Wesley had to piss his kidneys out. Both of his knees popped as he stood. The trail was now a thin gap of dirt between trees with grassless patches in between them. There were stunted sunflowers, just inches above the ground, fully blossomed and mature. Golden spokes of sun came sideways through green leaves and shifting branches. A brown or yellow sapling would, every now and then, twirl down in the breeze and come spinning past the bars of his cell. He reached his hand out and snatched one from the air. The sapling was key-shaped, with one long fin that allowed it to flutter. He stuck it in the wide slit of the lock and left it there. The caravan stopped.
“We will make camp here for four hours of rest, then we’ll enter the Vesper Hollow,” the drunk told the girl.
Up by the asses of the mules, the two stepped down from the cab, sending the whole caravan tilting upwards. They pulled down the back hatch and unpacked rucksacks from around his cage. The Foster girl hoisted a burlap sack over her shoulder—with impressive strength for such a thin girl—and ran off to go feed the horses. The Sheriff uncorked a barrel’s spigot. A thin stream of water pooled in the dirt. He pulled one of his white gloves off by the finger, then the other, and rubbed his hands together under the stream.
“You think my death is a good thing?” Wesley asked.
Sheriff didn’t look up at him, “Anything that rids the world of you is a good thing, yes.”
“What if I need to be rid of a world that isn’t good?”
“I have no pity left to spare,” Sheriff rubbed dirt off his thumbs under the stream. “You’re the court’s concern.”
“What if I’m innocent and still executed, legally, is it noble then?” Sheriff said nothing. The water just pattered against the dirt. Wesley smiled. “Ah, yes, the hypocrites hands are always clean. Polish your words all you like; in the end it just makes you a shiny instrument.”
“Better than a soon to be executed villain,” Kensington said, his voice rising as shook wetness from his hands. “When the Kingdom court convenes you’ll receive your justice.”
Wesley watched the Sheriff reach past his cage and grab the strap of a large rucksack; it splashed with glassy clinks as he hoisted it onto his shoulder. The girl was behind the Sheriff. Her arms were crossed and she stood with her weight firmly on her right leg, so that the curve of her hip stuck out ever so slightly from her waistline. There was a little scarlet flush under her cheeks.
“Did you pack anything other than spirits?” she asked with a bit of bitch in her tone. “You’re damned mad.”
“Sheriff,” Wesley called after. Kensington halted. “Since I’ve cooperated thus far, and as my body will need predictable accommodations, could you possibly extend me the courtesy of—”
“Do you need to piss, Mr. Chambers?” Kensington asked.
“Ms. Foster, stop petting the mules and get back here,” Sheriff ordered, rubbing the chain of bruises along his neck. The Foster girl pathetically snapped to attention and came running around to the back of the caravan. She stopped with her feet together in front of the Sheriff; he handed her a pistol. “Ms. Foster, take Mr. Chambers to relieve himself in the bushes and don’t let him out of my sight.” The girl held Kensington’s gaze for a moment. “Was this the kind of glorious work you were so eager to come along for?”
The Sheriff flicked the sapling out of the keyhole and pulled a fat bronze key from the front pocket of his coat; he closed one eye, as if the keyhole were a target that was moving back and forth, and stuffed the key inside. “There we are,” he muttered. The door swung open with a wheeze. Wesley stared down the metal of two swords and the barrel of the pistol.
“Turn,” the Foster girl said, flourishing the pistol in a lazy circle at the end of her wrist. Wesley faced inwards to the cabin. The shackles locked against each other at Wesley’s low back. She pulled. He stepped slowly out of the cage and backwards down the ramp. “Turn to your right,” the girl said behind him. He looked left and saw his own green eyes in a silver blade. “I said right,” she said. He turned right. “Take nine steps forward.” He stepped, stepped, stepped, stepped up a short hill, took a long step over poisoned ivy, stepped through green brush, stepped through more green brush, stepped once past a tree, and then stepped sideways behind the tree. A blade rested heavy in the crook of his ear. “I’ll take an ear if you take a tenth step.”
He leaned against the bark and closed his eyes. Once her footsteps stopped crunching, it was like he was free again. A breeze rushed through the trees. He lost himself to the constant chatter of birds and chipmunks that’s always there in the background if one listens.
“Have you heard the rumors about me?” he asked.
“Sheriff said I can’t talk to you,” she said. “I heard them, don’t believe them.”
“Which ones don’t you believe?”
“That you can’t die.”
“I’ve yet to be proven wrong.”
He opened his palms behind his back and turned to face her. The pistol looked heavy at the end of her arm. She held his chain in the other hand. He stared down into her black eyes, hoping that if he stared long enough something girlish would cause her to smile. Her thick eyebrows pressed down harder. Her lips were exactly flat and her chin dropped only to bark the word “Go.”
“I can’t.” He jangled his shackles behind his back. “Unfasten my suspenders please?”
She stuffed her tongue into her bottom lip. Her freckles disappeared into the pink filling her cheeks.
“All I’m asking is that you kneel and pull my pants down for me.”
Her cheeks were red and she seemed to look anywhere except his eyes. She set the chain down and knelt. The Sheriff was standing right behind her, one blue eye looking down the spine of a rifle and into Wesley’s chest. Wesley looked down. She knelt in the leaves and sat back on her heels, clumsily tugging on the suspender buttons at his waist.
“Don’t be nervous,” he laughed. One button popped loose. There was a little white spot on the side of her scalp where her black hair parted like a young man’s—that may be where he clubs her with an axel wrench tonight. The second button popped loose. Both his suspenders drooped down the side of his legs. She pulled his white shirt up out of his undershorts.
“Your hands are cold,” Wesley said. She didn’t look up. Wesley looked at the Sheriff. “Sheriff, her hands are cold.”
“Turn,” she said.
She pulled his pants down to his ankles. He turned back around to face them. Her eyes fluttered purposefully to the sky, refusing to go beneath his neck. They each took a hop-step back as he pissed freely into the breeze. The three of them stood there, listening to it puddle in the dirt. He pissed and pissed and pissed and tried to think of the last time he’d had the chance to stop and piss like this. It was the best piss of his life, he decided, sticking his pelvis out in front of him. He looked over at her. With the hand that was holding the pistol, she used the back of her fist to clear a lock of hair from her eyes; she was staring. Her eyes met his then went back to the sky.
“Sheriff, will you please tell your fiancé to keep her eyes to herself.” She yanked his pants up around his waist. “Hey! I’m still going!” A wet blotch stained dark into the front of his pants. Her boot rammed into his back. He fell through piss-soaked brush, landing chest and chin in the dirt. He looked up through dripping twigs. “Yeck.” He blew a bead of it off the cusp of his nose.
“You’ve got jokes?” she asked, the pistol pointed down at him. Her loose hairs were blonded by the setting sun above. She wrapped her fist around his chain. Her cheekbones lifted playfully, scrunching the freckles on her nose into her grey eyes. She brushed a lock of hair—the same one—behind her ear with the pistol butt. “You’re pathetic, Chambers,” she said, pulling him to his feet by the chain.
As the first walked, bare-assed, pants around his ankles, suspenders dragging in the dirt behind him, frowning at the yellow stain on the front of his white shirt, up the ramp and into the caravan. The door clanked shut behind him.
“Shit—sorry, I didn’t mean to do that,” the girl said.
“Close the door on your fingers.”
Wesley turned around. She shut the door again.
“You didn’t feel that?”
He looked backwards over his shoulders at his fingers. The tips of his left fingers were puffy and the fingernails darkened blue with a deep bruise.
“What happened?” Wesley asked.
“I slammed the door on your fingers, you’re supposed to be shouting in pain,” she said.
“You’re one creepy fella,” she said.
She locked the door. The key slipped tightly into the front pocket of her jeans; he could see its outline bulging out from the side of her thigh in those navy-blue pants. From the waist up she was all hunched forward and postureless in the way girls shouldn’t be, but he loved the way her hips rolled up and down as she walked away.
“I’d pay top coin for that ripe little ass you have,” he said. She made a big deal of ignoring him but her red cheeks betrayed her.
Up past the mules, the Sheriff was laying on his side in the middle of the clearing, striking tinder over torn pieces of burlap—little spits of orange fell to the dirt and went dull with each strike. Wesley smiled when the Sheriff uncorked a brown growler and splashed a few drops of it down, then struck the tinder again. A small flamed puffed over the burlap. The girl carried over twigs and fallen branches to pile on the orange glow. The Foster girl orbited around the Sheriff, waiting for the next piece of instruction. She’d gone to get firewood and placed it in a neat pile beside him, then stood with her head and shoulders slumped forward in the periphery of his vision. Eventually the Sheriff saw the shadow at his elbow and said one or two words at her. She stood up straight and hurried to the caravan.
The carriage shook as she hopped up the steps.
“Was the blunderbuss loaded back in the townhouse?” Wesley asked. She was on all fours, ass up in the air like a cat, digging under the bench for something. “It’s going to drive me to lunacy. Pay me the courtesy of knowing whether or not my detainment was based on a bluff.”
She got to her feet, holding a tin of hair slick dutifully in both hands.
“Your detainment was based on thoughtless actions.”
“So was your birth,” Wesley muttered.
“OH, you’ve got mother jokes,” the girl said. “Does your wonderful mother have your sense of humor? She must have been saint like to raise a dung fly like you. Tell me, what is she like?”