After lunch at the Unger compound, Choke and Knuckle went to work helping the men clear the trail to the Old Mill. Peep and Pinch began scouting the forest around for a stand against Alan “the Chisel” Mason and his men.
The escape tunnel exit was a little way up one of the hills flanking the Old Mill’s site. Peep and Pinch moved cautiously through the bush to check out the best route straight back to the Tower for a sally attack. Then they worked their way up the hill, looking for, and finding, several good spots to stop and ambush any pursuers.
With the forest all around the tower having already been thoroughly wandered through by the frolicking peasants during the whoop-up, the caution Peep and Pinch exercised was more about adhering to good habits, rather than from any real concern. It was not long before Peep relaxed this prudence.
“So, ye were out fuckin last night, ye dog,” she said in a low voice.
Pinch flushed. “Listen, could we not?”
“No. We will. Because I have a notion of who ye were putting it into, and it’s too fuckin good not to run to ground.”
“Listen. Okay. I was with someone. But I can’t get into it. It could get really ugly,” Pinch said.
“Okay, now I know I’m right. And no doubt it could get ugly. But ye’d better talk about it with me. Because, otherwise, yar gonna get tempted to spill the beans to Knuckle. And ye fuckin well know he won’t be able to keep his mouth shut about it. It was Nimara, wasn’t it?” Peep said with a grin, naming their host, Unger’s wife.
“What? How’d ye know?” Pinch blurted, stopping dead in his tracks.
Peep chuckled. “Well, she weren’t anywhere to be seen after about that time last night. And neither was Unger. So I didn’t think much of that. But, then, Marigal from down the way mentioned that Unger had slipped off to plow her sister, Daisy, as he is prone to doing these days, apparently. So it was obvious that Nimara was getting something on the side herself.
“Then,” Peep went on, “since we’ve been hanging out with these folk, it’s been obvious she’s sweet on ye from the way she’s been looking at ye and giving ye the best cuts at mealtime. Plus, she’s been bumping her tits into ye just about every chance she gets, too.”
Peep laughed now. “What? Ye didn’t notice? Ye thought she was just real clumsy with them? Fuckin dumbass! So here ye are thinking that ye just outta the blue managed to seduce her last night. While tripping balls, no less. Come on!”
“So all this time, she’s been, what? Giving me signals?”
“Yeah. Sure. Why not? Yar a funny, cute little guy with a big cock. What’s not to like?”
This gave Pinch further pause.
“So ye noticed all this about me, too, did ye?
“Yeah. It’s not like I’m interested myself, mind ye. So don’t get any fuckin ideas, or I’ll fuckin cut it off. But I do make myself aware of my surroundings.”
“So, this is how these people behave? They get married and then fuck around on each other like this?”
“These people! Like ye aint one of them now. Yeah. For sure! Man, did them ravens ever keep ye boys locked up tight. Welcome to the real world, son! That’s how it goes. With ye Stronians burning up any women who dare ask the moon to help keep the babies at bay; bitch hoor demon that she is, of course. At least everybody knows who their mother is, right?”
“What do you mean, ‘you Stronians?’ Ye got the marks of Stron burned into ye! Ye heal and produce Holy Fire from them! What are ye if not a Stronian?” Pinch exclaimed.
Peep shrugged. “Not sure I know. But, what I do know is, ye dance with the one that brought ye. And Stron, or whoever it was got inside me to make these marks, has done real good by me. So, I’ll dance to the tune. Don’t ye worry, Pinch. I’ll dance to it.”
That evening, over a very awkward dinner (for Pinch, at least), the squad and the Ungers had further discussion about their immediate plans. Unger agreed to head over to the next hamlet to have a word with a skilled carpenter there about putting some proper lumber in the doorways of the Old Mill tower.
“That’s a good idea, hon,” Nimara said, giving Unger a friendly pat on the shoulder as she stood up to get more food from the stove. She came back to top off everyone’s plates a little and give Pinch another full portion.
“So,” Peep said with a sly grin Pinch’s way, “I think me and Pinch made some good progress today. We just gotta figure out a good place to stash the horses. Preferably somewheres near the Didsbury trail up at the top of the hill. D’ye know a good spot?” she asked the Unger menfolk.
Unger, Munn, and Aaron had a bit of a conference on this. They knew of a flat spot up at the top of the hill, just a little off the trail, that probably had been a camp back when the trail was more commonly in use.
“It’s a bit overgrown now,” Munn said. “But if all ye wanna do is stash yar horses there, ye could clear it out with just a few hours’ work.”
It was decided that Peep and Pinch would work on that, while Choke and Knuckle would continue on with the heavier work of helping Munn and Aaron clear the main trail while Unger was off arranging the carpenter. With this settled before they had finished dinner, everyone settled in to eat and drink in leisure after their busy day. This was interrupted when the dogs all began barking at the main gate.
The gate was, of course, closed. Unger grabbed his warbow and a quiver to hop up on the nearest platform behind the wall. He hailed the person outside, who turned out to be the lad Chris, returned with important news from town. There was some bemusement among the squad as they realized that Father Nate had taken him back to Callic village with him the day before, and the squad had not even noticed he was gone.
The lad wasted no time in delivering his news: Alan “the Chisel” Mason and his dozen, or so, men had arrived in Callic village.
“They didn’t waste much time in Bristlehump,” Pinch said.
“A dozen, ye say? How many is that, exactly?” Peep asked Chris.
“About twelve, I guess. Couldn’t get a proper count on account of they was all split up,” Chris answered. “Arlen pulled me aside to tell me the Chisel’s man had arranged for them to stay in his tavern for at least a night. And to stable their horses. The Chisel took two men into the church to have a word with Father Nate. I saw them in there. Golly, they was big! Killers all!”
“Yeah, well, so are we. Ye sure ye weren’t followed here?” Peep asked.
“No! I mean, I wasn’t! I left town hours ago. Slipped out real careful, too. Then, I rode clear the wrong way for a good hour before looping back around. And I stopped to hole up again and again to watch behind. They didn’t follow me. I’m sure of it!” Chris exclaimed.
“Okay. Good lad. What do they know about us?” Peep asked.
“Well, they saw the spider monster and the giant spider. Father Nate has them up on the wall either side of the main gate! But Arlen told me to tell ye that no one’s gonna let slip any talk about the Old Mill. Not until ye give the word that ye want them to know it.”
“So they know we killed those things, but not where it happened,” said Pinch.
“Right,” Chris confirmed. “When Father Nate hung the monsters up, he said, that’ll give the devils something to think about when they come to call. But he told everyone, real clear like, that we aint to say nothing about the Old Mill. We don’t know where ye killed them, or where ye are now. That’s the story!”
“Well, they’re gonna start throwing money around,” Peep said. “They’ll find out where we are sooner rather than later.”
“Miss Otilla! No one in Callic is gonna betray ye to the Marroviquians!” Chris cried in shock, using the term for the citizens of the Alquinian city of Marrovique, which the Holy Books use as a generalized invective for those corrupted by wealth or lust.
“Well, kid, I think ye have more faith in yar folk than I do in humans as a whole. They’ll find someone who likes money more than they care about us. Don’t doubt it,” Peep said.
“Be that as it may, I think we have at least a day. If not two,” Choke said. “How does this change our plan for tomorrow?”
Peep shrugged. “Don’t reckon it does. We gotta get it done, either way. If they find us early, we’ll just have to deal with it.”
“Agreed. But, I think, the matter of securing the tower is now urgent,” Choke said. “Unger, can you let your carpenter know that we’ll pay whatever it takes to get the job done as quickly as possible? However many people he needs to bring on, we’ll pay for it. We need the main entrance secure, as well as the escape exit. Also, there’s the mine pit. We probably should cover that up while we’re at it.”
Unger nodded and stood up from the table.
“Understood. In fact, Bartholomew, I’ll do ye one better. I’ll head over there tonight.”
“Are ye sure, hon?” Nimara said, feigning concern as she rubbed her husband’s shoulder.
“Yeah. I could ride that track in my sleep. And it’s just about the full moon. I can get there before they’ve been too long abed,” Unger said, giving his wife’s hip a friendly pat.
“Well, thank you, sir. If you are sure it won’t put you at any risk,” Choke said.
“Not at all. Not at all. We will see this done and give those evil men in Strana something heavy to ponder the next time they think to come up to these parts to make trouble!”
“Here, here!” a rather drunk Munn shouted as he pounded the table and spilled his ale.
The next morning, everyone rose early and got right to what they were supposed to do. Chris left back for town with clear orders from Choke to use all caution and discretion in getting back to Father Nate to tell him of their plans. Munn, Aaron, Choke, and Knuckle all got to work on the trail. Nimara and Janice went to work on the usual chores in the compound. Peep and Pinch took a couple of axes and a saw up the trail to find the old camp at the top of the hill.
“Man, ye lucky prick!” Peep said as they headed up the trail past the Old Mill. “Ye look like ye didn’t get much sleep last night! Ye two slipped out for a midnight stroll did ye? Good for you! But, ye should take a minute and hop into the crick to wash yar junk out. Ye smell like fuckin pussy. Ye don’t want Unger catching a whiff of it when he gets back.”
Pinch just scowled at her and kept heading up the trail.
“Hold up, fool! I’m serious! If I can smell his woman on ye, he sure as shit is gonna. Get in that crick and wash yar junk out! Ye want that deep woods killer figuring out ye’ve been balls deep into his wife every chance ye’ve had?”
Peep waited on the trail while Pinch went down to the creek to give himself a bit of a wash. Then they went up to the old camp together. The spot was good: just off the trail at where it went over the dip between the two flanking hills. It was a nice flat spot with some cover and a view of the trail.
“This is great! Can see why they set it up in the first place,” Peep said happily. “If we cut all that shit down,” she gestured to the bushes and saplings at the part furthest from the trail, “we can use it to make a bit of a blind here. That way, if they scout up the trail, they might not find our horses.”
“Well, whad’ye want? We gotta put them someplace, and if we keep them at the Ungers, that could get messy for them. We just gotta get the bad boys so riled up that they lose all perspective and forget the basics.”
“And that is something you think we can manage?” Pinch asked.
“For sure! Alls we gotta do is clip a few of them here and there, and they will chase us up here fighting mad.”
“Oh, that’s all we have to do, huh?”
Just then, the clear call of a cuckoo bird rang out from down the trail. A few seconds later, it repeated, this time closer.
Peep frowned and she and Pinch both notched arrows. They stepped away from each other and crouched down in the bushes as they heard someone coming up the trail. That someone turned out to be Nimara.
Like her husband, Nimara was a big, robust person with broad shoulders and powerful arms. She was heading up the trail with a purposeful gait, carrying a basket, and had a warbow and quiver over her shoulder and a big knife on her belt. When she reached the access point to the camp above the trail she stopped and gave a cuckoo call again as she peered up towards Pinch and Peep without spotting them. Peep stood up and hailed her.
“Here we are!”
Nimara soon joined them, looking pleased as she breathed a little heavy from the hump up the hill.
“Cuckoo bird call, huh? Ha! I like it, woman!” Peep laughed. “A little on the nose, though.”
Nimara laughed. “Well, you know…”
“What?” Pinch asked, looking confused.
“Don’t worry about it,” Peep said to him before turning back to Nimara. “So what brings ye up here, I wonder?”
“Well… the fiddleheads are in season, if ye don’t know,” Nimara said.
“Oh, is that so? I suppose they are,” Peep said.
“Yes. And there’s always a good patch of them just up past this clearing. So, I thought, with the two of ye here today keeping the evils of the world at bay, it would be a good chance for me to come up and harvest a bunch.”
“Did ye now?” Peep asked with a cheeky grin.
“That I did, Otilla. So I left Janice to mind our place and came on up. How does your work look to be shaping up today?”
“Piece of piss! We should be able to knock it out in about an hour if we really give’er.”
“Oh, well that’s lucky for ye, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is. Tell ye what, Nimara. Why don’t ye go and gather yar fiddleheads while me and Pinch get this done? Then, I think I wouldn’t mind taking another scout. This one solo. There’s some nooks and crannies I’d like to check out. While I’m doing that, why don’t I cut Pinch loose and ye can put him to work as ye see fit? Whad’ye think, Pinch? D’ye wanna give Nimara a hand with the fiddleheads once we’re done with all this here?”
“Huh?” Pinch asked stupidly, looking deeply bewildered.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Peep said, giving Pinch a friendly pat on the shoulder. She turned back to Nimara: “I’ll send him on up to ye once we’re done here. Okay?”
Nimara smiled. “Well, I’m sure I’d appreciate that, Otilla. Ye are a saint!”