Fort Eden – Chapter 4

Letters of Gold by Chris Kluwe and Edwin McRae

Two horses walked through the night, thick fog muffling their plodding hoofsteps. A burly figure atop one of them shivered and pulled his leather coat tighter around his body. Soft tinkling echoed from his pockets. The tiny lantern attached to his saddle swayed then stilled, its circle of light revealing little more than a few feet ahead.

“This bloody fog cuts worse than any Culler claw, I’ll tell you that true, lass. What’d you say this was called again in that language of yours?”

Patricia looked over at him, the tattoo on her chin glistening with the damp of the fog in the lamplight.

“We call it ‘freezing ground fog,’ Farlan. Like normal people.”

“Well, can’t argue with that. It’s colder than a witch’s tit.” Farlan reached into his coat, producing a small flask, and tilted it into his mouth. “Ahhh, that’s the stuff. Warms the body better than any fire on a cold night.” He nudged his horse closer. “Patricia? Care for some?”

“No, thank you. I still don’t understand how you haven’t died of alcohol poisoning yet.”

Farlan took another swig from the flask and tucked it back into his coat, then patted his stomach and winked.

“Deep, dark Falconer secret. Maybe I’ll teach it to you someday. Of course, it would help if you were Scottish.”

Patricia scowled.

“I have enough trouble being who I am already. Or did you already forget what happened last time we were here?”

Farlan laughed, a rolling avalanche of sound.

“Oh, lass, how could I forget? Breaking you out of Fort Eden Gaol remains one of the best memories of my life. You should have seen the expression on that warden’s face when I blew out half his wall.”

“I would prefer not to see any more wardens in my life, and speaking of which, aren’t you the slightest bit worried that they’ll arrest us on sight when we get into the city?”

Farlan’s horse whickered as a deeper shadow appeared in the fog, gradually resolving into the splintering timbers of a rundown hovel, its wooden shutters tightly closed. Farlan reached down to give the mare a quick pat on the neck.

“Easy, Proof. Easy. No, lass, that was over five years ago. Means it never happened. Besides, you’ve got one of these, now.”

Farlan tapped his thick shirt, underneath which lay a golden medallion in the shape of a swooping falcon, cool against his bare skin. More houses appeared in the looming darkness, breaching the frozen air like creatures surfacing from some chthonian abyss. Patricia reached up to her own shirt, feeling the forever attacking bird nestled atop her collarbone, its claws cleaned since Seacliff.

“Yes, that’s comforting for you, Farlan. You’re a white man. Of course they’ll listen to you. I’m a half-breed, and a woman. You think a piece of gold is going to stop some gang of thugs wearing equally shiny badges?”

“You’ve got a pistol, too, right? What’d I teach you?”

Patricia’s mouth unknotted into a sharp smile.

“Beat ‘em over the head until they listen, and if they don’t listen, shoot ‘em and find someone who will.”

“Aye, that’s the one.”

“I can’t kill the whole city.”

“No, but if there’s a Culler in Fort Eden, it might kill the city for you. Seacliff was just the start. Our real work begins here.”

Patricia’s grin faded away at the reminder. There’d been a letter from Farlan’s nephew, a constable in the Fort Eden police force. He’d talked of missing gold and peculiar happenstances. To a non-Falconer, merely another news item to ignore in a busy world, but to a Falconer…

Missing gold and peculiar happenstances were the calling cards of a Culler.

Farlan had contacted her a fortnight earlier, utilizing the ‘newfangled’ telegraph wires that seemed to be sprouting up everywhere, and Patricia knew at once they had to investigate. A pack of Thralls in a remote hamlet was bad enough, but a Culler in the second-largest city in New Zealand? The death toll would be catastrophic. Fort Eden needed Falconers, and quickly.

Even if they did try to sentence you for murder last time you were here, she thought grimly.