The crowd broke out in raucous cheers. Apparently, they changed sides quickly. This supported my theory that they didn’t care who got beat up, so long as someone did. I ignored them, and leaned against my corner. For one thing, I wasn’t here as entertainment. For another, they’d seen enough showboating from Bloody-Nose Jones.
“That wasn’t bad,” the oily fellow at ringside said from the apron. “You ready for the champ?”
A tired sentry yawned on the ramparts of the city, leaning against his spear. He itched his cheek and rubbed his eyes. There was no duty more boring than night watch. You couldn’t even see anything, for God’s sake! Clouds covered the moon.
Neal smiled as he looked to the east. He used a telescope that once belonged to a child with an avid interest in astronomy in the times before shadows walked the land. Now, it afforded Neal Osborne with the ability to see his prey.
“They are ripe for the picking!” He said to Lamb, enthused. “A city of tents has been built outside their gates, where most of their warriors sleep. If we ride on them now, while they are unaware, we can obliterate most of their force. We can crush them under our hooves.”
The wind was harsh, biting at the flesh. The rider used one hand to wrap his scarf more firmly across his face while the other held fast to the reins of his galloping pale white horse. Its hooves crunched on the hard packed snow, and steam snorted from the horse’s nostrils, its warm breath mingling with the freezing night air. The rider seemed indifferent, but his steed shivered and hoped this journey would be over soon. They had been riding for weeks to find this lonely outpost.
They made camp in a town south of the Citadel city at dusk. They were travelling down the coast towards a wider pass in the mountains, as the path once taken by Eve and Gwen could not efficiently transport an army. In a day or two they would be following one of the old highways built by the civilization that came before them, though its asphalt and concrete had given way to dirt and rock.
Neal sat astride a golden charger, his velvet-gloved hands stroking through the stallion’s white-blond mane. He wore rich burgundy fabric under elaborate gold and red armour, a jewelled sword at his hip. Neal stroked his hand through the golden beard on his chin, and then saluted his troops. They cheered for him loudly, earning a wide grin from their leader. Their king.
Evan sat in the vast vaults of the treasury in the depths of the Citadel. He spent a lot of time here every night by himself, counting money. Not counting it for accounting purposes, they had people to do that, but for the sake of feeling the coins slide through his fingers. They had stopped using paper money a long time ago, having lost the means to produce it, but coins were not that difficult. Gold, copper, iron, they had piles of it by now. Some of the vaults had heavy-duty shelves for jewels and sculpture, vases and other items of value confiscated by their soldiers.
Jason stood in the shadows of the doorway leading to the balcony, looking down over the massed crowd as he hugged the wall. His face was grim, and he seemed to need the wall’s support to even stand. Far beneath him was the assembled army of the Citadel, standing with shields and spears in long rows and columns of massed death. Jay shook as he backed away from the sight and fell down into a chair in the Hall of Elders.
I pushed through the front row surrounding the ring and boosted myself up on the apron. I stood in the nearest corner and commenced untying my shoelaces, muttering to myself. I had been slowly simmering for days, pissed off without an outlet. Ford Jones and his bad attitude gave me a convenient target. The illegal fight club gave me an irresistible opportunity.
I stripped off my socks and put them in the shoes, leaving them in the corner. A swarthy man came to the edge of the ring and hissed for my attention.
“Hey, pssst, what do you think you’re doing?”
I was sitting in a den of iniquity. I think that’s what they call it when someone’s surrounded by crime and depravity, anyway. And, despite my training as a lawyer and my respect for the law, I found myself oddly enjoying the spectacle. Two men fought hand to hand in a ring below us, while we drank and cavorted. It was bizarre.