichever he feels like.’
‘Assuming we don’t get killed in battle, or Taken, or freeze to death first.’
‘Yes.’ Revel was beaming like an unhinged saint.
Annoyance and perplexity contended on Newfort’s face. The sheer lunacy of Revel’s proposition was drawing him in, leaving sense, good judgement, and the Prince’s Regulations far behind. Having heard this much, he could not send the paladin away without satisfying his curiosity. Greyhand was consumed with admiration for Revel’s technique; he made a mental note to use it on the Baron sometime.
‘All right, I’ll nibble. What’s in it for me?’
‘You certainly know how to persuade a fellow,’ said Newfort drily. ‘This is quite a favour you’re doing me.’
‘Let me clarify,’ said Revel. ‘There is nothing in it for you directly, but a great deal for our friend here.’
‘Oh?’ Newfort gave Greyhand a sidelong glance. ‘Hmm, well. He’s a good kid. What does he get?’
‘An official title, for one thing.’
‘Good for him. And so?’
‘Along with the title, he’ll get certain – opportunities.’
‘Bribes, you mean.’
Revel gave an apologetic little shrug. ‘If you like. At any rate, he’ll put his hands on certain funds that he does not have in his keeping at present. And it would be only natural if some of those funds went from his hands to those of his friends.’
Newfort looked very stiff and formal, and even squarer than usual. ‘You are aware, sir, that I am not allowed to accept any gifts, gratuities, or emoluments outside of my pay.’
‘Of course not!’ Revel managed to look shocked at the idea. ‘That would be most improper.’
‘It certainly would.’ The sergeant picked up his chamois and turned his attention back to his saddle.
‘Ah, well. Sorry to trouble you.’
‘Not at all.’
Revel got up to leave, then stopped as if he had just thought of something. ‘Oh, by the way, Newfort, I should probably give you my regrets.’
The chamois stopped in mid-rub. ‘Regrets? What for?’
‘Well, I’m not familiar with the country north of here. If I ride out by myself, I’ll probably get lost and have to miss our next game. A pity, really. I was expecting to have some extra money – gift from a friend.’
Down went the chamois again. Newfort’s brow furrowed, his eyes narrowed. His thoughts were falling into line like tumblers in a lock. Greyhand could almost hear them clicking in his head.
‘Well, now,’ said Sergeant Newfort very slowly. ‘We can’t have our exorcists riding abroad without a suitably armed escort. Regulations, you know. So when are we going?’
‘Greyhand?’ prompted Revel.
‘Eh? The sooner the better, I suppose. First light tomorrow?’
‘Done,’ said Newfort. ‘Revel, you can leave that money on the table by the door. I do admire an officer who pays his debts.’