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A Decorated Bum

“Hello, darling,” the prisoner said.

“Don’t call me darling,” June said, refusing to meet his eyes. She dug through a sack stuffed with glass bottles and found a clear bottle with clear liquid in it. “This one?” she asked, poking her head through the front curtain and showing it to the Sheriff. He shook his head. “Can you be more specific?” she asked.

“The other one,” he said.

“Oh okay,” she closed the curtain, counted to ten, and then stepped through the curtain and handed him the same bottle. “Found it.”

Sheriff smiled.

“Now that wasn’t hard, was it?” he said. “You just have to listen carefully the first time and you’ll get along just fine on this trip.”

June sat in the front carriage and watched the sheep get smaller and smaller, until they were just white dots in the distance. Sheriff picked at the gold hairs on his chin. He’d be handsome if he didn’t always look so miserable. His hair was starting to thin at the corners of his forehead in the way it shouldn’t for boys in their twenties. He pulled a flask out of his frock coat and took a glug down his throat, then spread his legs as far apart as they could go, ensuring that the bulge in his pants was as visible as possible. She was damned near pinned against the right side of the carriage. He stretched his right arm out in front of him and then raised it over her head and laid it across the back of her seat. She sat forward.

“You’re welcome,” Sheriff said, “by the way.”

“For what?”

He sniffed his sinuses into his brain.

“That I let you come.” He kissed the front of the metal flask and smiled at the corner of his mouth. She blanched at the whiskey’s smell, along with the way he smelt. It was as if he’d rolled in a heap of liquor soaked mutton, then soiled himself—the flies around the mule’s asses even kept their distance.

“You really think all that reward money can buy revenge for your parents?”

She ground her teeth in the back of her mouth.

“It’ll help,” she muttered. “What are you gonna do with your half, drink it?”

He coughed, and didn’t seem concerned with covering his mouth.

“I was once young,” he said. He still was young. “I was hellbent on joining the King’s Blackguard. But I learned, just as you’re learning now, that things weren’t that simple.” He snapped fingers in front of his eyes. He looked over to her—his two blue eyes were like dirty musket rounds. The pupils seemed dilated completely, with no color or iris. “I’m half blind. They didn’t allow my kind in the Blackguard.”

The caravan pressed between a poorly ploughed seam in the cornfield. Stalks bent over and crunched beneath the wheels, shaking loose old rainwater down the back of her neck. She swatted a brown cob before it clubbed her in the face.

“But I didn’t let that stop me,” Sheriff said. She watched the stalks drag alongside the caravan. “I memorized the eye chart. All forty-six letters on the blasted thing—it was your father’s idea.” She looked back at him. “I served my first year in the Blackguard as your father’s apprentice. He helped me memorize the eye chart the night before the tests.” Kensington plucked the front lapel of her jacket between his fingers. “He was wearing this very jacket when we first met in the Kingdom’s square. Good friends, your father and I,” he said again as the wheels sliced through puddles in the bog.

The prisoner slammed his cage against the cask.

“How sentimental,” the prisoner said. “You’re going to bring an innocent person to the guillotine to find the person who killed your father. You’re both just as much murderers.”

She didn’t even turn to acknowledge the prisoner—a part of her was still pissed off at the way he spoke to her, at the way he called her “darling.” They were silent as the carriage pulled into shade beneath the trees.

“I was twelve years old,” Sheriff said. “I was an orphan. Your father chose me from a group of ten other boys to be his apprentice, don’t ask me why. He told me that we are what we pretend to be, I never forgot that.”

June thumbed the pennies around in her pocket and tried to imagine what Kensington looked like ten years ago—he’d be halfway between her and Cabbage’s age. The leathery wrinkles on his forehead may not have been there. He may not have smelt as bad.

“Have you heard steel is the new currency?” she asked him.

“Kid, there isn’t a single copper bullet in all of Librae.” Her fiancé just called her “Kid.” “Any man who points a gun on this continent is taking aim at his enemy’s fear of the gun.”

She thought of Kensington staring down the Vesper hunters at the bridge, a gun pointed towards them, with his other hand on his sword.

“So why do we have all that gunpowder?”

He licked his thumb and ran it across an eyebrow. “Appearances, darling.”

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