Home > Red Country (First Law World #3)(6)

Red Country (First Law World #3)(6)
Joe Abercrombie

‘Not longer, though, and not with gear, and we’ll do no good rushing at this. They’ve got what? Two, three days’ start on us? And they’ll be riding hard. Twenty men, you said? We have to be realistic, Shy.’

‘Realistic?’ she whispered at him, hardly able to believe it.

‘If we chase after on foot, and don’t starve or get washed away in a storm, and if we catch ’em, what then? We’re not armed, even. Not with more’n your knife. No. We’ll follow on fast as Scale and Calder can take us.’ Nodding at the oxen, grazing a little while they had the chance. ‘See if we can pare a couple off the herd. Work out what they’re about.’

‘Clear enough what they’re about!’ she said, pointing at Gully’s grave. ‘And what happens to Ro and Pit while we’re fucking following on?’ She ended up screaming it at him, voice splitting the silence and a couple of hopeful crows taking flight from the tree’s branches.

The corner of Lamb’s mouth twitched but he didn’t look at her. ‘We’ll follow.’ Like it was a fact agreed on. ‘Might be we can talk this out. Buy ’em back.’

‘Buy ’em? They burn your farm, and they hang your friend, and they steal your children and you want to pay ’em for the privilege? You’re such a fucking coward!’

Still he didn’t look at her. ‘Sometimes a coward’s what you need.’ His voice was rough. Clicking in his throat. ‘No shed blood’s going to unburn this farm now, nor unhang Gully neither. That’s done. Best we can do is get back the little ones, any way we can. Get ’em back safe.’ This time the twitch started at his mouth and scurried all the way up his scarred cheek to the corner of his eye. ‘Then we’ll see.’

Shy took a last look as they lurched away towards the setting sun. Her home. Her hopes. How a day can change things about. Naught left but a few scorched timbers poking at the pinking sky. You don’t need a big dream. She felt about as low as she ever had in all her life, and she’d been in some bad, dark, low-down places. Hardly had the strength all of a sudden to hold her head up.

‘Why’d they have to burn it all?’ she whispered.

‘Some men just like to burn,’ said Lamb.

Shy looked around at him, the outline of his battered frown showing below his battered hat, the dying sun glimmering in one eye, and thought how strange it was, that he could be so calm. A man who hadn’t the guts to argue over prices, thinking death and kidnap through. Being realistic about the end of all they’d worked for.

‘How can you sit so level?’ she whispered at him. ‘Like… like you knew it was coming.’

Still he didn’t look at her. ‘It’s always coming.’

The Easy Way

‘I have suffered many disappointments.’ Nicomo Cosca, captain general of the Company of the Gracious Hand, leaned back stiffly upon one elbow as he spoke. ‘I suppose every great man faces them. Abandons dreams wrecked by betrayal and finds new ones to pursue.’ He frowned towards Mulkova, columns of smoke drifting from the burning city and up into the blue heavens. ‘I have abandoned very many dreams.’

‘That must have taken tremendous courage,’ said Sworbreck, eyeglasses briefly twinkling as he looked up from his notes.

‘Indeed! I lose count of the number of times my death has been prematurely declared by one optimistic enemy or another. Forty years of trials, struggles, challenges, betrayals. Live long enough… you see everything ruined.’ Cosca shook himself from his reverie. ‘But it hasn’t been boring, at least! What adventures along the way, eh, Temple?’

Temple winced. He had borne personal witness to five years of occasional fear, frequent tedium, intermittent diarrhoea, failure to avoid the plague, and avoiding fighting as if it was the plague. But he was not paid for the truth. Far from it.

‘Heroic,’ he said.

‘Temple is my notary. He prepares the contracts and sees them honoured. One of the cleverest bastards I ever met. How many languages do you speak, Temple?’

‘Fluently, no more than six.’

‘Most important man in the whole damn Company! Apart from me, of course.’ A breeze washed across the hillside and stirred the wispy white hairs about Cosca’s liver-spotted pate. ‘I so look forward to telling you my stories, Sworbreck!’ Temple restrained another grimace of distaste. ‘The Siege of Dagoska!’ Which ended in utter disaster. ‘The Battle of Afieri!’ Shameful debacle. ‘The Years of Blood!’ Sides changed like shirts. ‘The Kadiri Campaign!’ Drunken fiasco. ‘I even kept a goat for several years. A stubborn beast, but loyal, you’d have to give her that…’

Sworbreck achieved the not-inconsiderable feat of performing an obsequious bow while sitting cross-legged against a slab of fallen masonry. ‘I have no doubt my readers will thrill to your exploits.’

‘Enough to fill twenty volumes!’

‘Three will be more than adequate—’

‘I was once Grand Duke of Visserine, you know.’ Cosca waved down attempts at abasement which had, in fact, not happened. ‘Don’t worry, you need not call me Excellency–we are all informal here in the Company of the Gracious Hand, are we not, Temple?’

Temple took a long breath. ‘We are all informal.’ Most of them were liars, all of them were thieves, some of them were killers. Informality was not surprising.

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