The book should be available now so this is the last snippet.
The Heretic – Snippet 42
At least so Abel thought. For suddenly, just as the last of the mopping up had seemed to be accomplished, there came a cry from the village, and the renewed bellow and scream of donts.
He tried to locate the source, as did others.
The low cry of a bone horn. Two. Three. The Blaskoye instrument of war.
They want us to look, find them, to see.
And he whirled toward the village —
And did see.
Blaskoye on dontback, perhaps thirty or so, riding out, riding directly toward them, toward the assembled forces of Treville.
And no Blaskoye with a drawn musket.
Only with a gleaming knife, each taken from some scrapyard of the Redland sandpits and worked to sharpness. Each knife held at a neck.
The neck of a child.
On they rode, closer.
Is that –? Can they really be –?
Aye, it is, Raj growled. Aye, it is.
They were using the children as shields. Carbines whirled, hard eyes aimed.
And then the guns lowered. The riders came on.
They slowed but slightly. Enough to allow the lines to part.
They parted not far from Abel, and he saw the Blaskoye riders.
These were not run-of-the-mill warriors. Anyone could see it who had eyes. First, they did not wear mere white robes, but wore linen tunics, red sash belts, and legwraps, all very similar to the uniform of the Scouts. They wore turbans of iron red, so there was no mistaking them for Scouts, however.
Most of all, their faces were swirled with tattoos. Angry welts that looked more burned into place with firebrands than inked with charcoal-coated thorns.
The one who rode in the lead was not the largest, but there was something about him that seemed to bristle more than the others. Perhaps it was the fact that he held an actual silver knife.
No, not silver, said Center. It is steel and chrome. The surface is an electroplated coating of chromium. Very curious.
Whatever it was made of, it gleamed against the throat of a little girl, dark-haired, who looked about terrified. A bead of blood like gemstones had formed where the knife had already sliced into skin.
“You!” shouted Abel. “You, silver knife!”
At this, the Blaskoye turned and looked about furiously.
Abel pointed the dragon pistol at him. It was reloaded. Somehow he’d done it in the turmoil. It was cocked and ready to fire.
The Blaskoye met Abel’s gaze. He did not flinch, but returned it as hard and as void of mercy as it had been delivered.
Then he smiled, and with a kick, urged his dont on. Through the lines they went and up the hill.
The women, Abel thought. They won’t see in time. Won’t know.
He turned and galloped after the Blaskoye. But it was too late.
A crackle of fire. Two, three Blaskoye fell. As did their hostages.
And then a cry of anguish, of horror, as the Blaskoye drew near and the women saw what they had done.
That was when, at an order from the one with the sliver knife, the Blaskoye drew their carbines and, keeping their children in hand, raised the guns and fired into the crowd of mothers, sisters, and wives, armed, but unable to shoot, held back by a compassion that proved their own undoing.
The Blaskoye rode through the hole they had blasted in the line of the woman auxiliaries. And then they were up the hill and away.
The Scouts are out there, Abel thought. They’ll get them.
I wouldn’t be so certain, Raj said. A gang like that will have considered that possibility. They may have an alternate route.
Indeed, said Center. The Scouts cannot be everywhere, and this one, the leader, is one who can guess where they have stationed themselves and avoid it.
He’s the leader? Silver knife?
Chrome. Yes. Psychometric observation of his subordinates’ comportment confirms to a high certainty this status.
I want to kill him.
Of course you do, lad, said Raj.
I will kill him.
To this, Raj did not answer.
Then Abel rode up the hill to the women and saw what the Blaskoye had wrought. A dozen lay wounded, dead or dying.
Among these was Mahaut. Her right leg and a portion of her belly had been laid open by a minié ball. She was still alive, but Abel did not think she could survive such a wound. He dismounted, knelt beside her.
Was there a watersack canteen nearby? Yes, he pulled one from a dead body, brought it to Mahaut.
“I live,” she said.
“Yes,” he answered. “Drink.”
He drizzled water over her lips and she licked them.
“The girl,” she said.
“Yes,” said Abel.
“He had her.”
“Yes,” said Abel.
He dripped another bead of water onto Mahaut’s lips and she coughed, blood. He took off his scarf and wiped the blood away from her lips so she could draw in a ragged breath. There was nothing he could do about the groin, the gut.
“My niece,” she said. “A Jacobson. But still. Mine. Loreilei.”
“Oh,” he said.
“I don’t know,” Abel said.
“Fuck,” she said, as a wave of pain hit her. “Fuck, fuck.”
And then her head fell to the side and she was unconscious, bleeding her life away.
Abel set her down and remounted. The men of the Militia were beginning to catch up with him, and the surviving women were gathering around. When he had a sufficient number in earshot, he called out to them.
“We will follow,” he said. “We will find them. We will stop them. And we will not stop until we get our children back.”
It took only until sunset. The circling kill-flitters showed the way.
They lay in a pile on the side of a defile that led upward toward the Escarpment proper, and at first it had looked to Abel like a pile of dak carcasses, the sort he might see in the butcher’s yard before a feast day.
But these were not daks.
Abel wondered for a moment why here, why he, the one he now thought of as Silver Knife, had chosen this spot. The path did not seem to grow any more steep here. There was no particular landmark. It was only a gravel-filled gulley.
Then Abel turned around and looked back into the Valley.
There was a clear sight of Lilleheim below.
He must have shown them the village before he ordered them slain, Abel thought. One last glimpse of the home they would never see again.
Yes, Center said. That is how it was. He offered no further deductive reasoning beyond this pronouncement.
And they are all here? All these children of Lilleheim?
No, Center answered.
The count is wrong for that. There is one missing.
Which one —
But he already knew the answer.
The Jacobson girl. Silver Knife had kept her. As a taunt.