Ethaniel’s hands were shaking. The body was heavier than he’d thought it would be. He’d heard the canvas bag rip a minute back. The strap felt as if it had loosened. He was greatly relieved when he reached the water. He looked over his shoulder again. There was a man slumped against a nearby building. His head was down. Did he know? Cursing softly, Ethaniel hoisted his burden to his shoulder again, and moved on.
It had taken longer than he had though it would, for Henri to die. His bulging eyes had stared up in surprise as the whip tightened around his neck. Ethaniel could not imagine why Henri had been surprised. It had never been a question of “if”, only "when". The bastard had finally paid for his betrayal, and for a split second, Ethaniel had felt whole once again.
But that feeling was gone. The moment had been exhilarating; the aftermath was anything but. Ethaniel had watched Henri dispose of a dozen bodies over the years, but he had not imagined it would be so arduous. Perhaps he was being overly cautious; Henri had never worried about who had seen him dump a corpse in the harbor. He always insisted that he had a reputation to maintain, and that being occasionally seen with a body was a good thing. Perhaps that is why he never made Ethaniel carry them.
But he’d made Ethaniel accompany him. He’d forced him to watch. It shouldn’t be so hard. He shouldn't be so nervous. He and Henri had been seen in the past, to be sure, and never had the Gendarmes come to their door. They would not come over this. But what if they did?
The docks would not do. Ethaniel grunted as he adjusted the position of the body. The Boneyard. There was quicksand there, and vermin. Vermin that would pick the corpse clean if the earth refused to swallow it. It was far, though, and his load was heavy.
And yet, he’d come very far already. He was many leagues from the Calistrian temple where he’d been born. He thought of those early days as he whispered another prayer to the Savored Sting. She’d finally seen him through his plotted revenge. He had done something he could not conceive of as a child, yet he did so under the blessing of the goddess that had been as close to a mother as he’d had. To this day, he had no idea which of the abbesses had actually birthed him. They never did tell him.
But Calistria had been there, in that sacred place, and he was sure now that he had known her grace, even as a child. She must have known the creature he would become, and she must have also known what it would take for him to free himself. Was he free now? Could he begin a new life?
There was little money in Ethaniel’s pocket. Henri had not the riches he had always boasted of. A few weapons and a breastplate. A few coins. Ethaniel would not have a roof over his head. He dared not return to the tenements without Henri. They would find him there. Not the Gendarmes. The other filth that worked with his late master. Thieves…brigands…murderers…
The last word stuck in his mind, for he was a murderer now too. But it was justified, he told himself again, remembering the feeling of long-awaited triumph. Henri had done much wrong in his life, yet all of it Ethaniel could have forgiven it not for his betrayal. Ethaniel saw it clearly in his mind. The riders came over the hill. They brought death and ruin to the innocents. And for Henri, the one who had led them to the caravan, they brought coin. Payment. A reward.
Ethaniel had never known a man as fine as Brovess Meveri. He recalled the day that the swarthy Varisian had come to the temple. He’d just stepped into the main chamber, as so many travelers did, and smiled widely at the abbess that greeted him. But at the moment that his gaze fell upon Ethaniel, the smile faded, and tears came to his eyes. Ethaniel had thought himself a slave when he was sent on with Meveri’s caravan. He did not understand, as a young child, that the man only wanted a son.
Henri was there then. He was like a brother to Brovess Meveri. He was an uncle to young Ethaniel. He was a part of the family. He was warm. He had a big laugh. And he was a betrayer. A betrayer that had finally gotten what he deserved.
Ethaniel passed a group of rowdy sailors. Two of them looked him up and down. A hand went to a hilt. Ethaniel’s was faster. He rolled the body from his shoulders and into the legs of his would-be assailant. The dagger was in his fingers a second later, and in the next, the blade was to the sailor’s stubbly throat. The man sneered. The other sailors watched, unmoving.
”You think you can carry two bodies, boy?” He spoke through yellowed teeth. His breath was ghastly.
Ethaniel said nothing. He sheathed his dagger and hoisted Henri back onto his shoulder. The man got to his feet, but did not advance. The sailors watched Ethaniel as he walked away.
Grim thoughts danced through Ethaniel’s head. No chance of a secret now. He would answer for what he had done. He was sure of that now. It might be a knife from the dark of an alley. It might be the gallows. No matter. Brovess and the others in his caravan had been avenged, at long last. Ethaniel had fulfilled his task. Whatever was left was extra.
The images of the day the riders came once again flooded his mind. They were elves, but not like those he had ever seen, before that day, or since. Their skin was grey and their hair was a striking white. They’d killed everybody, and for what purpose, Ethaniel had never known. He remembered them searching the wreckage. He remembered that their leader handed Henri a heavy purse. Ethaniel thought of the heavy purse as he carried the body down into the Boneyard.
”Spare that one.” Henri had said, so many years ago. ”He’s a bought slave, and he falls to me since he still lives.” The grey-skinned elf had lowered his sword. The riders had left. ”Get up and come, boy.” Henri had said. ”Was nothing to be done about that. Save our lives is all I could do.” They had walked away without burying any of the dead.
I am giving him a rite he denied the innocents. Ethaniel thought. I am better than him.
The body sank into the wet sand of the marsh. Ethaniel’s long path to vengeance was over. It had started that day, so long ago. A straightforward duel had brought only humiliation and pain. Plotting and waiting, though, had brought success, however long it was in coming.
The slowest poison is the sweetest.
Ethaniel tried to recall the faces of Brovess Meveri and the other travelers: those whom he had finally honored with his ruthless justice. All he could see, however, were the bulging eyes of Henri.