I thought I’d offer a change of pace this week. Something different from my usual blathering. I’m offering a snippet from my novel Thick As Thieves. I hope you get a kick out of it.
If you’re intrigued enough to want to read the rest, Thick As Thieves is available in print and digital formats here and here, and I suppose pretty much any other online store from which you chose to purchase your books. So, enough with the sales pitch. Here you go.
The guildsmen charged. The muleskinners fell back, but only to take up defensive positions alongside the wagons or between yoked mule teams. It soon became apparent that the red tunic coalition did not have a monopoly on weapons. Trader Vawn’s men produced cudgels of their own along with staves, whips, and knives. Brick wasn’t surprised. A caravan didn’t cross the vast, half-civilized expanses between settled areas of the Confederacy with unarmed teamsters. Not even a guarded caravan like this one. At least, no successful caravan did.
Brick heard a piercing whistle from Dahlia’s pursed lips: three short bursts and one long trill. It sounded like a signal. Sure enough, a moment later the mounted caravan guards urged their steeds into formation, forming a line at the rear of the wagons. So, not riding into the fight to support the teamsters. What then? Dahlia stood, blades at the ready, by the tavern entrance. Trader Vawn’s well-being assured. That left the other priority—the cargo of imports—in need of looking after. The guards wouldn’t involve themselves in the brawl unless it threatened to damage the shipment. Interfering in labor disputes did not appear to be on their list of responsibilities.
Neatly contained violence, an evening’s entertainment for the Highmark Street locals—at least until the Kalapo Horse Guard could be roused from their barracks on Ash Way, just south of Leyvan Town, and ride to quell the disturbance.
It didn’t look neat or contained to Brick. Maybe none of the combatants wore armor, and he saw no long blades catching the last light of the westering sun, but the two sides went at it in earnest. The rutted, hard-packed surface of the street was gouged and turned by hard-soled boots pushing and straining for grip. Blood began to moisten the churned dirt, as if part of some primitive plowing ceremony, a sacrifice to ensure the following year’s yield.
Then a flung cudgel—about a two-foot length of stout oak—whipped past Brick’s ear and shattered the slats of one of the tavern’s shutters. He heard someone yell “the fucking Shark is in the tavern.” And a group of red tunics detached from the scrum and came his way.
“Brick,” said Shib, peeking out from the ruins of the shutter, “take care of this, please.”
Right. From his relaxed position Brick pushed himself off the wall and straightened up. He’d often found that simply breathing deeply, expanding to his full dimensions, and stretching a bit could curtail violence before it began. It required a brave man to tackle someone his size. A brave man or a drunk man.
Or, as in this case, simply a whole bunch of men. There had to be a half-dozen of them, all in red tunics. Well, a range from maroon to crimson, Brick noted as they drew nearer.
He wondered if there was any compelling reason to side with the guildsmen instead of the trader’s teamsters, but couldn’t see it. He’d spent too much time looking for work after the army dismissed him to have much sympathy for a group of men who’d begrudge other men a job simply because they didn’t wear spiffy red tunics. The Clackmat Drayage and Cartage Guild hadn’t offered Brick work when he’d been desperately searching. So fuck ’em. He had his own job to do now.
Brick took a step forward to meet them, placing himself before the door, and feeling a certain comfort knowing that the Leyvan woman stood at his back with her sharpened steel. He didn’t care for the twinge in his leg, but he figured it wouldn’t give out right away, and once he got warmed up it shouldn’t trouble him.
“That’s far enough, boys,” he said, stretching out both arms as if blocking the way and—once again—swelling up, flexing his arms and the muscles of his back. He could hear the leather of his stupid black vest squeaking in protest. He recognized the posturing as a simple exercise in intimidation, but it worked sometimes and maybe in the waning light they hadn’t caught a good look at him the first time. If he could keep anyone from getting hurt then he considered that worth the risk of someone scoffing at his display.
It still didn’t work.
“Get the fuck out of the way, freak.” The leading red tunic reached out and prodded Brick—rather scornfully, Brick thought—in the midsection with the tip of his cudgel.
“Don’t,” said Brick. He felt the advance hints of the Fury, a faint haze of red specks at the edge of his vision. The jab with the club was insulting. And the tavern, and the safety of the people within was his responsibility. His job. He tried to keep anger at bay, though not in great earnest. He recognized the dangers of surrendering to rage, but he liked the Fury. It is what had made him a good soldier. It is what had allowed him to ignore fear—not dismiss it, not conquer it, but ignore it. It is what let him tear gaps in enemy positions, be the tip of a human wedge driving into a shield wall. He recognized the disadvantages in civilian life. Slipping the leash from impulse control could be a problem outside a war zone. So, he kept the Fury tightly reined in. But he missed it. And if this punk ass guildsman jabbed him again . . .
The punk ass guildsman jabbed him again.