2. The Stranger
“I don’t have to tell you anything.” Kannen tried to force her way between them with little success. After another failed attempt, she conceded.
The Constable drew a sliver of wood from his shirt pocket and leaned into the doorframe. “Came an awful long way through the range to get to this place.”
Kannen took cautious paces back to the stone fireplace. “As I mentioned, we’re being chased.”
“Even so,” the Innkeeper tossed another log onto the glowing coals, “this village isn’t exactly on the main road.”
The girl buried her weary face in her palms. “I’m trying to get over this range.” She knelt and rubbed her thin hands before the fresh flames. “I was near death when you found me.”
“Where are our manners?” the Vicar said through nip from his glass. “You must be chewing yourself in two.”
The Innkeeper ran her soiled dishrag along the dented bar top. “We should have something along for you any---”
Swirling powder invaded the cozy space as the front door was tossed ajar. A taller lanky lady, sporting red leggings and a black tunic hurried inside. She huddled a few wrappers in her arms. “Afternoon!”
The Constable tipped his toothpick. “Taverness. How’s things?”
The Taverness shook her white hair clean of the snow and stamped her boots at the doorway. “A rough one out there.”
She went to the bar and set her cargo aside. “Brought what you requested. Bread, jerky, cheese, and some brandy.”
The Innkeeper unfurled the cloth from each bundle. “Much appreciated.”
The Taverness ran her braided locks between her hands, knocking the frosty remnants free. “Who’s the visitor?”
“We were just getting to that.” The Constable strode to the renewed flames and leaned against the mantle.
Sliding a wooden plate across to Kannen, the Innkeeper said, “Says she’s trying to cross the range. Got lost.”
The Taverness’s curiosity piqued as she crossed her athletic arms. “Oh?”
The Innkeeper nodded. “Said she’s got a dangerous friend with her.”
Kannen stopped mid-bite. “He is dangerous, but he’s no friend of anything living.”
The Innkeeper and Vicar shared in a look of concern.
“What’s so special about this person you’ve got with you?”
Kannen mashed up another mouthful of food. “They’re after him. I have to finish what he started.”
The Vicar slid to the edge of his bench, turning around on its side. “Finish what?”
She glared into the holy man’s soul. “They’re coming for him.”
The Mayor turned from her spot beside the fire. A motherly concern adorned her plump features. “What sort of trouble are you in, dear?”
Kannen finished the last of her bread and brandy. “They’ll be here after sundown. We must secure the town.”
“For all we know,” the Constable said, working at his teeth with his pick, “you’re the one that gave this man his wounds.”
Kannen’s eyes grew.
“How do we know you’re not to blame?”
She went to the windows. “I may have given him some of those wounds in our fight, but I’m not the one you should be worried over.”
The Constable took slow paces toward her. “Then, who?”
“When they come,” Kannen said, meeting him in the middle of the room, “they’ll raze this place to the ground.” She surveyed the others’ faces. “Where did you take him?”
The Innkeeper removed the plate from her bar top. “Our Cleric is tending to him in her cottage to get healed.”
“Healed?” Kannen sounded offended. “That creature deserves no healing.”
The newcomer marched toward the main door. She tugged on its thick wooden handle when a calloused hand stalled her escape.
“Not until I get some more out of you.” The Constable slammed the door closed with his other hand.
He tossed Kannen back into the room.
After a testy glare, she conceded and went back to the chair they had put her in before. “I just left a hell on Earth that’s headed for the man on the far edge of your fine town.”
“What do they want with this man?” The Mayor walked to her chair, setting a tiny hand on its armrest.
Kannen’s dark curls lulled forward with her head. “Some gemstone in his chest.”
The Vicar rose from his table and joined them. “What was it for, this gemstone?”
Kannen shrugged. “The Darkwalkers want what is theirs.”
The Constable and the Taverness shared in the mass confusion.
“Darkwalker?” The lawman started toward the girl, but hesitated.
Kannen’s gaze fell to the flames. “Don’t ask. I don’t know who or what they are.”
The Mayor took the fire poker in hand and agitated the coals, stirring up a cluster of smoldering spores. “You say these beings will be here at sunset?”
Their eyes met. The Mayor’s reply lay in silence behind Kannen’s level gaze.
The petite leader set the poker aside and strode to the center of the room. “It seems that we have little choice but to ready ourselves as she suggests.”
The Taverness met the Mayor on the bearskin rug in the room’s heart. “How do we know we can believe a word she says?”
The Innkeeper took slow steps from behind her counter. “When we found her, Kannen was, as she put it, on the brink of death.”
The Constable nodded. “Could be delirious.”
Kannen’s hands slapped both armrests. “I’m not crazy!”
“Have you even seen these walkers with your own eyes?” the Constable asked.
Kannen had no retort. “Well, I have seen the man in your Cleric’s care, and I know for certain he’s a killer.”
The Innkeeper’s shoulder bobbed. “Couldn’t hurt us to go look in on our neighbor.”
The Constable muttered a string of profanity under his breath and strode to the far corner to retrieve his overcoat.
“Suppose I’ll go have a look.” The lawman’s eyes surveyed the main room. “Why don’t you join me, Vicar?”
The Lord’s servant swallowed the last of his coffee and stood to put on his cloak. Its black felt swept just beyond the floorboard’s reach. “I’m due for some fresh air.”
Securing his wide-brimmed hat, the Constable turned at the door and said, “We’ll return as soon as we’re able.”
“Hey.” Kannen threw out an arm. “What about me? I know more about this man than any of you.”
She rose to join them, but collapsed on unsteady legs.
“Because of that,” the Taverness said, helping the girl back into the chair.
With that, the front door closed, and the men trudged off through the knee-deep drifts.