The Heretic – Snippet 36

But of course he had a tongue, and could use it.

Then something dark appeared on Latrobe’s robe, in the place where his legs met under them.  Something dark and wet.  And the Silent Brothers realized the assayer had pissed himself.

That was when the Silent Brothers laughed.  Soundlessly.  But for a good, long time.

And the priest stayed outside, eyeing the nitercake assayer Latrobe, not letting him down, not letting him twist free of the embedded knife.  But the big one, the soldier, opened the door, swinging Latrobe himself on the door, and entered the office.  Then he closed the door behind him, with the nitercake assayer still stuck to it, and the priest watching, and taking a drink of water from the pitcher that sat outside, that Latrobe and the director sometimes drank from when they came onto the porch to watch the work.

Taking a drink of water and not offering any to the nitercake assayer, then taking another, until the priest had drained the entire pitcher.  And still Latrobe hung there.

Then the priest maybe felt the stares on his back, the wordless gazes.  And he turned and looked quizzically out at the upturned faces of the Silent Brothers.  He considered them for a moment in surprise, perhaps astonishment.  But, unlike so many who had looked at them, looked them over before, there was no contempt in his gaze, and not a trace of pity.

In fact, he seemed to be sharing the moment with them.  And when the priest smiled broadly at them, or at the setting sun, or in general happiness, they knew he was.

* * *

Abel moved past the table of specimens and toward the back of the office.  There sat Eisenach. He did not seem particular surprised, or even alarmed.  He sat as if he’d been waiting for Abel and his sudden appearance was entirely expected.

“So you got past Latrobe,” he said when Abel stood before him.  “That’s an accomplishment in itself.  I keep him because he’s, well, a bit of a dick.  And very persistent.”

Abel didn’t reply.  He reached for a nearby chair and pulled it across the floor, dragging its legs through the sand, and placed it before Eisenach.  He sat down in it and was almost knee to knee with the other.

“The Treville gunpowder,” Abel said.

Eisenach nodded, smiled. “The Treville gunpowder, the boy says.  The gunpowder that has Treville’s name written on it, that knows it belongs in Treville and not anywhere else?  That calls out Treville’s name from wherever it happens to have lost itself?” Eisenach shook his head. “Or maybe, the Treville gunpowder doesn’t exist. Maybe it never did exist because it never got made. Maybe the gunpowder that does exist has no name.  It just is.  And that’s all there is.  And even if you beat up whole hordes of us poor managers, that’s all there will be until we can somehow cajole, coerce, or bribe those speechless wonders out there to make more, and make it faster.  And then, the gunpowder that’s just gunpowder will come to you in due time.  And not a whit sooner even if you give the poor director the walloping of his life.  Even if you take his poor life.”

“Let’s talk about that,” Abel said.  He inched his chair closer, still not quite touching knees with the director, but very close.  “The gunpowder that already is. You say it has no name. That it is like a piece of the River — water that might go flood the fields of Shandak Nalaby, that might flow through the shithouses of Bruneberg and carry away the crap.  Or that might be drunk and come out as a stream of piss. Or that might go on and flow to the Braun Sea.”

“Yes,” said Eisenach.  “Exactly. That’s right.”

“Sure,” said Abel.  “Water’s water. But what about the water barrels.”


“The barrels you carry it in,” Abel continued. “The pots you boil it in.  The people who drink and piss.  All of those can have names attached. Maker’s marks.  Points of origin.”

“I’m not sure I follow,” Eisenach replied. “Would you mind moving back a little.  It’s feeling kind of hot in here.”

“Yes,” Abel said. He didn’t move. “You know who I am, right? Joab Dashian’s son.  And you’re right, I’m young. You called me ‘boy,’ and that’s not far off.  But my father, he doesn’t think of me that way. Do you know how he thinks of me?”

“As a…man?” Eisenach replied, as if he were searching for the right answer to stave off violence or something worse.

Abel shook his head.  “As a messenger,” he said.  “Because I am his son, he sent me with a message for you.”

“Yes,” Eisenach said. He let out a snorting breath, as if the tension, the uncertainty, building up in him like steam needed an outlet.  “All right. What is it?”

“He says: ‘Lindron doesn’t have to know.'”

“He says what?”

Abel repeated his statement.

“What in hell does that mean?”

“I don’t know,” Abel said.  “I’m just the messenger.  The messenger boy.”

“But then what –”

“– There is one thing that was interesting about what he said.”

“What was that?”

“It was where he said it.”

“All right, I’ll bite,” Eisenach replied. “Where did he say it?”

“Oh, just a room. A room in the District Military Headquarters complex,” answered Abel. “The only unusual thing about that room is that it has a lock and a key.  No guard, but a genuine lock of the finest mahogany, and a hardwood key, too. And a guard.”

“And you say he was in the room when he gave you the message?”


“So? What was in the room, thrice-damn it!”

“Pieces of barrels.”

“Pieces of. . .”  But then Eisenach’s face began to flush red. “And these. . .pieces of barrels. . .what did they say on them?”

“Some said, ‘Made in Cascade, and they have lot numbers stenciled on them, believe it or not,'” Abel said. “Some said ‘Bruneberg Works,’ and some said ‘Danger, No Flames.'”  Abel quickly moved his chair forward the final amount, touching knees with director, looking his directly in the eyes from less than an arm’s length away. “And just about all of them said ‘Treville,’ on them. Those were my father’s favorites.  I believe he collected those in particular.”