Serpent Daughter – Snippet 03
An enormous spear appeared suddenly, as if it had sprouted in the center of the Algonk’s throat. Blood spurted in all directions, a hot whip of it slashing across Dockery’s cheek. At the same moment, a dark mass crashed from the pines. It knocked Dockery aside and threw the Algonk into the snow, and then it pounded into a screen of pine trees on the other side.
Dockery heard a gunshot, and the twang of a bowstring, and then cursing in Algonk. “Skanak!” “Skunagoose!” Another man in a fringed leather shirt and pants took three long steps forward out of the trees, a musket clutched in both hands, but no head on his shoulders. At the end of the three paces, the man stopped, stood on tippy-toes and raised his hands as if trying to place the musket on a high shelf. A single jet of blood lanced upward from the short stump of a neck that remained, and then he fell forward into the snow, disappearing into the bank beside Dockery.
More screaming kept Dockery from staring too long — he grabbed his musket and knelt, watching the trees. Silver starlight danced on dark green boughs as they shook from violence hidden by the trees for a few more seconds, and then were still again.
Dockery heard chopping and tearing sounds, and then Mesh emerged from the trees. He dragged a man with one hand around the fellow’s throat; the prisoner was taller than Dockery, but he dangled like a puppet in the giant’s grip. The captured man wore leathers, and in a splash of starlight, Dockery saw paint on his cheeks and a topknot of long black hair.
Dockery aimed his musket at the giant’s chest and pulled back the hammer. “That’s our friend.” His hand trembled, but only slightly.
“Hmm.” Mesh scratched his chin with his free hand. Where were the dogs? Keeping Kinta Jane pinned? “He’s my prisoner now.”
“And us?” Dockery asked. “Are we your prisoners, too?”
Mesh chuckled softly. “Do we have to say these heavy words, Dockery? Even a worm of such lowly intelligence as I am can sometimes understand a thing without speaking it.”
“Kinta Jane and I are leaving,” Dockery said.
“No.” Mesh stepped forward —
Dockery aimed at the center of the looming giant’s chest and squeezed the trigger —
Mesh punched him in the face, bowling him into the snow. Ears ringing, blood rushing to his face, breath coming in ragged gasps, Dockery heard the giant mutter, “I urinated into the barrel of your musket this morning. If you didn’t notice that, all I can think is that you must have an even poorer sense of smell than I do.”
Dockery lost track of the world for a time. When he had mastered his senses and pulled himself up into a sitting position, he was shuddering violently from cold and pain. Mesh stood looking at him; the captive Indian was tied hand and wrist and slung over one shoulder, and Mesh held his spear in his hand, tip aimed generally in Dockery’s direction.
A large sack was tied to Mesh’s belt.
“Come,” Mesh said. “Pick up your gun and return to camp.”
“You pissed into my gun.” Dockery hurt. His body felt far away.
“It’s a stupid weapon.”
It took Dockery three tries to stand, and longer to find his firearm where it had fallen in the snow. “Maybe you’d just like to kill me, right here and now.”
“I don’t want you to die,” Mesh said.
Dockery took his first stumbling steps back up the hill. “If you thought we were being followed, you could have asked my help. You didn’t have to trick me into being bait.”
“I didn’t think we were being followed,” the giant said. “I knew. And I didn’t trick you, I just didn’t tell you what you were doing.”
And what he had been doing was luring their pursuers into the open so that Mesh could deal with them. And those pursuers included men who had given Dockery at least the initial watchwords of brothers of the Conventicle.
Perhaps they were the men he and Kinta Jane had been trying to contact.
Perhaps the Algonks, the forces of Brother Odishkwa, had come to rescue them.
Dockery’s blood froze in his veins as he lurched up the slope.
He felt as if the bones in his legs might shatter as he stepped back into the small yellow ring of warmth, fenced in by thin pines and sunk into a slight depression in the side of the hill. Mesh’s two enormous dogs sat staring at Kinta Jane. The giant had tied her hands and feet all together behind her back and bound a rag into her mouth, so she lay on her side with a blanket tossed over her.
To hell with the giant, Mesh could kill them at any time. Dockery knelt and removed Kinta Jane’s gag, then untied her.
“I would have yelled,” she told him when her mouth was freed.
“I guess he figured as much.”
Mesh appeared between two trees that were only slightly shorter than he was. Stooping, he rolled the Algonk onto a snowbank on his back. The man’s eyes were open, and he stared at the Talligewi furiously.
The giant sat on a large stone, as tall as Dockery’s chest height. He wrapped both fists around his spear and leaned on it thoughtfully, staring back and forth at his prisoners. “Perhaps,” he rumbled, “this is a puzzle that will require a greater intellect than my own to solve.”
“Let us go,” Dockery said.
The Algonk looked back and forth between the others and said nothing.
The giant teased at the inside of one ear with a finger. “I feel that a more clever man than I would be able to resolve this with a single question. You may perhaps be familiar with the sorts of question I have in mind — you, Algonk, what would Dockery say if I asked him about so and so. And the cleverness of the question would lie in eliciting an answer that would show me which of you to trust, if any.”
“Who are you?” the Algonk asked.
“Me?” Mesh seemed surprised. “I am just a poor hunter, really. A Misaabe is what your people call me, I believe. Talligewi. Anak. A poor hunter of no account, with inadequate brains.”
“Let us go,” Dockery said.
Mesh ignored him. “I suppose,” the giant said to the Indian prisoner, “we had better begin by dispelling any false notions you might have of rescue.”
A light flashed in the Algonk’s eyes.
“Yes, there it is. You came with companions, and you are convinced that some of them will storm the camp at night, or perhaps that they will go for aid. You are not alone, are you? Others among your people are part of your . . . conspiracy?”
“Others know of . . . the matter relating to three brothers,” the Algonk said.
Mesh snorted and waved a hand. “We are past that now. What I must know is . . . well, wiser men than I have told me I must take all things in their proper order. So first, about rescue.”
“Let us go,” Dockery said.
“Your people have from time to time taken the scalps of their enemies,” Mesh said to the Indian. “For various purposes.”
“And had our own taken,” the Algonk said.
“Yes,” Mesh agreed. “For the medicine, for the power, that is in the scalps. And to mark territory. And to terrify an enemy.”
“Yes.” The Indian’s face was impassive.