in due time their foot will slip

POSTED: Sun Oct 08, 2017 5:29 am

The whispers in his dreams had the voice of a dead boy.

With more clarity than ever Silas could hear him speaking, and he knew this to be a figment of an imagination broken and pieced back together, of a deep longing and grief, more than anything of a terrible guilt. Silas had made his promises over and over again, but he still could not protect his son, and he would carry that—and Zacchaeus’ voice, filled with rage and pain—to his grave.

Driven by this, the soldier-turned-slave bided his time, and heard the familiar whisperings of war.

It was the coyotes this time. Traitorous things, too evil and barbaric to be trusted even by the might and cruelty of Salsola. The coyotes might not have taken his child from him, but Silas knew there would be no war, no strife, if they had not risen up. Due to his past he almost expected to fight, though no one would trust him with a weapon. No one heeded his words. He expected even the Crone had forgotten him.

The Kasper kept his dark head down and worked, prepared, for the great war and for a war of his own. He had always been a terribly patient man.

The moment, when it came, was so perfect that Silas knew it a sign of God.

The children should never have been so far away from the Ruins, and certainly not here out in the woodlands. It was foolishness that had brought them here, though Silas never found out whether the mother or father had taken them. All he gathered was that a romp among the trees had ended when duty or disaster called the parent away, and that the woman slave—the hybrid—had taken their place.

“Let’s go home,” Corrine was murmuring to the youngsters. She balanced one puppy in her arms, the other—white and patched with lavender-brown—toddling along at her side. She took slow steps out of consideration for the pup, and smiled down at them, at her captor’s get, as tenderly as if they shared blood.

Silas stepped from the trees in silence. The woman stopped, startled, and her eyes widened at once when the pied puppy approached with wagging tail. “Ask, stop,” she hissed, and the pup plopped his rump down, goggling at her.

“What’s the matter?” the Boreas man asked softly. When the slave didn’t answer, he took a few steps closer and knelt down to greet the child, who snuffled his hands with eager curiosity before Corrine spoke up, French tones tremulous.

“Loki will be angry if he sees you with them.”

Silas tapped fingers gently on the boy’s head and looked up at her, speaking in his smooth drawl. “Is it Loki? That’s a terribly familiar way to speak of a master.”

He flustered her, but in turn this made her speak louder. Too loud. His ears flattened as she all but glared at him. “I do not trust you. None of us trust you. Please just go, I will not tell him, you won’t be beaten.”

Tap, tap, tap. Ask tipped his head back to try to nibble at the man’s hands, entertained. Silas had been able to keep his sister’s children entertained like this, when he didn’t have a piece of hide or bone to occupy their attention, but it had been a short-lived game that scarred his white fingers with puppy teeth.

Tap, tap—the only outer sign of impatience in a man happy to wait for the perfect opportunity. His hand creeped down.

When he scruffed the puppy, it yelped in alarm, but this was a short-lived noise. Corrine set the other puppy down in a heartbeat and flung herself at him with a growl, and Silas bowled her over into the dirt. Claws raked open an old scar on his temple, and she snapped at him while the pup tried to flee, to scramble toward his sister waiting in the bush she’d been unceremoniously been shoved into, but Silas was (for all these months wasting away) still a soldier.

He knocked her unconscious with a decisive blow, and snatched the puppy up, and clamping fingers over the boy’s muzzle ran.

Zacchaeus’ voice screamed for vengeance in his head, and for a terrifying moment he wasn’t sure if he was listening to a memory or a ghost.

The slave crashed through the trees at first, twigs scoring his shoulders, and tried to curl arms inward to spare the puppy great harm. But his feet found old paths well enough, and he avoided the traps and pitfalls placed here and there with ease. Seasons had assimilated him to Salsola’s territory and secrets, if not its ranks. He would find the borders and he would be able to break free, a captive in hand.

It was not quite what he had wanted. He had hoped to kill that one-handed hound, the one who had struck Zacchi down, but—

Loki’s cruel taunting over the boy’s silver body had echoed countless times. It was the witch-man’s hatred that burned most deeply now, and Silas had muffled and frightened in his arms something precious to him.

Waiting for the sound of pursuit, he ran, and ran, and ran.

He was nearly free when he heard it finally: a shout of surprise, limping footfalls. He was at the river and saw a brown wolf there, staring at him with wide red eyes—and recognizing at once what the Boreas soldier’s purpose was. The slave drew breath.

Silas lunged at him, child in arm. Darijus howled, but the noise was choked from him. Squished against the men’s chests, Ask cried, and cried again as something hot and red drizzled onto his crown. All three slammed into the grass at the edge of the river, until Silas pulled his jaws from Darijus’ throat and spat excess.

Another howl echoed over the territory. His escape was no longer secret.

Silas cursed, and flung himself into the river. The child shivered against him when they reached the other side dripping, too exhausted and frightened to whine.

Almost gently, Silas pulled the boy closer to his warm chest as he ran.