Authors: Hilari Bell
“You bought this mutt? Why? Even if we were staying, the last thing we need is a dog. A mute dog. A mute
. You're out of your mind.”
Michael had somehow convinced the beast to sit before it tracked mud over him, and now he rubbed its head and chest. By daylight its color was a mottled gray and tan, fading to dark gray around the ears and feet, and lighter tan on its chest and belly. It cocked its head when I spoke, and its long tongue slithered out. I had a strong impression that it was laughing.
“Why not?” Michael replied. “He belongs to no one now. As for his muteness, he treed you neatly enough. Besides, I didn't have to buy him. Potter gave him to me.”
I closed my eyes. “The usual reward for capturing a murderer is gold roundels, not a mangy mutt. And we could have used the money. Can we even afford to feed it? What does it eat, besides burglars?”
“Soup bones would be good,” said Judith calmly. “I packed several for him.”
Her silhouette was a dark exclamation point in the sunlit doorway, and she carried two lumpy sacks in her hands. “There wasn't much in the kitchen that was suitable for travel, but I brought what there was.”
She handed the sacks to Michael and stepped back, eyeing me coolly. I'll take food over hysterics any day.
I heard the jingle of coin as the sacks changed hands and considered an angry refusal, but the thought of cold barn lofts dissuaded me.
My months on the road last fall had made me a fair hand with horse tack, but today I fumbled so badly that Michael took over. Leaving me with nothing to do but talk to Judith. “Will you marry that Darrow what's-his-name, now that Max is respectable again?”
“I'll think about it.” Anticipation glinted in her eyes. “He's not a bad man, just a bit spineless. I believe I could make something of him.”
At least one spineless bastard would get what he deserved, but I didn't say it aloud. If nothing else, Judith was quite capable of taking the sacks back. And speaking of spinelessâ¦“I heard Max and Anna fighting. They sounded pretty bitter.”
Michael looked up from loading bread and hard cheese into the saddlebags. “I hope 'twill not cause trouble between them.”
hope he'll sleep in a cold bed for years,” I said, and watched with irritation as Michael and Judith looked at each other and smiled.
“You'll both get your wishes,” she predicted. “Fisk for a time, and Michael in the long run. She really does love him.”
I couldn't be sorry for it. She'd be happy, in the long
run. And Judith would live life on her own terms. And Lissyâ¦Lissy would go right on growing into a woman I barely knew, and now I never would.
Judith was watching my face. “You should write. We'd send a letter anywhere it could reach you.”
“Would Max allow it?” I asked nastily. Michael led the horses from their stalls, and Tipple gave me a friendly sniff.
“He'd have allowed it last time,” she said. “But you stormed out before he could say so.”
Just like this time. No, not quite. This time, not being thirteen, I was keeping the money. I swung into the saddle. “I'll think about it.”
“Good fortune, brother. Not that you won't make it if you have toâby hook or by crook.” Her eyes gleamed, and not with tears.
“Good fortune, sister. Not that you won't bully it out of the hapless world.”
I kicked Tipple into motion before she could reply, for a battle of wits with Judith was always risky.
Riding through the familiar streets for the last time might have been a painful ordeal. As it turned out, trying to keep Michael's mutt from chasing cats, spooking carriage horses, and treeing the butcher's apprentice was a full-time job for half a dozen men. It kept us both occupied until we were far enough out of town
that Michael could release it from the improvised leash. Michael had been speculating on a name for the beast. Disaster was what came to my mind, with Nuisance a close second.
The horses were fresh, tooâtheir prancing splattered the icy mud to an unbelievable height. But as the traffic thinned, and the dog was freed to range at will, I finally had time to think.
I didn't want to think, and I noticed that Michael had fallen silent too. “You were awfully meek when Potter threw us out,” I commented. I suddenly remembered that Potter had called him Sir Michael and referred to me as his squire, without even noticing he'd done it. Was the lunacy that contagious?
“'Tis part of my new persona,” said Michael. “It ill becomes an unredeemed man to argue with sheriffs.”
I'd hoped he was over thatâand the thought didn't seem to depress him as it had. “Well, I hope you've learned to conceal those tattoos from now on.”
“Oh, I've learned that. I've been thinking about the way folk perceive others. They hardly ever see who you truly are, especially at first, for their expectations twist their perceptions all out of true.”
“Of course. That's how con men get strangers to trust them instantly. And keep their trust, even in the teeth of the evidence.”
That silenced him, but only for a moment. “So it can be both used and abused,” he said slowly. “But the thought in my mind is that in concealing those marks, in lying, I actually help them see the truth of me more clearly. Strange, isn't it?”
It seemed to me those broken circles were very much part of the truth of him, though not in the way most people would perceive it. In any case it wasn't a decision I was going to discourage, no matter how backwardly he'd come to it.
“Absolutely,” I said. “I'm all for using lies to arrive at the truth.”
Michael snorted. “Or any other point you wish to reach? No, don't answer that. I'm sorry I said it. But mayhap using folks' tendency to misperceive will let me conceal this other strange Gift.”
He was talking about magic, and I was relieved that he saw the need for concealment, butâ¦“You're sure you wouldn't consider using that as well?”
“No,” said Michael firmly. “'Tis too unreliable a Giftâor curse. Besides, 'twould be an unfair advantage. Even in the pursuit of adventure, honor must be upheld. To use such a thingâ”
“Adventure? You haven't had enough adventure yet?”
The cold wind ruffled Michael's hair, and his grin
was so infectious I found myself smiling as he replied, “Of course not. Adventure and good deeds are the trade of a knight errant and squire. There's no such thing as enough.”
I stopped smiling. I'd heard him say this sort of thing before, but now he said it with confidence. With more than confidenceâas if he was now so certain, he could laugh about it himself and still mean every word.
I'd wanted to restore him to himselfâwhy hadn't I remembered that his normal self was a lunatic? This was all my fault, and every uncomfortable, ridiculous, suicidal
he led me into in the future would be my fault too. Good deeds carry stiffer sentences than crimes. You'd think I'd learn, wouldn't you?
The sound of my swearing followed us down the road for a long, long time.
retired from a career as a librarian to pursue writing full-time. Most would call her a fantasist, but her novels offer memorable characters and a potent mix of adventure, mystery, and fantasy that defies classification. Her growing list of titles includes
THE LAST KNIGHT
, a Knight and Rogue novel,
THE PROPHECY, THE WIZARD TEST, GOBLIN WOOD
A MATTER OF PROFIT
Hilari says, “The Knight and Rogue books, of all the books I've written, they are the ones I
the very best. I love both main characters. Michael and Fisk are an absolute blast to writeâ¦and I have some wonderfully nasty plans to make a mess of their lives in future books, too.”
Hilari lives in her hometown of Denver, Colorado. You can visit her online at www.sfwa.org/members/bell.
Visit www.AuthorTracker.com for exclusive information on your favorite HarperCollins author.
The Last Knight
A Knight and Rogue Novel
The Wizard Test
The Goblin Wood
A Matter of Profit
Jacket art Â© 2008 by Larry Rostant
Jacket design by Joel Tippie
. Copyright Â© 2008 by Hilari Bell. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.
Adobe Digital Edition March 2009 ISBN 978-0-06-189782-5
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