Read Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures) Online

Authors: Terry Kroenung

Tags: #Humor, #Fantasy

Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures) (29 page)

BOOK: Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures)
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Sniffing, I gulped air, collected my thoughts, and reassumed my Mary Williams role. I spun him much same tale I’d told Tyrell about my lost brother, but added a bit about losing good and faithful Tom, Pa’s best hand, who’d raised me from a pup. If I didn’t find Tom my Daddy’d whup me, not to mention that I’d be all sorrowful about losing my best friend. That last part didn’t require much in the way of a performance.

“Loose slaves have all been rounded up and put to work diggin’ fortifications, darlin’,” the plump soldier told me. “North and east o’ town. That’s what I’ve been doin’ all day. If we see ‘em we line ‘em up and march ‘em off. Sometimes folks point ‘em out to us, then we grab ‘em and add ‘em to the bunch. Don’t recall seein’ that buck o’ yours, though. But there’s other details besides mine.”

“Where do you send ‘em?” I asked, calming down liked oiled waters as I grasped at this straw. “Is there a central place they go before bein’ sent to the works?”

He wiped his face with a bandana no drier than the rest of him, his musket slung over his shoulder, muzzle-down to keep the water out. Another bandana had been wrapped around the lock for the same reason. “ No, we just get ‘em all out to either the Williamsburg Road to the east or the Mechanicsville Turnpike farther north. Whichever’s closest. Somebody there decides where to send each bunch.”

For the first time I looked past him to see his detail. Five other soldiers, as bedraggled as hobos, stood guard on maybe a dozen forlorn black men of all shapes and sizes. None of them was my Romulus. “Where are y’all goin’?”

“North side. The fightin’s all out the Williamsburg way. Federals sent out a forced reconnaissance, ran into Huger’s brigade. Sharp work over there. But General Lee’s afeard that McClellan will take the chance to move around us to the north, so we’re to extend the trench line.”

This was the best-informed sergeant I’d ever run into. Most soldiers seldom knew anything more about the tactical situation than, “Well, the colonel says fer us to go get ‘em yonder.”
Maybe that’s why the Rebs do so well.

“Could I tag along with you? See if he’s there?” I begged, putting on my best and cutest face. It wasn’t much, after the rain and crying and whatnot, but I tried. “I’d be ever so grateful.”

“Land sakes, no, child!” His horrified expression told me that he’d prefer charging grapeshot. “It’d be as much as my backside’s worth to take a little girl out there. For all we know the entire Yankee army’s about to charge into Richmond with all they got. Your Pa wouldn’t thank me if I got his baby captured or worse.”

I stuck out my lower lip in a great big pout and let it quiver a bit. My tear-stained eyes started to well up some. A catch came into my breath as if an enormous sob was on the way. Eddie would’ve been proud. I hadn’t been spending all that time at Ford’s Theatre for nothing.

My performance worked…sort of. The sergeant must’ve had at least one daughter, because he had the look of a man who’d do almost anything to avoid the waterworks. “All right, all right. Tell you what. I cain’t take you with us, but I can look ‘round when we get there and see if your Tom’s in sight. Where’ll you be so I can send a message?”

Good question. Sticking where I was wouldn’t do. Tyrell might retrace his steps as I’d done and come looking for me. I couldn’t afford to waste time running from him or figuring out another escape. “Where’s General Lee’s headquarters?”

“Out along Nine Mile Road, just past Battery Five. Widow Dabbs’ house. A little more than a mile east of town. ‘Bout two miles from where we sit.” My benefactor cocked his head at me and squinted. “Why? You surely ain’t thinkin’ o’ goin’ out there?”

“Why not? I imagine that General Lee’s sittin’ in the best-protected spot we have.”

“I allow that may be true, but that don’t make it safe for a girl, ‘specially when there’s a big push on. Patrols ain’t permittin’ any civilians up that way without they got themselves a pass.” He stood up and backed away from me, moving toward his detail. They looked like they were getting fidgety and wanted to get going. “I can tell you, honey, no man worth his salt’s gonna give you one. Heartless, that’d be.” He tipped his hat and waved at his men to move out, nudging the captive men ahead of them. “If I find your man, I’ll send word to this here cobbler.
It’ll be from Sergeant Wilkes, that’s me.
Now that’s there’s all I can do. You take care now.”

The soggy detail marched away, taking my best chance at finding Romulus with them. Watching them trudge east, toward the mounting gunfire, I felt empty. A long sigh left me and I sagged against the pole holding up the shop’s sign. What now? Sit and pray that a busy soldier in the heat of battle remembered a promise to a stranger? And even if I did, what if Tyrell came back? Or worse, Bullies? I recalled the snake that the kindly buzzard had dispatched. It had been following me, spying on me. For who? For how long? What information had it passed along? For all I knew, battalions of Merchantry agents, eager for bounty, were in Richmond already. I needed to get to Lee’s headquarters, spin a sob story, free Romulus, and get to the coast. Sitting in one place was probable suicide.

I need a disguise. Too many enemies are nearby and know me on sight.

“I agree,” said Jasper. “Lovely swan dive into that trough, by the way.”

“Thanks,” I thought to him with an imagined scowl. “Do you have anything helpful to say or are you just lookin’ to gloat at my predicament?”

“Hey! Your predicament is my predicament.”

“Then maybe you’d like to suggest a way outta this mess.”

“You already have.”

“Huh? What?”

“Thought of a way out. You need a disguise, you said. I agree.”

The rain had tapered off to nearly nothing. It hadn’t been much to start with. I shook my short hair and slicked it back out of my eyes. “And I suppose you’re offerin’ to help with that?”

“How could I not? You’re my favorite Stone-Warden.”

I started walking down the street, planning to turn at the first intersection and get onto a side street or alley, where I was less likely to get spotted. “No, thanks. Shape-shiftin’ ain’t my cup o’ tea. Felt like bein’ born and givin’ birth at the same time.”

Jasper made a nauseated sound. “Ooh, there’s an image. You know, livin’ in your mind makes me feel…dirty…sometimes.”

“Hey, who forced this little kid to smoke a cigar the size of her arm? Don’t talk to me about foul.”

“Be that as it may, I can help you with your disguise. You’ll hardly notice it this time. Cross my heart.”

I slunk into a tiny trash-filled alleyway, getting a snotty look from a mutt there. The dog had been sniffing a filthy drunk lying asleep next to a doorway. “No shape-shiftin’, I said.”

“OK, OK, I heard you the first time. This won’t be a shape-change. At least, not a real one. It’ll be a glamour.”

“And that’d be different…how?” I moved past the snoring man, my wonder-nose rebelling at his stench. The rain had done little to wash him off.

“Instead of witchin’ your body into a new form, which is a powerful spell and makes you feel like a sheet of paper somebody’s wadded up---”

“Exactly right.”

“---A glamour puts the image of what you want to be into the minds of observers. Everybody sees you as President Lincoln or whoever, but you haven’t made a physical change at all. If you look in a mirror you see your actual face and body, unless you will yourself to see the false image.”

That sounds too good to be true.
I told him as much.

“It’s perfect for what you want, to fool people. Shape-shiftin’ is for when you need the actual attributes of a thing as well. Glamourin’ you into a beaver wouldn’t have helped you swim the river, for instance. You still would’ve been Verity, blubblin’ your way to the bottom of the Potomac.”

“So I just wish to look like somebody else and other folks see me that way? All other folks? Everybody I meet?”

“Yep. Looks and voice. Unless they’re a mage huntin’ for a glamour. Not likely around here at the moment.”

“Anything else I should know about it before I say yes?”

Jasper sniffed. “Your suspicious nature makes me cry, my girl.”

“Yeah, well, I figure developin’ a suspicious nature is gonna to keep me alive in the future.”

Laughing, he said, “Now you’re learnin’, dearie. There are two kinds of glamours, the one you want and the type that reaches into the mind of the observer for the best image.”

I stared at the drunk clutching his half-full whiskey bottle and shivered at the thought of what he might like to see if he happened to wake up right then. “Why would I want that?”

“To create an emotion that you can manipulate. Fear or joy or love. You can make somebody see you as the thing they’re most afraid of, for instance. Harder to control, harder to maintain. Unpredictable, since you won’t necessarily know what they’re seein’ in you.”

“But I don’t want that one anyhow, right?”

“Nope. The simple kind will do for gettin’ through town unnoticed. Plus, a passion glamour needs more energy than a vizard glamour.”

I frowned. “Vizard?”

“Mask. It’s in Shakespeare. I thought we met in a theatre?”

“Pardon me for not knowin’ every antique word in the world. I take it that when you say ‘needs more energy’ that also means ‘costs the girl more to use’?”

“Well, now that you come to it…”

I sighed.
Why do I think this’ll be worse than the sorry cigar episode?
“Let’s have it.”

My tin cup popped into the shape of a hand, index finger aiming back at the wretched fellow on the ground. Following the pointing digit, I saw that it led to the bottle.

I felt my stomach heave at the thought. “Oh, no,” I moaned aloud.

The hand became a toothy smiling mouth. “Oh, yes,” it said with honeyed glee

 

23/ How to Glamour a General

I stepped around the corner of the shop and upchucked whiskey into the alley.

“Hey!” Jasper whined, “I wasn’t done with that.”

“I look prettier than Eddie ever managed to be,” I said to myself, gazing in the window of a dry goods store. At least, I hoped it was to myself. That vile whiskey I’d stolen from the poor man in the alley might’ve been fooling with my senses.

The lovely young thing who stared back at me from the shop window looked to be in her mid-twenties. Like mine her hair shined coppery-red. But where mine sat straight and boy-short, hers flowed past shoulder length and had beautiful touchable waves in it. Her shoulders were broad without being mannish and her waist, cinched in by a torture-chamber corset from the look of it, was narrow as a pencil.
And I have a bosom! Oboy!
Perfectly-proportioned, too. Not too large so as to look silly or cheap. Arms and hands long, slender, and smooth, the vision’s neck matched the rest and led up to a chin with just the slightest point. Miss Cutey-Pie’s face could only be what Ma called a ‘man-melter’. Baby-soft skin, white as a dove’s belly, a delicate nose you just wanted to reach out and tweak a little, and dark blue lamb’s eyes underneath saucy eyebrows. Lord only knew what part of my mind had been hoarding this image. The wishful-thinking part, no doubt.

“Please,” I muttered, looking up, “let this be me in ten or twelve years. Is that too much to ask?”

Jasper spoke up, speech slurred just a little. “Now I know you’re drunk,” he teased. “Who’d want to look like this all her life? What a burden.”

I tried to touch the plush green velvet dress worn by the stranger. It looked a lot like Jeanie’s, no mystery where it came from. My tiny friend’s skirt hadn’t gone all the way to the ground and her hoop hadn’t been as pronounced, but other than that it was mostly the same dress. Mine had fine gold thread trimmed along the cuffs, in imitation of the ‘scrambled eggs’ that Confederate officers wore on their uniform sleeves. Where Jeanie’s hat had been a giant-brimmed girlie affair, I wore a feminine version of a soldier’s kepi, also with gold accents. An open-weave suggestion of a veil curtained my features but didn’t really hide a thing.
Yep, this is surely a Sunday-go-to-meetin’ outfit.
When my fingers stroked the top of the skirt I gasped. All I felt was rough dirty denim. Gazing down, I saw that I still wore my soiled overalls and muslin shirt. I raised my head and looked at the shop window once more. Yep, the stunning vision again.
That’s scary.

“My voice’ll be different, too?” I asked Jasper out loud, hoping to hear for myself. Sounded the same to me. Two ladies who walked by at that moment looked over at me, but their expressions only said that they wondered why I yakked to myself, not that I sounded odd.

“You’ll have to will your ears to hear it the way you want, just like you did with your appearance,” Jasper told me, giggling. He sounded like the raw whiskey had affected him more than me. Maybe he was just trying on ‘drunk’ for size. I doubted that he could really feel alcohol like a living human.

I sent my voice low into my throat, raised my chin, and said into the window, “Could you get me a nice cold lemonade, sir?” The tones I heard now were rich, warm, sultry. They licked my ear like a cozy fire in mid-winter.
Whoa!

“Absolutely, ma’am,” purred a new voice behind me. The glass reflected a handsome short-bearded man of middle years, dressed like a banker or lawyer in a fine black suit. “And any other service I could perform would be a distinct pleasure.” He tipped his hat and smiled.

Well, time for a test run, Verity. Now or never.

The three healthy swigs of rotgut I’d had ten minutes before gave me the courage to turn to him. I almost lost my balance, but he didn’t seem to notice. I could feel the flush of the firewater in my cheeks. Hopefully he’d put it down to coquettishness.

“Why, aren’t you just the sweetest thing!” I cooed, putting on all of the southern charm I could muster. “You know, I was standing here, all a-twitter over this battle I keep hearing about, flustered over what indignities our brave boys must be suffering, and foolish phrases must have positively leaped out of my mouth. Now what might I have said to deserve the attentions of such a charming gentleman as yourself?”

BOOK: Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures)
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