The Heretic – Snippet 13

“Like what?”

“Like go through you as the middleman to broker grain supply to the temple and military. Act happy and keep their mouths shut when you claim two thirds of their grain, and pay them back one third of the profits.”

“That’s not fair.”

“It happens all the time, son,” Joab replied.  “But not this time.  Not in my district.” He drained his wine, set down the cup.

“Whoever has the River has life.”  It was a basic Thursday school lesson.


“What if Matlan Hornburg doesn’t like it, Father?” The Hornburgs were one of the big three families in the district.  Everybody knew it.

“I can guarantee you he won’t.  He’ll be here within a week trying to browbeat me.  I won’t budge, so he’ll take it up with Prelate Zilkovsky.  Zilkovsky will sweet talk him, but won’t give in, either, because he knows he can count on me.  We have a pretty good working relationship, the prelate and I.”

“Count on you to do what?”

“Enforce the decision. Deal with the fallout,” Joab said.  “Hornburg won’t let it stop there, you see.  He’ll do something like cut off a grain delivery or two to the garrison, try to starve us into line.  I’ll send a patrol to confiscate it from his warehouse.  He’ll set his hired men to defend it.  It’s going to be interesting.”

“Or you could just give in, give him his ram, and avoid the hassle.”

“That’s what he’s counting on.  That’s what men like that always count on.”

“What if the prelate gives in?”

Joab glanced over at his son, chuckled. “Your mother used to ask me questions like that.  She had a way of cutting to the heart of things, even when she knew the answer wouldn’t be pretty.” He looked back at his wine.  “It’s simple, really.  I’ll do what the chief priest orders.”

“But Father, you just said –”

“I’ve been in districts where the district military commander ran things.  Gets ugly, corrupt, and violent.  People need to trust in the civil authorities, or it’s every man for himself.”  Joab smiled.  “Anyway, Zilkovsy’s got a hide like a carnadon.  He’s not about to let a Hornburg tell him how to rule Treville District.”

“You could also have Hornburg killed now.  Save the trouble.”

“And become another Hornburg myself?  I don’t think so, Abel.”  Joab nodded toward the chair on the other side of his desk.  “Sit down, son.”  Abel sat down while Joab turned another cup over from the stack next to the pitcher and poured wine into both his own and the other.  He pushed the cup toward Abel.  “Drink.  You look like you have something stuck in your throat. Something you want to tell me.  Or ask me.”

He knows, Abel thought.  But how could he?  It wasn’t as if his father were inside his thoughts in the same way as Raj and Center.

Abel took a swallow from the glass, carefully set it down.  “Father, I think I should be able to go out with the Scouts.  Okay, maybe not into the deep Redlands,” he hastily added.  “But at least on Rim patrols.”

“And what makes you think they’d have you?”

“Corporal Kruso said they could use an able body for water carrier.”

“You’ve been talking to Kruso a lot?”

“Mostly listening,” Abel said.  “He likes to tell stories.”

“And you believe his nonsense?”

Abel frowned, looked down.  I love to hear it.  Because things happen in Kruso’s stories.  Dangerous things, sometimes. But never boring.  Never always the same.  “Yeah, I guess.”

“Good, because it’s all true,” said Joab. Kruso’s half Redlander and half lower Delta scum, but he’s one of best Scouts I’ve ever seen.”  Joab considered his wine, still untouched.  Abel knew the level would only slowly go down, Joab nursing his second cup throughout the afternoon with small sips.  “I’ll tell you what.  You keep good marks in school, and I’ll assign you Scout water duty starting next week.”

Abel felt the weight, the need he’d felt for weeks, lighten.  It was going to happen.  He was going to get Scout duty!  “Thank you, Father.”

Joab held up a hand.  “But only to the Upper Cliffs.  No Rim patrol, not yet.”

The weight returned.  “But Father, I can –”

“You can lose even that privilege if you aren’t careful.”  Joab finally sipped his wine.  “When you turn twelve, you can go out on the rim.  But only on routine patrols, and absolutely only with Captain Sharplett’s and the other Scouts’ permission.”

Twelve.  He would be twelve in. . .three months.  He could make it.  He could wait.  And in the meantime, he would at least get to the Scout bases in the upper cliffs.  You could see the Redlands from there.

“And Abel, let me tell you something,” Joab continued.  “Scouts are a hard breed.  Have to be.  They won’t care that you’re the son of the DMC.  They have a tendency to let nature and events take care of the fuck-ups among themselves.  And sometimes they’re willing to help nature along, if you understand what I mean.”

“Would they take care of you, if you were a fuck-up, Father?”

Joab smiled a hard smile.  “Well, I know what I would do if I were Scout and my commander was a fuck-up,” he said.  He glanced over at the rolled up irrigation plan, sighed.  “It’s my job to make sure it never comes to that.” He looked back to Abel.  “You make that your job, too, Abel.  Because you are my son, after all.”