Fort Eden – Chapter 5

Warm Welcome by Chris Kluwe and Edwin McRae

Mud gave way to packed dirt, and even more houses appeared, many sharing walls. Soon, the two Falconers found themselves following the twisted maze of a street, wooden buildings rising up overhead like the sides of a narrow canyon. In the distance, a low howl echoed mournfully.

“You sure you know where you’re going, Farlan?” Patricia asked, keeping her voice low.

“Of course. Into the city.”

“That doesn’t really sound like an answer.”

“I’ve been operating in this area for years now, lass, and while it’s not the easiest city to navigate, time brings some familiarity.  The outer lanes are confusing, true, but eventually we’ll find one of the big thoroughfares. Then it’s just a matter of… hold up, lass, someone’s coming. Let me do the talking.”

Farlan flicked the safety off on his shotgun, the metal making a quiet snikt, and Patricia let her hand rest on the butt of her pistol, ready to draw in an instant if necessary. The sound of nailed boots clicked closer until a uniformed man stood in front of them, a rifle cradled in his arms, the tin star of the constabulary drooping from his chest.

“State your business!”

“Two travellers, looking for the harbor,” Farlan answered in his gruff Scottish burr. “Any chance you can give us some directions?”

The man, his bearded face smudged with dirt, glared up at them, his eyes lingering on Patricia.

“These horses belong to you? You and your mongrel looking to make a quick escape after nicking some poor farmer’s mounts?”

Patricia’s hand tightened on her pistol, her knuckles as white as the mist. Farlan nudged his horse to put himself between her and the night watchman, his shotgun casually aimed just off-bore.

“Friend, it’s a cold night, and we’re simply looking to get where we’re supposed to go.”

“And what’s your business at the harbor?” the watchman sneered.

“We’re meeting a friend coming in on one of the clippers from Port Fairweather, and we’ll be staying here for at least a couple days. So what say you let us be on our way and no one has to have their night made any more miserable than it already is.”

The watchman scowled at Farlan, his fingers opening and closing on the stock of his rifle. Patricia tensed. Entering the city over the body of one of its policemen would no doubt hamper their efforts to investigate the Culler, but neither was she going to let some idiot with a gun threaten her and Farlan. If it came to it, she would shoot first and answer questions later. Besides, she was about 95% sure she could take out his gun without hurting him… too much.

Farlan, perhaps sensing her train of thought, spoke once more.

“Look, friend, the harbor can’t be that far, right? Maybe what we need is to find you a nice alehouse near there, one that’s warm and generous with a pour, and you can spend some time out of this miserable fog. On us,” he finished, dipping two fingers into his belt pouch and flipping out a golden sovereign to the watchman.

The man snatched it out of the air, then bit down on it. Nodding his head, he tucked the coin away into a pocket, and let his rifle drop to point at the ground.

“Aye, it’s too bloody cold out here anyway. Not that the bastards in charge care, it’s not them freezing their arses off. Nice and warm in their new houses, sleeping the dreams of the rich, and I’m stuck out here in the muck. Like to see them do a night on the streets. Can’t see a damn thing and then there’s-”

“The harbor?” Farlan interrupted gently.

“Oh, right. Take the first right past the grocers, it’s got the sheep’s head over the door, then another right at the church, made of stone that one, then a right after the park, and one last right at the top of the hill and the harbor’ll be right there.”

Patricia shook her head and muttered.

“That’s four right turns.”

“Tell your halfbreed to watch her tongue before she loses it. I didn’t plan the damn streets, I’m just stuck walking them. You want to take it up with the mayor, you go right ahead. His house is six left turns away.”

“Easy, friend,” Farlan said soothingly, shooting Patricia a warning glance. “We’ll be on our way.”

“Just make sure you keep that mongrel of yours under control,” the watchman responded, giving Patricia another ugly look. “How you keep your bed warm’s up to you, but the powers that be take a dim view of her kind causing trouble.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Farlan said genially, nudging Proof towards him. A hoof came down on the watchman’s foot, eliciting a series of curses. “Sorry about that. Sometimes she seems to have a mind of her own. Stay safe, friend.”

Patricia followed Farlan past the still cursing figure but the watchman was too engrossed in his own pain to pay attention to her anymore. After several seconds, the fog laid its deafening mantle over them once again, and the looming buildings of Fort Eden began their slow slide through the grey. Farlan coughed and reached for his flask.

“Sorry about that, lass. I know you wanted to shoot the bastard but the Cullers have to come first, and we can’t risk making waves just yet.”

Farlan sounded… tired. Angry. The flask tilted up, then down.

“I told you,” Patricia replied, barely keeping the seething anger from her voice. “They don’t care that I’m here to save them. They just see a mongrel.”

“Aye, and it’s not right, and I know you’re worth ten of that piece of sheepshit. How many times have you saved my life now?”

“Four, at last count.”

“Then you think about that, lass, and not that waste of oxygen back there. You’re one of the best of us, Patricia. Don’t ever forget that.”

“I don’t.”

Farlan grunted out a laugh and guided Proof past a tall stone church. Oil lanterns flanked its ornately carved front door, the sculpted feet of saints barely visible overhead.

“That must be the church that sheepshit mentioned. Harbor shouldn’t be too far.”

Patricia eased her hand off her gun and back to her reins, trying to restore some sense of calm. In the distance, the hushed roll of the ocean started to creep into her consciousness, along with the cries of gulls. Lanterns started appearing more frequently, along with men pushing handcarts, the business of Fort Eden’s port not slowing even at night.

“Who are we meeting, anyway?”

“An old comrade. You worked with him a couple times before. Luc Barbier.”

“The Strategist? You think things are that dire?”

“I’d rather not risk an entire city by being wrong.”

A new voice intruded, its owner a dark figure leaning against a wall so unobtrusively that up until that point he had seemed part of the background. A tri-cornered hat shaded his face. A long barrelled rifle rested next to him, and at his feet was a pack bulging at the seams.

“I don’t think you are wrong, old friend.”