“A young wife! Yes, I could have a young wife!”
Visibly excited, it took a full ten minutes for Ketch to quiet at the thought. Then, with a rude jerk of his body, the thought was gone.
Suga had given a laugh, mostly directed at himself. Throughout his travels, he’d encountered many miserable miscreants but Ketch was the most miserable yet. A hank of unwashed skin and bone; Ketch had a habit of getting into tavern fights he couldn’t win. Suga had had to save his miserable life on more than one occasion.
Why bother to save Ketch? No one could drive a team of horses like he did.
There was no reasonable explanation why team after team performed flawlessly for him. The ill-matched, the high strung, the newly broken in; once Ketch was in the seat, the horses clipped along as if they’d been matched for years. Suga had come to the conclusion that it was because he was rat-like and the horses were reminded of a barn. It was an explanation, if only for him.
He knew Ketch could guide the caravan though the narrowest streets of the Bottoms, as well as the rough stretch of road out of the city avoiding every hole for he’d watched through the precious glass ball. On that day, he’d deliberately put the mare with the right blind eye on the outside.
It had been nothing short of amazing.
Yes, Ketch would be driving the precious bottles into the Nevers and into the presence of the Tu’el. Would he get the rest of his money? Suga didn’t know or care. A great deal depended on the Tu’el’s mood. He was always at his best after a visit to the Hungry Rocks; a fact which Suga had neglected to mention.
That Ketch hadn’t driven the caravan when it actually contained the cargo was a matter that couldn’t be helped. Suga wouldn’t permit it nor was the cargo complete. One more, only one. The rest of the bottles were upstairs, safe in a room behind a door sealed with the strongest binding spells known to the Dark — that’s how precious the bottles were. Now, the spirits within them were sleeping; the round stoppers in the necks of each denoting a closed eye. Rizla had devised the symbol long ago as well as the spell that put the sprits under for when they were awake the noise was deafening. Envy sparred with wrath, wrath challenged murder and the plague, contained in a sickly white bottle, threatened them all. Had the glass not been fired in the furnaces of the Tu’el, the sides would have collapsed from within. Even so, the noise was deafening.
The Tu’el had demanded they fill each bottle years ago and Rizla and Suga had spent more years than they cared to admit filling them. A spirit snatched from an angry man at the point of departure was their first capture, and so easy it bolstered false confidence. The dying man had been furious with death itself, and Rizla had nabbed the nape of his spirit before it had dissolved into film. In celebration, they’d gone out and done a nasty piece of work to calm themselves, then gotten hideously drunk.
Rizla moved to his other shoulder, calling him back to the present. He continued to stroke her hair.
The rest had been hard; the plague spirit nearly impossible. Even now, Suga didn’t like to think about it.
“Ketch has more gold than he can imagine,” Suga examined a strand. He wondered what color it would be the next time he saw her. Red, probably. Seldom was she blonde. Once, she’d been bald. “Gold means much to a man like him. Everything will happen as it should. Don’t fear.”
“If Ketch is successful, we’ll be rewarded as well,” she said. “Sweet life that rolls through the ages. And youth. Don’t forget that.”
“Which we deserve. We given much to serve the Tu’el.”
“Yes,” she said, flinching. “Perhaps filling the blue bottle will help the Tu’el forget about the times we failed.”