The Heretic – Snippet 26

“Sorry to hear that,” said Eisenach. “But we’ve had problems ourselves, haven’t we, Latrobe?” It took Abel a moment to realize Eisenach was speaking to the bird-like man, who was still standing, leaning against the table behind them. “Tell them what you’re doing there.”

Abel and Golitsin turned toward the man. Latrobe nodded and gestured toward the piles of what looked like dung on the table. “Trying to find out which is the bad batch,” he said.

“The bad batch?” said Abel.

“Of nitercake,” Latrobe replied. “One or more of these has been setting off the explosions.”

“Explosions?” Golitsin said. “What? Here?”

“Yes here.” Eisenach’s voice came loudly form behind. He’d gotten up and walked up to them while they’d been staring at Latrobe’s dung piles.  “It’s shut down production for weeks at a time. We think we’ve solved the problem, and along comes another one. Lost a couple of the damn Brothers, and that indentured overseer we hired — what’s his name?”

“Neimer,” answered Latrobe.

“Neimer lost his both arms from the elbow down,” Eisenach continued. “He won’t be diddling himself blind anytime soon, I don’t imagine.”  Eisenach guffawed at his own joke and slapped Abel and Golitsin on the back for sympathy. Abel managed to conceal his surprise, but Golitsin jumped like a frightened springleg. He turned to see that Eisenach, who had merely seemed bloated sitting in his chair, now towered a good two handspans over him — and Abel was no longer a boy, but a man of more than average height.

He turned to face Eisenach. “We’re sorry to hear about your troubles, Director, but we need that powder that’s due us. It’s vital to the defense of Treville. Could you curtail some other shipment that’s not so urgent and supply us with ours?”

Eisenach shook his head sadly.  “Would if I could, soldier,” he replied, “would if I could. But we’re stretched to the limit as it is, and there’s a shipment due to Lindron itself in a ten days.

“It’s quite humid here by the cataracts,” Golitsin suddenly said. “Seems like the explosions would be minimal.”

“And you are an initiate into the making of sacred powder, are you, that you would know such a thing?”

“It seems an obvious thought, but I am not a Powder Initiate. Those priests are assigned only here in Cascade District, of course.”

“Well I wish you were,” said Eisenach, “because then you could answer that question for me and save Latrobe here a lot of trouble and possibly a missing finger or two if he’s not careful.  He’s going to have to test those nitercakes after all.”

“Sir, is there nothing you can do?” Abel asked.

“We do have a bit more to offer than just the heartfelt appeal of our dear prelate,” said Golitsin.

Eisenach’s obsidian eyes seemed to suddenly take on a sparkle.  “And what would that be?” he asked. “Although I assure you the matter is entirely out of my hands.”

“My prelate mentioned a double wagon shipment of barley wine that he could get underway the moment the first half of our allotment reached Treville.  In fact, I have a bottle sample he sent along.”  Golitsin pulled the clay container out from under his cloak and handed it to Eisenach.

So that’s what he was getting out of the saddlebag, Abel thought.

Eisenach uncorked the top, took a sniff, and then threw back the bottle for a great, long swallow.  He nodded his approval and took another.  “Yes, yes, this is better than I expected, and I’ve heard all about Treville barleywine,” he said. “And two wagonloads?”

“Four,” replied Golitsin smoothly. “Two when we get half, two on final delivery.”

“Nothing upfront?” Eisenach asked ruefully.

Golitsin nodded at the clay wine container.  “You get to keep that,” he said.

Eisenach frowned at the bottle, then spoke to it, the bottle.  “Well, my child, you will have to last me. For there is no hope I can fulfill the request of this young priest and soldier. What gunpowder we have is contracted for and bespoke.”

“We’ll have to try the district military commander, you know,” Abel said to him.

“I hope you will tell him I cooperated as completely as I am able.”

“And the prelate,” said Golitsin.

“Most regrettable,” Eisenach said. “I’m sure he will find a way to help you. I wish you success.”

His sardonic grin as they left the office let Abel know that the director of the powder plant did not expect Abel to receive such help in the slightest.

They found their donts where they’d left them, and Abel handed the young boy his promised three figs. The youngster disappeared down an alley, chased by four others who suddenly emerged from the shadows and stalked toward him.

“You should’ve told me about the wine,” Abel said to Golitsin.

“Zilkovsky said to hold it back as a last resort,” the priest answered. “I wasn’t even supposed to mention it.”

“Anything else you forgot to mention?”

The priest smiled. “You know we’ll never make the garrison, even if we do get across the River before the ferries shut down at sunset.”

“We can try.”

“I have another idea,” said Golitsin. “I was in Bruneberg three years ago, and I had to find a place to stay one evening.  Did, too.  Very nice place.  It’s not too far from here, I don’t think.  At least, I remember being able to smell the powder plant from there.”

“You think you could find it again?” Abel asked.

“Yes,” Golitsin said. “It’s a place that’s hard to forget.”

And, true to his word, the priest mounted up and, as if by a sense of direction as sure as a flitterdak’s, led Abel through alley and down lane until, about a quarter-watch later, they arrived at a stable with the symbol of a boat on the River etched above the entrance lintel.  Across the street — it was little more than a three pace wide passageway — was another door with a similar sign above it.

“What is this place?” Abel asked.

Golitsin nodded toward the stable. “This is where we leave the donts,” he said. “Then we go over there.” He motioned back over his shoulder to the other door.

“And what’s over there?”

“Where we leave everything else,” answered Golitsin.