There’s a milestone in the development of the characters I need to reach before I walk away from this setting.
A gentle silence settled around us as we finished our food. We all knew what must follow. Travel. Pursuit. Fear and maybe death.
I don’t make much of an impression when I’m in a room, and that’s all right with me. Even after I killed the baron I doubted anyone who was there would be able to identify me with certainty. Were I alone I’d just need to put enough distance between my face and that ugly scene, and refrain from showing too much of the baron’s money in one place, and I’d be fine. Eventually they’d find some other bastard to execute.
Bags, however, had made quite an impression. We could get him new armor and maybe even new teeth, but it wouldn’t matter. The baron’s friends would follow him to the end of the world. It was time to find shelter from the storm.
“Know anyone who hated the Baron?” I asked my new companions.
Always-Katherine nodded. “Almost everybody.”
Almost everybody is worthless. “Anyone who might be grateful enough and powerful enough to protect us?”
She framed her response carefully. “Grateful and powerful, yes. But willing? Probably not. The baron’s enemies aren’t going to want to reveal themselves yet.”
Yet, she said. I wiped my fingers on my cloak and stretched my legs. The fire was just a glow now, painting our faces red. Bags belched and laughed. I asked the question I already knew the answer to. “What makes you think that?”
She spit into the fire. “Because one of them hired me to kill the son of a bitch.”
Bags laughed. “That’s why she made us come marching out here. To see who stole her fun.”
“And to keep you alive,” she said. She turned back to me. “Who are you working for?”
“I fill my own belly, and starve on my own account,” I said.
“Why did you kill him, then?”
“He was an asshole.” And that’s the whole truth. But people want to make it complicated.
She smiled, but it wasn’t a particularly friendly smile. “Do you kill all assholes?”
“I’d like to.”
“Bags said the baron was attacking a woman, and you killed him for it.”
Katherine was trying to like me, trying to see me as a defender of the weak, a man willing to risk his life to protect the downtrodden. A lot of people are like her; they feel a need to enjoy the company of the people around them. Those people annoy me. “I killed him,” I said, “but that’s not why.”
I let it drop. If they wanted to think I was some godfucked saint then it would be easier if I ever needed to cut their throats. “We should be going,” I said. “And Bags, can we prevail upon you to not leave a trail of blasted vegetation behind you?”
Bags gave me his toothless grin. “Probably not,” he said.
“They’ll know by now we are headed toward Bishop’s Junction.” Katherine said. “They’ll be waiting for us there. We should turn north.”
The terrain to the north got very rugged, making mounted pursuit less of an advantage. It also meant slow, hard travel and a much longer wait before I could start spending my money. “Maybe we should split up,” I said. Without Bags, I was pretty sure I could fade into the forest and emerge somewhere else, just another stranger.
She looked at me with narrowed eyes and shook her head slowly. “You’re the one who got us into this.”
“Baxter’s messes are my messes, too. And this one’s yours as well.”
“I wanted to do it,” Bags said as he sucked the last of the chicken grease off his fingers. “They were hurting her.”
“That’s because you’re a kind-hearted idiot,” Katherine said, but she didn’t sound angry when she said it. She looked back at me. “I don’t know what you are. We’re staying together until I figure that out.”
And not a moment longer, I added silently, because that was the truth of it. I stood. “Best get going, then. I hear the north is lovely this time of year.”