The Heretic – Snippet 31

Bundren pointed a gloved hand at the two Scouts who remained at attention between them. “I see you’ve taken it upon yourself to discipline my Scouts? Is that right, son of Joab?”

“Not at all, sir. I only reminded them of their duties, and they jumped to. I have no complaint against them.”

“Indeed you do not,” Bundren replied.  “And what is it you want from me?”

“Your aid in locating our lost gunpowder, sir,” Abel said.

Bundren nodded.  “I see. You’ve misplaced it somewhere, have you?”

“It never arrived, sir,” said Abel. “It was due four months ago.  We are, in fact, three shipments shy now.  And we are sore beset by Redland barbarians.”

“Can’t take care of your troubles, so you bring them to me. Is that it?”  Bundren shrugged, turned to his retinue.  “What did I tell you about the Treville troops, men?  Not seeing to their part of the wall so well, are they?”

Abel felt himself growing flush with anger.

Easy, lad, he’s baiting you, Raj said. Take a breath or three.

Abel obeyed.  He sat his mount and did not reply.  Neither did he move.

After a moment, when he saw he wasn’t going to get a rise out of Abel, the DMC continued, still addressing his men. “And so this one comes here to tell us how to do our duty to Zentrum and the Land.  Comes calling us names, I’ll wager.

He pointed the gloved hand at Abel.  “Here’s a message for Joab Dashian, boy.  You tell him Pat Bundren sent it, and I don’t need a waxbound teacher’s note from a dickless scribe to deliver it either, since I have you.”

Abel stiffened, but still said nothing.

“You tell Joab that we are doing just fine without his interference here in Cascade.  We’ve gone twenty years without a raider carting off one goddamn groundpeck, and as long as I’m in command here, I aim to go twenty more.  When Treville can say the same thing, then you and your Thursday school boy-wonder of a daddy may have something to teach us here.”

Bundren stared at Abel for another moment, then he spat — not at Abel or Golitsin, but onto the dusty ground between them.  “Until then, get the hell out of my command.  You understand, lieutenant?”

Abel didn’t answer at first. He returned Bundren’s stare. His hand crept toward his stowed musket.

No, lad. Not now.

I’m going to kill him.

One day, perhaps. Not today.

What if I do?

A simple extrapolation with highly constrained variables, said Center.


Abel, bleeding from a shoulder torn open by ballshot, strapped to the wheel himself.  Day three without water, and he knows he’s hallucinating, knows what he sees cannot be true, because he saw the priest on the ground before him.  Saw the spatter or blood and then meat and then bone as Golitsin was beaten to death with Abel’s own whip.

But it’s Golitsin speaking, or at least a dark form against the unremitting sun, and Golitsin’s voice coming from it as Abel squints to see anything from his sand blown eyes.

“I was a good priest,” Golitsin says.  “Not that kind of good priest, but a good one, nonetheless.  I didn’t deserve this. And it hurt so bad for so long –”

The figured stepped from the glare of the sun, and Abel saw it, ragged and torn, a man with the form of a man torn from him. No longer anything on the outside, and nothing but pain within.

All right, Abel thought. No, of course I won’t go for the musket.

Good lad.

He took Spet’s reins in both hands now.  “I’ll deliver your message, commander,” he said. He turned to Golitsin.  “Come on, brother, we’re not wanted here.”

“That’s the best understatement I’ve heard in a long while,” Golitsin replied, low enough for Abel to hear, but not for the others.

They turned the donts and rode away at a slow trot.  Abel did not turn around again, but as they departed he heard the DMC’s screaming voice cursing the two Scouts.

You did him more injury than you know, Raj said. Be content with that for now.

“Now the priests again?” Abel said to Golitsin.

“Yes,” Golitsin said. “But not the temple.”

“Where then?”

“I think I know,” Golitsin replied. “Something I heard last night.”

“At that place?”

“It’s called the Boat on the Water,” Golitsin said with pride in his voice, as if he were the proprietor himself.  “And yes, at that place.  One of them, never mind which, told me that I wasn’t the first priest she’d had that day.  In fact, she’s made rather a trade of it — priests, you know.  That was how she spotted me so easily.  She thought I was him.”

“Him, who?”

“The one who doesn’t make use of her services, actually,” Golitsin said. “The one the others joke about.”

“Is it the prelate?”

“No, the prelate’s a drunk.  He used to be one of her regulars until he couldn’t get it up anymore and stopped coming.  Apparently, it’s just him and his wine casks at the temple.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this morning?”

“I was going to,” the priest said. “You know how you felt about those Scouts we saw today?”

“Ashamed for them,” Abel said, nodding.

“It was something like that,” Golitsin replied.  “Anyway, let’s go see the upright man.  She told me he’s made himself into something of a wildman, a hermit.  He lives underneath the Boat on the Water, as a matter of fact, in a little spot he’s carved out in the bank. Seems we were both fucking over a holy hermit last night and didn’t know it.”

“And the carnadons?”

“That’s the thing,” said Golitsin. “That’s why everyone thinks he’s blessed of Zentrum.  They don’t bother him.  At least, that’s what she told me. And that’s another reason I wanted to try the DMC first.”

“Because we’re not that holy?” said Abel.

“You got it, Lieutenant,” Golitsin replied.