The Heretic – Snippet 24

In general Golitsin was garrulous, amusing, and not at all what Abel had encountered in most priests before.  He found himself liking the man.

The mission was to acquire gunpowder. The allotment for Treville district was now months overdue and Scouts were going out armed with bows only on half their patrols, so dire had the situation become. The Regulars had not been able to hold target practice for over two months lest they risk having zero supplies on hand if called upon. Some districts might have let this situation slide, left matters to luck, Redlander indifference, or for the Scouts to deal with, but Abel’s father had no intention of doing so. Joab had appealed to Zilkovsky, who had organized the trip and personally requested Abel as the military representative.  Abel had been pulled from Scout duty to comply, and the move had angered several of the Regulars who believed they were much more capable for such a mission than some half-wild lieutenant of the Scouts.

For that was Abel’s rank.  Gone were the days of being the band’s water carrier or dont wrangler. He was a full fledged officer in the group now, one of four under Captain Sharplett’s command. Abel’s first act upon assuming his new title was to appoint Kruso as his squad NCO.

Abel’s squad was now under the temporary command of Klaus Blauscharf, his old schoolmate, who was taking advantage of Abel’s absence to serve his required rotation in the Scouts. Abel had left instructions with Kruso to go lightly on the young officer and to take inevitable insults he would be throwing out as the result of ignorance and not intentional disrespect.  Kruso had dealt with enough Regulars in his time to understand exactly what Abel was asking of him.

“Steer not tha young commander into tha prickle-reed thicket,” Kruso said. “Kin I.”

“And when he runs into one on his own, which he will, for the Lady’s sake, help him out, will you?” Abel added.

“Aye, sur,” replied Kruso, “to tha hardpack keepen.”

Golitsin served as the guide, since he had been to Bruneberg before, and Abel followed a half-dont’s link behind him as he led the way through the streets. The broken piles of clay shards along the streetsides grew smaller and eventually disappeared as they neared the main temple complex, although the smell of dak excrement did not lessen. Eventually they arrived at a large temple square housing a central adobe building surrounded by a shabby willow-wood fence constructed of a wrist-thick poles and uprights not a one of which ran straight for more than the length of a man’s hand.

Nearby was a yard to tie the donts. It had an arbor made of the same willow-wood that looked like a bad attempt that someone had given up in the midst of building to provide shade for the animals.  A clay cistern of muddy water sat nearby, however, so at least their mounts could drink.

A couple of guards lounged near the entrance, one sitting on a bench, the other leaning into a shady spot along the wall. Neither wore tunics or leg wrappings. The leaning guard watched Abel and Golitsin dismount and approach, and when they were a couple of paces away, he turned his head and spat out a brown stream of nesh-laced spittle on the dirtyard. He eyed first Abel then Golitsin, whom he addresses.

“What can I do for you, brother?”

“We’ve come on an official visit from Treville district to the Bruneberg Powder Works. We want to report to the prelate before we travel to the plant.”

The guard smiled and shook his head. “Official visit, huh?”

“Yes,” Golitsin said.  “Now if you will kindly announce –”

“Prelate isn’t seeing anybody today,” the guard replied.

“But. . .I assure you, I work directly for Prelate Zilkovsky and am his designated representative. I’m sure Prelate Asper will want to admit us immediately when he finds out we have arrived –”

“Prelate is busy today,” the guard cut in. “Come back tomorrow. For an appointment.”

“Our time is limited, I’m afraid, and our business of the utmost importance.”

“Come back or don’t come back,” said the guard, “it isn’t any of my concern.”

“But, but –” Golitsin stammered.  As a chief underpriest, he was most definitely not used to having his requests treated so cavalierly.

The guard who had been sitting now roused himself and brought the muzzle of his gun to bear on them.

“You heard the sergeant,” he said in a low voice. “Move on.”

I should teach these slovenly crap-haulers a lesson, Abel thought. This is beyond insolent. It’s downright stupid.

I’m inclined to agree, Raj answered.

Not worth the effort, in my opinion, put in Center. And in fact, analysis shows that whatever the attitude of these sentinels, they are telling the truth. They believe that the prelate is not inside.

Still, I would mind knocking some sense into them.

You may get your chance later, Raj said, but Center is right. You should go directly to the plant now.

Abel took a long breath, held it for a four count, then slowly exhaled.  All right, he thought. But I hope I get my chance.

“Come on, Brother Golitsin,” he said softly. “We have other ways to fulfill our task.” He put a hand on the priest’s shoulder and Golitsin allowed Abel to turn him around.

“I’m not afraid of those two,” Golitsin said. “I’d just as soon march right past them and see if those muskets even have powder in them. From the looks of them, they probably forgot to load up.”

“I wouldn’t doubt that you’re right,” Abel answered. “But let’s check out the powder plant first.”

Golitsin shot Abel a curious glance as they untied the donts under the makeshift arbor. “I would’ve expected that I would be the ones pulling you away from the fight,” he said. “Yet, I know from reports that you have been known to fight like the dickens when it suits you. You are an uncommon young man, Lieutenant.”

“I hope that’s a good thing,” answered Abel.

“Let’s go find our powder,” said Golitsin.