Read Tin Swift Online

Authors: Devon Monk

Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General

Tin Swift (3 page)

BOOK: Tin Swift
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Cedar didn’t know what sort of contraption they were trying to fire up, but it appeared to require a heavy hammer and wrench—both currently being used to pummel the thing.

Alun Madder leaned against the wagon wheel, smoking his pipe and watching Cedar with a hard gaze.

“Here we go now.” Rose motioned the shotgun toward the wagon steps. “A roof over your head and a lock on the door. Cozy.”

“You’ll need more than a lock,” Cedar said. “You know where the shackles are?”

“I think so.”

“Find them.” He stumped up the stairs and ducked into the darkness of the wagon.

The wagon was so cluttered with supplies, packages, and oddments,
it was like stepping into a town bazaar. Nets and scarves and rope hung from the framed ceiling; boxes, bundles, chests, and shelves were stuffed tight to bursting.

The nets could be set out for hammocks, as the Madder brothers were used to traveling in some comfort. To one side of the nets was enough space for a bed. That’s where Cedar headed.

He ducked a swinging lantern and stood at the bottom of the bedroll spread on a pile of sacks that had fewer hard edges than most the rest of the wagon’s contents.

Wil lay curled on the wool blanket. Even when Wil was in wolf form, his eyes remained the same old copper color and carried an uncanny intelligence. The wolf lifted his head and ears, watching Cedar sit and press his back against the sideboard.

Cedar let his hand drop so Wil could scent the blood, which he had probably already smelled before Cedar had even entered the wagon. Even though Wil seemed able to keep the mind of a man about him while in wolf form, it was plain foolish to bed down near a wolf with unfamiliar blood between you.

Wil sniffed Cedar’s hand, then stared past him at the wagon door.

Rose was coming. He could hear the weeping chime of the shackles in her hands.

But it was Mae who stepped into the wagon.

“Mae?” he said. “I thought Rose was bringing the chains.”

“She is,” Mae said. “I’m here for your curse. To…to make it less if I can.”

She held a bundle in one hand, just larger than a handkerchief. He couldn’t smell what she had wrapped up in it, but Wil whined.

“Do you think you should? Now?”

“Rose saw you kill a man.” Mae spread the kerchief out on a crate, revealing the contents. Herbs, a candle, a small bowl, and a bell. Her hand dipped to touch each item, over and over again, as if doubting their reality.

“I suppose she did,” he said.

Mae pulled the skinning knife from the sheath at her waist. “I don’t think we can wait any longer to…ease this.”

She straightened her shoulders, but it did nothing to hide the exhaustion threading her. Mae had spent most of the journey dazed in her saddle and staring at the sky through the night.

It tore him up to see her falling apart more and more each day.

Not that she’d complained. Not once. She’d known that leaving the coven would someday set this cost in motion.

“I appreciate your concern, Mrs. Lindson,” he said, “but don’t you need your sisters’ help?”

“What I need, Mr. Hunt,” Mae said softly, “is a man with a sound mind.” She swallowed and nodded, as if agreeing with herself. Or with the voices only she could hear.

“A lot of land to cover before winter strikes.” She nodded, nodded. “Your expertise on the trail and surviving the wilds is invaluable. We are relying on you to see that we arrive at our destination. Safely. As safely as we can.”

“Sad day when a cursed man is the sure bet,” he muttered.

“Not sad. Not at all. It’s a practical thing,” she said with a faint smile. “I…trust you. And I will need your blood, Mr. Hunt. Water could work, or tears, or sweat, but for what you carry…” She studied him as if she saw him clothed in another man’s wardrobe. “For that curse to ease, I’ll need the blood that carries it.”

Cedar stood, took off his coat, then rolled up his sleeve.

In the enclosed wagon, with the warmth of the day still trapped inside, her presence was almost tactile. The scent of flowers, the halting rhythm of her breath, and her gaze that searched him as if uncertain, or afraid, of what she was looking for, fell on his senses like heady wine.

He offered his forearm. “Will this do?”

She nodded, and placed the bowl to catch the blood. “I won’t need much. Still—I’m sorry.”

He opened his mouth to say he didn’t mind, but she had already slid the knife quick and sure through his skin.

A hot sting licked across his arm. It hurt, but not all that much.

Mae set to gathering the drops of blood, her hands sure, as she suddenly became more interested in the blood than in the man who bled.

Cedar forced himself to look away from her, to the wagon door, and the sky and trees beyond.

Rose Small jogged up the steps, shotgun strapped to her back, a smile on her face.

“Found the chains,” she declared. “We’ll have you tied up and bug snug in no time. Oh.” She stopped just inside the door. “Is everything all right?”

“A spell,” Mae said. “For Mr. Hunt. For the curse.”

“Think you should take a seat, Mr. Hunt?” Rose asked.

“I’d prefer it,” he said.

Mae didn’t seem to hear either of them. She pressed a cloth against the cut on his arm. “Hold this.”

He put his fingers over the cloth, chose a pile of burlap bags for a chair, and sat.

Mae returned the bowl to the crate and then shook out a handkerchief, which she quickly folded.

“Do you need me to tie that over your arm?” Rose asked.

“No. It’s nearly done.” One of the things the curse gave him was a faster healing time. Already the cut was beginning to close.

Rose shook the chains free to untangle them. “Wish there was another way, Mr. Hunt,” she said. “I hate seeing anyone in cuffs.”

“I don’t much like them myself,” he said, trying to put ease in his words. “But it’s not as if they do me any harm. Given the choice, I’d much rather the cuffs than your bullet in my chest.”

Rose shrugged a little and clasped the cold metal around each wrist. “I would have aimed at your leg, I think,” she said, fastening the ankle cuffs.

“And if you’d missed?”

She double-checked the chain that ran from the ankle cuffs up to the wrist cuffs, then latched to the side of the wagon. “I wouldn’t have missed.” She gave him a smile. “You know that, Mr. Hunt.”

He couldn’t help but smile back at her. She was right. Rose was a crack shot.

Wil limped over to stand next to Cedar, ears up, head high. He didn’t look concerned, wasn’t whining or growling. No, if Cedar had to guess, he’d say his brother was just curious about the whole thing.

“I’m going to stand right over there by the door,” Rose said, “in case any of you need anything.”

She did just that, moving far enough to be out of his reach, but plenty close enough to blow a hole in his leg, or any other part of him, with that elephant gun if she wanted to.

“Mrs. Lindson,” Rose said gently as if waking her from a dream, “Mr. Hunt is ready for that spell now.”

Mae jerked and swallowed hard. Her gaze pulled away from whatever distant horizon had caught her thoughts.

An absentminded witch about to call on magic was worrisome, to say the least.

“Good,” Mae said, wiping her hands down the front of her dress, a nervous habit she’d taken to lately. “Relax, Mr. Hunt.” She didn’t turn to look at him. “As much as you can.”

She crumbled the herbs between her palms, dusting them into the bowl.

Next she lit the candle nub and set that carefully in the bowl. Then she began whispering.

Cedar shifted so the shovel handle sticking up behind him didn’t dig quite so deeply into his ribs, and waited. Seemed all the world waited on Mae’s words, only moving forward at the pace of her hushed breath that slowly grew into a song.

He lost track of time as Mae’s words lifted, fell, and became a second
voice for the breeze, a second heartbeat of the world. He vaguely noticed daylight slip away, felt the rise of the moon climbing the sky.

The beast within him squirmed, tugged, wanting free of the bindings, wanting free of the small space of his body, the vise of his will.

Cedar wouldn’t let that happen. Wouldn’t let the beast take his sense away again. Not so long as he could stand on two feet as a man.

He held tight to his calm, ignored the beast, and let the witch do her work.

Mae held the bowl up to her lips, whispering over the edge, her words coming faster, softer, almost as if she were caught in a thrall. She finally turned toward him, took the few steps across the wagon, her eyes unfocused. Or more likely focused on things Cedar could not see.

Rose shifted against the doorframe. She’d kept the gun holstered and instead held a little bottle with a mix of cayenne pepper, water, and oil. She’d bargained the pepper from the Madders and boiled it to a wicked concentration. Rose said it would stop a man dead in his tracks if he got a face full of what was in that bottle.

Cedar didn’t savor the idea of being the man she tried it out on.

“Cedar Hunt.” Mae’s voice trembled, exhausted as if she were indeed carrying all the world on her words. “Let your debt be paid. Let your ties to those who walk the earth and stars fall away in peace. Let your soul become unburdened, unbound, and return again to the true shape of spirit and flesh.”

She blew out the candle and the smoke rolled toward him. He inhaled.

For a moment, he felt lifted, as if he stood beside himself instead of set solid in his own skin. For a moment, the beast seemed a great distance from him, as if pulled away by a retreating tide.

An explosion blasted through the night.

Pain, hot and claw-sharp, dragged him back as if the beast tore into his flesh, muscle, and bone, and clamped down with brutal jaws.

He opened his mouth to yell, to gasp for air.

And the pain was gone.

He sat, shackled, on the burlap. He was not bleeding. He was not injured.

And he was not cured. The beast was still inside him.

The Madder brothers outside the wagon cussed and laughed, congratulating themselves.

Rose stomped back into the wagon. He hadn’t heard her leave.

“They blew a hole the size of a barn into the ground. Scared the horses half to death. If we hadn’t ground-tied them, we’d have lost them in the night.”

“Dynamite?” he asked.

“No, they heated up the boiler so high it blew. Bits of metal and wood everywhere. Such a waste. They think it’s a matter of hilarity.”

Mae wiped the back of her hand over her eyes and leaned back against the crate, all the strength out of her.

“Did it work?” Rose nodded toward Mae.

“No,” Cedar said, “I don’t believe it did.”

Mae frowned. “It should have. It should have worked. The explosion. Was there an explosion?”

“Nothing to worry about, Mrs. Lindson,” Rose said. “It was just a bad turn of luck the Madders are all fired up with stupid tonight.”

“The Madders?” Mae said. “That was reckless. Inexcusable. To break the spell…”

Cedar watched as her face heated with anger. For a moment, for more than that, he wondered just what an angry woman who also happened to be a witch was capable of doing to a man.

“It’s done,” he said. “Let it be for now. We all need sleep.” He lifted his hands, the chains clinking. “I’ll be of no harm to anyone this night.”

Mae pressed her lips together, and then her anger was replaced by something more resembling confusion. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry yourself,” Rose said. “After some sleep we’ll be coming into new supplies tomorrow. Isn’t that right, Mr. Hunt?”

Cedar nodded. “If we want to get over the mountains before winter locks the passes, we’ll need to make Vicinity by nightfall.”

“There might be herbs we could buy so you could try that spell again,” Rose said.

“I don’t think…” Mae licked her lips and shook her head. “I don’t think herbs will help.”

“Don’t you worry, Mae.” Rose took Mae’s hands and helped her to the door of the wagon. “There’s nothing but bright skies and sunshine for us tomorrow.”

Cedar admired Rose’s outlook, though he didn’t share it. He didn’t know what tomorrow would bring. Wil lowered his ears and growled softly at the Madders’ laughter.

It was terribly convenient that their device had exploded just when Mae was so close to breaking his curse. A curse that happened to make him hunger to hunt the Strange. A curse that made him an undeniable benefit in the Madders’ quest to find the strangeworked Holder.

If Cedar were a suspicious man, he might just think the Madders had broken Mae’s spell on purpose.

CHAPTER TWO

S
tump Station wasn’t much more than a collection of shacks built precariously into the pockets and wedges on the east side of the Bitterroot Range in the Idaho Territory. So barren and out of the way, even the vultures risked starvation.

It was the perfect sort of place to attract those members of society who preferred to remain unnoticed by others. Hard men and rangy women who spent most of their days waiting for the right wind to carry them up to the glim grounds where they could harvest their fortune.

Glim, more precious than diamonds or gold, used to power ships on air, water, or land. Used to heal the sick, cure the blights, turn the tide in wars, and make anything and everything stronger and longer lasting. Glim was even rumored to extend a man’s life well beyond his years.

Rare and desired, glim. And as hard to locate as Hades’ back door.

Some said glim could be found underground, or out at sea. But the only place glim was known to occur with any regularity was above high mountain ranges, and up higher still. Above the storm clouds, floating like nets of soft lightning, the glim fields were capricious and fleeting. Difficult to find. Deadly to harvest. Most ships couldn’t launch that high, last those storms, or lash and land without killing those who flew them.

So it was no wonder glim fetched a pretty price in the legitimate markets, and a king’s ransom in those markets less savory.

Captain Hink counted himself among his own kind out here in the rocks. Outlaws, prospectors, glim pirates, soldiers of luck, fools, and the foolhardy, brothers all.

BOOK: Tin Swift
7.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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