The Heretic – Snippet 30
“There’s more for you both,” Abel said, bringing the whip back to rest coiled at his feet. “Or will you take me to the DMC?”
The two began to back away. “You’ll pay for it,” the hand-slicked one said.
Abel shook his head. “Lo, idyuts! Jus fur yer et asken did Ah ye pop. Be yeh Scout nur River manglage? Up standen, thrice-be-yer-damnt! Tha russet shalt tha proud wearen, or agin to pop yer Ah wilt!”
Abel cracked the whip once more in the air for good measure. This got even the attention of the Scout who was holding his face.
“Attenthut, yer stinket modderfuckern!”
Even through the pain of the whiplashes, Abel could see the surprise of the men as it dawned on them he was speaking in the Scoutish patois. Now that he was sure they did understand this fact, he switched over the Landish.
“Stand like men!” he roared. “Report to an officer!”
And, to his own amazement — although he was careful not to betray it in the slightest — they obeyed. First a little, and then when each saw the other was acquiescing, more quickly. Face-welt dropped his hands to his side first and looked forward, and hand-burn followed suit. The movement almost became a race between them.
“Sir!” shouted Face-welt.
Golitsin, who had been busy holding his startled dont steady, said nothing, but shot the tiniest smile toward Abel. Abel heard the air escaping over his teeth in a low whistle, more an expression of relief than admiration, Abel figured.
Spet had not moved. He may not be the smartest of donts, but he was a Scout mount, all right, and knew how to stand his ground.
“I have come up from Treville at the special directive of the DMC himself, and I do not have time to waste seeing to your very deserved three days lashed to a wheel,” Abel said. Being strapped to a wagon wheel and fed on bread and water for a three-day period, some of it spent upside down, was the legendary punishment for letting down another Scout on patrol. Abel figured these would have at least heard of its practice. He, himself, has seen Sharplett order it against one man, Dooley, a Delta boy who had been a forced recruit, but had since become a damn fine Scout. “I’m also not going to ask why you are living like Redlander sons-of-bitches wallowing around with full bellies after a raid for child-flesh. I haven’t got the stomach or time for it. All I require of you pieces of shit is for you to tell me this: where can I find your DMC?”
“Sir,” said Hand-burn. “He’s a ways yonder in the fort. He’ll be counting the daks?”
“Herd was run in yesterday, sir, for branding,” replied Face-welt. “He always counts ’em off for shares. Scouts get an eighth and Regulars the rest.”
“And where was this herd of daks run in from?” Abel asked, already knowing he wasn’t going to like the answer.
Face-welt darted his eyes nervously at Hand-burn. Abel let the whip uncoil once again.
“From the east, sir,” Hand-burn answered quickly.
“Nothing to the east but the Escarpment,” Golitsin said. “Unless you mean, farther than that.”
“Is that what you mean?” Abel said. “From beyond the Escarpment?”
Face-welt nodded. “They’re Redlands daks, sir. Least that’s where they come here from.” He fell into Scout patois. “Brands ov the Land overscattered on dem daks. For that ist them agin burned. Tha brands Cascade to maken.”
And you can bet your life that most of those original brands are from Treville ranches, Raj said, confirming what Abel already suspected.
Abel felt like cursing, but only nodded. “I see,” he said. “All right, take us to the DMC.”
The Scouts turned and began to do as he said, when Abel halted them gruffly. “Pick up those thrice-damned rifles,” he said, “and march like men.”
They passed the dead dont and continued up the road. The two Scouts, to Abel’s surprised, stepped lively.
They almost seem to be enjoying themselves, Abel thought.
You’ve given them back their self-respect, said Raj. They’ll never understand it, or admit it if they do, but so you have.
There was a cloud of dust ahead that resolved into an approaching man on dontback and a retinue of soldiers on foot. There were six of them. The Scouts ahead of Abel halted, stood at attention, and Abel rode past them to meet the approaching rider.
“Halt right there, stranger,” said the man. He wore the three-striped tunic of the district military commander. So this was General Pat Bundren.
“Lieutenant Abel Dashian of Treville District Command reporting, sir,” Abel said. “I have been sent on special assignment to look after the grave conditions of the district gunpowder supplies, commander.”
“Have you now?” the man said. “And do you have your bonifides to prove it?”
“I do.” Abel reached back into his saddlebag. The soldiers surround the Cascade DMC warily lifted their muskets when he did so, but their commander smiled and bade them lower the muzzles. Abel found what he was looking for, a rolled papyrus message, sealed with wax impressed with his father’s scarab seal. Its ends were tinted red, the color of a courier communique. “Introduction from DMC Dashian himself for your perusal, sir.”
He held it out. Bundren approached no further and did not take the scroll. He nodded. “You can put that away. I recognize a Dashian when I see one. You’re the son?”
“I have that honor, sir.”
“Yes, and it is…an honor. Joab was quite the character back when we served in the Tabernacle guardians.” Bundren chuckled. “Yes, quite the character. He had me up for baiting the carnadons, once. I don’t know if he ever found out we were fighting them, too, in one of the lower pools.”
Abel said nothing. He stowed the scroll back into his saddlebag.