Read Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures) Online

Authors: Terry Kroenung

Tags: #Humor, #Fantasy

Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures) (33 page)

BOOK: Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures)
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Three people in darkest green crept toward me, holding short swollen-tipped staves in their gloved hands. Their faces were covered to the eyes with scarves and hoods, their shirts and trousers baggy and flowing. On their backs were swords, some curved, some straight. I’d seen them before and my blood froze. They were the three armed figures from my dream.

Full-dark now. I used my witched eyes to look for the captain. Tyrell was nowhere to be seen.
Figures.
The Stone’d gone cold as soon as I’d laid eyes on him. I couldn’t understand how he’d masked himself from the Stone before, but now it knew him for what he was.
Led these things right to me.I swear I’m gonna boomerang your Rebel skull if I see you again.
My new friends aimed their deadly pole weapons at me. Purple pulses swirled around the tips.

If I live through the next two minutes, that is.

Heart pounding as if it wanted to flee my body (
you ain’t leavin’ without me!)
I whipped my head all around to see if any help might be on the way. Nope. McClellan had whole regiments defending him. Where was Lee’s bodyguard? Didn’t anybody see that General Lee’s headquarters was under attack? Did they have purple flames from hell flying around here all the time? The trio of enemies fanned out a bit to cut off my escape down the road in either direction. My only way out would be to run straight away from them to the north. Then they had a clear shot at my back. I wouldn’t get ten steps. Fifty feet, at most, separated us.
Now or never.
I jumped up, Morphageus shield covering me, and got ready for a desperate dash. Maybe if I zigzagged they’d miss me.

No sooner did I turn to sprint than the ground shook and a loud blast knocked me onto my face. I skinned both hands on a rock catching myself.
They got me!
I clenched my teeth, waiting for that horrible fire to consume my flesh and bones. Nothing. Not a twinge. Just the sting in my palms. More blasts struck around me, almost bursting my eardrums. Pieces of hot metal ricocheted from the boulders. Sulfur stung my nose. Smoke blinded me.
Huh?

I risked a look back, still clinging to the soft earth. Sparks flew through the sky from the west. They grew larger and larger till they either landed behind me or exploded in mid-air. Fuses. Sparking orange fuses of artillery shells from Battery Number Five. The fort had seen the lights of the Pluto’s Fire and had responded with blind shooting in its direction.
Huzzah for the Rebs!
The green-clad attackers were escaping back toward the bushes they come out of, two of them aiding the other, who dragged a wounded leg.

Just as quick as it had started, the barrage ceased. I could hear shouted orders now. The infantry regiment at the fort double-quicked up the road, intent on coming to aid their commander. Lee’s headquarters came back to life with the retreat of their enemies. Lamps had been relit and the great general himself stepped out the door first, pistol in hand. I hunkered down behind a rock, remembering that I looked like plain old Verity again. Men on sweaty horses rode up from the front line, pressing their mounts hard to check on the situation. The dark figures had disappeared, but Lee waved troops to pursue them. Several hundred men spread out in skirmish lines and plunged into the brush south of Nine Mile Road.
You wouldn’t be so keen if you’d seen what happened to the last fellow who went after those guys.

I heard no shots and no struggling prisoners were hauled back. After only a few minutes the infantry returned, shaking their heads. How could they have escaped so fast? Did they have a way to travel like Venoma had used? Tyrell had vanished, too, as if the earth had swallowed him up. I felt the Stone. Warm again.
That captain must be in cahoots with ‘em. Have to watch myself even closer from here on out.

The horse that had been intended for Alaena Mahoney had shied at the unholy fires, but she hadn’t gone far. I caught the filly without much effort and led her north a ways, out of the chaos around the Dabbs house. A little while later I got on her and managed to head back toward Richmond while avoiding patrols and the curious. With an amazing amount of luck I found myself back in the city, all in one piece, with a horse to carry me and a pass personally signed by Robert E. Lee.
Now if I can find Romulus and get out of town before either Tyrell or his murderous friends find me, that’ll really be lucky.

No good trying to find the entrenchments in the dark. Although I would’ve had no problem finding them with my Stone-senses, getting shot by a nervous sentry who’d be blind in the overcast night was too great a probability. Plus, Confederate forces were on the move in that direction, getting ready for the morning’s assault on the Federal army. I’d have to wait till first light, which meant finding a place to spend the night where I’d be safe. Not an easy task in a strange city where I knew nobody and had no money.
Too bad Ernie and Roberta ain’t here. They’d know what to do.

Where were they, anyhow? I hadn’t seen them or gotten a message like they’d promised. Did the people in the green-black clothes get them? Did Roberta get shot down by a hungry soldier? Did Ernie reach for the wrong piece of cheese in somebody’s mousetrap? I started to feel awful alone. No family, friends, allies. Nothing but those who wanted to catch me or worse. And I still had thousands of miles to go to find Eddie, not to mention who-knew-where to go to get back with Ma.

Nothing for it but to hole up someplace until morning. I considered trying a church, since they’d be more than glad to take in a homeless waif spinning a sad yarn. But I couldn’t trust that the Merchantry didn’t have them under its thumb. A pretty low thing to consider, but if I’d been them I’d have wanted to control, or at least keep watch on, all the major social places. People tended to congregate in churches for more than prayer. They also talked to one another about pretty near everything, including how dissatisfied they were. Perfect place for Merchantry spies.

Just as I figured I’d have to sneak into somebody’s hayloft or a livery stable, I remembered the story I’d given Tyrell. Mary Williams’ brother, lying wounded in Chimborazo military hospital. I knew that the big complex lay on the east side of town, not too far from where I sat on my new horse.
I’ll go there, pretend to look for my brother, act all upset when I can’t find him, and shed enough tears to get taken in for the night.
The only risk was that Tyrell might think of the same thing and come looking for me there, but I didn’t think the chances were very good. After the fight on Nine Mile road he was probably in hiding with his killer friends.

My luck held. Finding the hospital just took a couple of questions of passersby, who were only too eager to help out a lost little girl searching for her heroic brother. Its size amazed me. I’d heard tell of its enormity, but hadn’t imagined the acres of tents and white frame buildings I saw when I finally arrived about nine o’clock. My mind boggled at the idea that there could be enough people getting shot, stabbed, and blown up to fill such a place. But I’d also heard that most casualties in the war came from disease, not wounds. Measles killed more boys than muskets.
But, still, look at this place. Dozens of buildin’s, all of ‘em filled. And at the far end they’re puttin’ up more. Expectin’ lots of new arrivals come tomorrow.

I tied up the horse at a random building, walking in like Jeff Davis on inspection. Instantly, I regretted it. Although I thought I’d become a tough campaigner after only a few days as Stone-Warden, nothing had readied me for the sights, sounds, and smells of that ward. One lamp lit the whole place, at the far end where a matron stationed herself, but my eyes let me see plenty. Empty sleeves and trouser legs. White bandages across heads, crimson seeping through. Dark spots where eyes or noses had been. Seeping wounds smelling of rot, gangrene setting in with a gut-wrenching sickly sweet odor. Flies buzzing around infected sores. Grown men weeping from pain, or the loss of a limb, or from the knowledge that their particular injury was inevitably mortal. From somewhere in the long narrow building came the short rapid gasps of failing lungs. A patient would be dead soon. In a house in Georgia, Alabama, Texas there would be another vacant chair. I wiped my eyes on my sleeve.
Can’t grown-ups find any better way to solve their problems than this? Heck, let the kids decide things and end this war with one good tug-o’-war. Winner take all.

After that blubbering came easy. I cried to the matron that I’d been to every building and hadn’t found my brother. Hers had been my last chance. Pretty soon the kindly old lady took to hugging and rocking me, assuring me that things’d be OK. Before I knew it she’d found me soup, bread, and a cot. I ended up getting a wash with real soap, too. The basin turned black with all the road crud I’d accumulated. I fell asleep so quick it almost made me feel guilty, considering where I lay and where all my friends were.

That dream returned with a vengeance, so clear that I thought I could touch everyone and everything in it. Now I knew who the three black figures were, of course, and the woman in the fancy dress. Romulus getting captured explained the dog on the leash, too. Those angels in spurs still mystified me.
I wish they’d hurry up and arrive. I could use a little divine intervention
. I had yet to run across anybody dressed in another time period. Didn’t know if I was supposed to fear them or trust them. Maybe whoever sent the dream didn’t know that himself, assuming a person did it at all. Maybe it was fate, or part of a spell, or maybe my own magick played tricks with my mind. The thing was, the first dream had turned out to be true, and so had parts of this one. So something went on besides just chance.
But is it a warnin’ or just a prophecy?Maybe three ghosts will come to visit me this night and I’ll end up buyin’ some kid a Christmas goose. Who knows?

Something different happened in this dream. I saw a person who hadn’t been there before. On the beach of skulls, off in a corner of my view, a tall dusky woman sat cross-legged, scribbling with a funny-looking glass pen. Instead of an inkwell she dipped the pen nib into a small fresh wound on her own arm. When she’d finished writing she muttered something at the paper, tore it into tiny pieces, and tossed it high into the sea breeze. The chunks of paper became little red-brown moths, fluttering in my direction for a moment before fading into nothingness.

I tried to focus in on the writing woman again. Neither young nor old, she had dark tattooed skin and hair as black as coal. Small golden studs pierced her ears and nose. Her silky costume of green and brown looked to be Arabe or Raj. Around her neck hung a pearly pendant in the shape of a crescent moon. It seemed to be lit from within with a blue-white fire.
Another Stone-Warden, like me? Are they all female? Or does her pendant mean somethin’ else?
Try as I might, her face wouldn’t come into view. The harder I tried to see her features, the fuzzier they became.
Okay, lady, be mysterious. Are you the one sendin’ me the dreams? How about a crib sheet for this one?

In the morning I woke just as the rosy light of dawn hit my building. Not wanting to face that awful ward in the full light of day, and wanting to get out to the entrenchments to find Romulus, I washed my face, ate another free meal, filled my haversack with as much food as she’d give me, did the same with my canteen, and off I went. They’d given me the gentlest cavalry horse in the Southern Confederacy, thank goodness. She went wherever I aimed her, with an easy gait that didn’t jar my bones. It didn’t take long to find the proper road out northeast to where the impressed slaves dug the new defenses. Jasper sang to me the whole way, so a brief trip proved a blessing.
Seems a lovely singin’ voice don’t come with bein’ the Righteous Arm of Wrath.
Of course, knowing him, the whole thing might’ve been intentional, just to annoy me.

Given what I’d been expecting, based on how my life had been going, freeing Romulus turned out to be almost disappointingly simple. General Lee’s pass got him out of his trench as if he’d been levitated. The colonel in charge looked at it once, barked a quick order, and there stood my Romulus, looking tired but in good shape. Our only difficulty came when the officer saw that I rode a CSA horse. Possibly out of spite at losing a digger, the colonel confiscated our mount and sent us back to town on foot. But I made sure to keep Lee’s pass. Bound to come in handy sometime.

Despite losing our ride, we made it back to Richmond before noon. Part of the way we were buzzed by a pesky robin. I swatted at it a few times, then realized it was trying to tell me where Ernie and Roberta were. And so, on the Capitol grounds, all were reunited.
A good end to a rough day.

 

26/ Bolt Hole

A cemetery, full of open graves. Their occupants seemed to have crawled out from the inside.

“Clear skies!” crowed Roberta, hidden in a maple tree next to the Capitol so that her fiery plumage would be less conspicuous. “Sure beats that miserable rain from yesterday.”

Ernie, lying on my knee, rolled his eyes and said to me, “For a pirate queen, she sure hates to get wet.”

The bright red and blue parrot cocked her head at the plump mouse. “It ain’t that, me hearty. It’s just that there’s nothin’ quite as hard on the nose as the smell of damp rodent.”

“Oho! Well, let me tell you somethin’, me beaky darlin’. The sweet perfume o’ soppin’ parrot feathers is no walk in the park, either.”

Romulus, keeping an eye out for onlookers, spies, or assassins, muttered, “Y’all ought t’ try diggin’ trenches in da mud all night, with a musket pointed at yo head.”

That ended the weather complaints, sure enough. I sat on the grass admiring the view from Capitol Square. We rested on a hill that stretched down to the water. Before us stretched the James River, wide, clear, and glittering in the June sun. McClellan had hoped to send ships and troops up it to help take the city, but the Confederate ironclad
Virginia
, thrown together from an old U.S. navy ship, had scuttled that plan. If the
Monitor
hadn’t arrived in the nick of time to bottle it up the James, the
Virginia
might’ve wrecked the whole armada and ended the campaign. Across the wide river from us loomed an arsenal, Richmond being the South’s main weapons center. Cannon balls, stacked in pyramids, next to artillery pieces waiting to be mounted on carriages made it clear that the Confederacy would be no pushover. The Capitol building next to us looked as if someone had magickally moved a Roman temple to Virginia. For all I knew the architect, Thomas Jefferson, had done just that. It actually was the state capitol building, but Jeff Davis’ Confederate government used it, too. His mansion sat a couple of blocks farther behind us, to the north.

BOOK: Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures)
11.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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