Witchy Winter – Snippet 17
Twice she found work as a seamstress, in roadside ordinaries.
She kept the carbine loaded and near to hand, just in case.
She’d lost track of the date, but knew it must be November. The evening wind was bitter, and she rode a broad track that had gone from a single rut to two ruts to covered with gravel, when she saw fire ahead.
Not a campfire. A town on fire.
Kinta Jane hid.
The mule was a placid old jenny she’d named Mrs. Meeks, and it was happy to plod after Kinta Jane into a grove of trees and lie down. Kinta Jane crept to a fin of cold rock and lay across it with the carbine, listening and looking for anything that would tell her what was happening.
The burning buildings illuminated a small town that squatted where two roads crossed at a river. The absence of a ferry suggested a ford instead, a stretch where the river’s width made it shallow enough to cross on foot or on one’s horse. The town had no ditch and bank and no mound, and its palisade wall was low enough that Kinta Jane thought she could probably scramble over it, if necessary.
The town looked peaceful, other than the fact that it was on fire.
Of the ten or so buildings Kinta Jane could see over the log curtain surrounding the town, at least two were burning.
Hands grabbed Kinta Jane from behind and hauled her to her feet. Surprised, she dropped the carbine, which landed on a bed of crisp autumn leaf-fall beneath her.
That left her the stiletto sheathed on her forearm. It wouldn’t be enough, not against three men.
The fire behind Kinta Jane cast watery orange light on the man holding her and the two men at his shoulders. She saw their faces clearly; the fire must be closer than she realized. The men all wore some kind of Imperial uniform, blue and gold, but Kinta Jane didn’t know it. She didn’t think they were Foresters, because their shoes were heavy soldiers’ shoes beneath painted canvas gaiters, rather than the lighter moccasins the Foresters had adopted from the Indians.
“I reckon,” the man holding her said slowly, “we found ourselves another bit of contraband here.” He smelled of cheap wine and old urine. Then he belched, adding in the pungent aroma of raw onion mixed with some kind of rotting meat.
“Naw, Joss,” said the one on the right, “if it’s contraband, we gotta burn it. That what you wanna do with this little morsel, light it on fire?”
Mrs. Meeks brayed a complaint.
“In a manner of speaking.” Joss’s voice was slurred.
“Henrik’s right,” said the man on the left. “But they ain’t nothin’ stoppin’ us from enjoyin’ a little friendly intercourse with the natives. Firstborn are fair game in every case, them’s the orders.”
“That’s right, Pete,” Henrik said. “And she looks like a Fairy to me.”
Kinta Jane couldn’t contradict them. She didn’t think they would care, even if they believed her. She was the least Firstborn-looking person she knew.
Had she been standing, she would have cocked her hip to the side and slapped it; the gesture had never failed to communicate what she wanted it to. Hanging by two fists knotted in the front of her blouse, she had to try a different tactic.
She slowly licked her lips.
“She wants it,” Pete said.
“She wants me.” Joss dropped Kinta Jane.
She allowed herself to tumble all the way to the ground. The leaves padded her fall, and she bounced left, avoiding the gun on the ground.
“That’s it,” Henrik said.
Lying on her back with her knees up, Kinta Jane licked her lips again, looking from one brutish face to the next.
And spread her knees. Slowly. Teasingly.
As they stared where she knew they would, she snaked a hand through the leaf pile, unseen in the darkness, and found the gun.
“She wants all of us,” Henrik said.
“She’s gonna get me first.” Joss grunted, fumbling with his hands to unknot the length of rope holding up his trousers. They hit the ground only a second before his knees did, and he thrust himself forward, prepared to assault Kinta Jane.
She let him begin, egging him on with soft moans of encouragement. Henrik and Pete similarly dropped their trousers, though Pete looked around as if fearing discovery. The stink of her rapist clogged Kinta Jane’s nostrils; she breathed through her mouth and tried not to think about his stench. She’d smelled worse, in the Faubourg Marigny. When she thought Joss had gone far enough to be distracted, Kinta Jane swung the carbine up to rest it on his shoulder, right against his cheek, pulling back the hammer in the process. Fear gave her the strength to do it.
“What?” He grunted, rising up slightly on his knees, though not pulling back.
Kinta Jane shot Henrik square in the center of his chest and he dropped without a word. Pete shrieked and rushed off into the darkness, nearly tripping over his breeches.
Mrs. Meeks yanked up her picket and bolted.
Joss bellowed, burned by the shower of sparks against his cheek. He punched Kinta Jane in the face and tried to back away, rising to his haunches — but Kinta Jane locked her heels together behind his ponderous backside and held him.
“Ophidian cow!” Joss punched her again, missing her face this time in the dark and striking her repeatedly in the chest. He had rings on his fingers; Kinta Jane felt the skin of her shoulder tear as he struck it.
She answered by dropping the carbine and drawing the stiletto. She plunged the blade deep into Joss’s head, entering neatly behind his ear. His hot blood poured down on her, he jerked spastically, and then he slumped over, dead.
Kinta Jane rolled Joss’s body off and into the leaves. In the light of the burning village, she dug through the clothing of her attackers and found a pair of pistols.
She checked the priming on the guns.
Then she went looking for Pete.
Her surviving attacker had missed the track by which he’d come and run right into forest again. Kinta Jane heard him thrashing about in the trees and stopped on the trail. She held a pistol in each hand, pointed downward.
She wished she could call to him. Instead, she just stood in the track and tried to look innocuous.
She waited patiently.
Pete emerged. He shook; that might be the November night chill combined with his lack of trousers, or it might be fear.
“I didn’t want to do it,” he said. “I wouldn’t hurt anyone.”
That was clearly a lie. Kinta Jane nodded toward the burning town and shrugged, making a grunt that she hoped sounded like a question.
Pete frowned. “What do you care?”
Kinta Jane raised one pistol, not pointing it at Pete but making it clearly visible in the firelight. She repeated her grunt.
“I reckon you ain’t much of a talker, are you? So I tell you, and you let me go?”
Kinta Jane nodded.
“Look, we’re Ohio Company irregulars.”
Kinta Jane frowned.
“Imperial Ohio Company Militia.” Pete spat. “Not Dutch. We was all prisoners, just weeks ago. I was in Pittsburgh, I think Joss there was in Philadelphia, Henrik might have been in a dungeon up in New Amsterdam. And we got let out.”
Kinta shrugged and grunted.
“We didn’t escape, if that’s what you’re thinking.” Pete shook his head. “There’s a word for it. Furloughed? Paroled? I don’t remember. But some director of the Ohio Company cut a deal with the Emperor that he’d give us his pardon if we did a six-month tour of duty with the company.”
Kinta Jane nodded at the fire. She could hear yelling from the town, and occasional gunshots.
“They ain’t innocent villages, though, are they?” Pete grinned slyly. “If they’ve got anything as was supposed to be stamped by the Company and ain’t, then they’re smugglers. They got contraband, and our orders are to burn all contraband.”
It was winter. They Imperial Ohio Company was burning the Adenans’ food in the winter. Kinta Jane trembled with rage.
This wasn’t her affair, though. The Conventicle didn’t exist to thwart Thomas Penn in his struggle against the Electors of the Ohio. The Conventicle existed because of Benjamin Franklin and his Vision, and because of Simon Sword.
Kinta Jane should let Pete go and continue to Philadelphia.
“That’s the Pacification of the Ohio, ain’t it?” Pete continued. “If these Wigglies learn they’re completely dependent on the Emperor for food, they’re gonna calm right down and cooperate.”