Wesley sat upright, wide-eyed. The dogs only chased in his dreams. The noise was just a blacksmith’s hammer striking an anvil somewhere in town.
He yawned. Sunlight, the color of clear yellowish piss, reached crooked across the floorboards from beneath the swinging doors. It stopped just inside the bars of his cell where his unlaced boots had been placed. CLANG. An orange cat was curled into a crescent in the rectangle of sunlight, exactly halfway between him and the door; it had purple marks on its face and chunks missing from each ear. Its tail swayed in the air behind it, back and forth, back and forth, as if it were something separate from its body. CLANG. The cat’s eyes were a dull, crocodile shade of green, and cautious in a way that suggested it had never been somebody’s pet. It stared at him. He stared at the cat. His chains jingled and the cat’s torn ears pointed as he got to his feet. The crocodile eyes watched him lean forward and pick up a boot. He took the letter opener out of his back pocket and jammed it into the shackle on his right wrist. The shackle unbuckled and fell hard to the floor without bouncing.
The letter opener’s silver blade gleaned a wedge of light onto the floor. Wesley wiggled the blade. CLANG. The cat stayed put, but watched the shine float up a coat rack and perch itself in the center of a key ring. Wesley wiggled the light. The cat looked to him, with contempt, as if it had played this game before and lost. He wiggled the light again. The cat crawled along the floor, eyes fixed on the coat rack. He wiggled the letter opener. The cat arched its back. CLANG. The cat wiggled its butt.
There were footsteps outside.
Wesley stuffed the letter opener flat between the sole and rubber of his boot, then pulled his foot in over it. He picked a shackle up off the floor and snapped it back around his wrist just as that booze-bag Sheriff strut through the swinging doors, spurs hissing on his heels with each step. The cat launched itself after a light that wasn’t there and smashed its face into the coatrack. The key ring bounced once off the floor and rolled out the space beneath the doors, it eventually circled around itself and wobbled flat on the porch.
Wesley watched the Sheriff finger through some parchment on the desk. It looked as if the Sheriff’s cheeks were heavy on his face, stretching the purple bags under his blue eyes. He had enough golden facial hair for Wesley to be jealous, but it still didn’t grow in fully on his cheeks or connect his sorry mustache to the scruff on his chin.
“How did someone as young as you become Sheriff?”
“Take a guess,” Sheriff said, lifting a scroll off the floor.
“Couldn’t handle being in the Blackguard?”
Sheriff pressed a flask to his lips and nodded a few times.
“I believe that,” Wesley said. “But find it hard to believe there wasn’t a better man in town for the job.”
“Hands against the wall,” Sheriff said.
“Is that what you told the Foster girl when you forced her into marriage?” Wesley replied, placing his palms against the flaking granite. “You can’t govern feelings.”
The cat stood in the doorway, its eyes switching between Wesley’s face and his boot. The Foster girl pushed backwards through the front door with a duffel bag and sword strap over her shoulder, holding the key ring out to the Sheriff. She kicked the cat square in the chest. It ran off, looking back at Wesley once.
Sheriff swung the cell open, grabbing a fistful of Wesley’s suspenders where they crossed behind his back.
“Walk,” Sheriff said, cupping the barrel of a flintlock rifle over Wesley’s left ear. The boy marched out of the building and smiled to a pair of old women setting up in the market. Neither of them made eye-contact with him—nobody ever did in these small towns. His existence was just one big trouble to everybody. He squinted through hair in front of his eyes out to the gold coming over the ocean, unsure of the next time he’d see the sun.
“Get in,” Sheriff said.
They came to an abrupt stop at the rear end of some dark wooden hellbox on wheels. It was taller than it was wide, and cast a long shadow over the cobblestone in front of it. The back latch of its cargo bay folded down like a wooden tongue and created a ramp up to the back, into an animal cage.
“I completely object,” Wesley said. Sheriff pushed him forward, but he dug his heels into the dirt road. “These cages are meant to transport Bloodwolves and Vesper Grizzly Bears for the circus!”
Kensington and the girl pulled him up the ramp by his arms and locked the door. It was a rusted hell-box, too small for him to lie straight-legged in either direction.
“This is inhumane!” Wesley yelled. Cowards poked their heads from every window in town to watch. Sheriff fastened the back hatch of the caravan shut at waist height against the bars. “This is a dog’s accommodation.”
Something pulled at the corner of Sheriff’s mouth.
That hammer was getting on his nerves. He looked around the cage. It certainly smelt as though animals had lived in it, and shit in it. His cage was pinched between the back hatch, a gigantic black cask, and piles of luggage. Long wooden benches spanned the cabin walls. A beige tarp was tied along bending wooden ribs overhead. It was a tent with wooden wheels, pulled by mules.
The Foster girl stepped on board and shoved her duffel bag under one of the front benches. She wore a sabre incorrectly over her back in a sheath and looked back at him, for a passing moment, in the same way someone’s eyes would graze over stale vegetables.
“Hi,” he said.
She sat up front with the Sheriff.
The carriage set a slow pace forward as the mules loped towards the field. Wheels groaned beneath them, jerking over roots and stones.
Wesley took inventory of the supplies in the alcove: heavy bags of horse feed, a few stuffed rucksacks, a small metal drum of lantern oil, buckets with what was presumably water sloshing inside, four sleeping bags rolled tight, and coiled rope just an arm’s length from the cell. A handful of ordinary things he could use as weapons were within reach: forks, shovels, axel wrenches. But he was most intrigued by the lantern hanging from the center cable of the cabin.
It wasn’t lit, but swung back and forth with easy squeals. Eventually it had to be lit within the pitch-dark of the forest. Just a splash of that lantern oil to the tarp would set this entire vehicle ablaze like a dead pine tree.
The lock of his cage would be easy work. Its keyhole was gaping wide, a two-pin job he could probably do with his pinkies, about as complex as women at the brothels. He’d be liberated and on his merry way within thirty seconds—not unlike his visits to the brothels.
If he thread his legs through the bars and draped his legs up over the hatch, he could lay flat on his back. But not comfortably, he realized. The carriage bumped and rattled along the field, cradling him at the crossroads of relaxed and seasick. He stared up out of the back hatch at the rising sun; the sky had become unscratched robin-blue.
“I’m going to kill both of you in your sleep,” Wesley said as he yawned. But he’d have to wait for the perfect moment. Hastings became the small place that it was in the distance.