Amid the Green Corn- Part Fifteen

by Cooper Young

Mercury Rising wasn’t sure what woke him that night, but he could hear danger in the silence that followed. He could hear no animals. Not the mice that had lived in the walls of his hut since his wife died and there was no one left who cared enough to chase them out. Not the owl that lived in the dead tree at the edge of the village and that usually took care of most of them. That was the thing that struck him most. He could always hear that owl.

That night had been filled with dangerous noises. He hadn’t taken part in the spectacle around the bonfire, but he could hear enough through the walls of his hut to hope for the first time in his life that his only child would never come home. Fire in the Field’s ranting had taken on a new, terrifying tone. His exhortations were more dire and his propaganda more extravagant. His voice sounded higher, almost hoarse with rage.

Mercury Rising understood. What he couldn’t fathom was why no one else saw it. By any tactical standard the death of Lord in Battle was a triumph. That bonfire should have been a celebration. Fire had no reason to be upset, unless there was far more going on between him and the Rilikan than he let on.

Mercury had figured it out years ago–or thought he had, at least. He hadn’t realized until that night how much he’d taken his suspicions for granted. It had started as just a theory–what if the mysterious man with all the burn scars was really Clive Brastas? What if he had survived and was using the Men of March’s well-known hatred for his wife’s new husband as a weapon? How ironic would that be?–but he had fallen slowly into believing it. He believed it so firmly that he was startled to discover this was the first real proof he’d ever had. Still, the rest of them were bright enough. He’d done his best to hint at what he knew. They should be able to think for themselves.

By the sound of the crowd around the bonfire, though, no one intended to do so.

He lay still in bed, listening. They’d extinguished the fire when they were done; he’d heard the hissing. Probably didn’t want to scare Michael off if he came back. He’d heard the village go quiet after that.

Something, though, had woken him. Something had chased away the animals. Some noise had tread on the edge of his dreams and tumbled back into them, disappearing as it kicked him awake. He tried to remember. He couldn’t.

Without lighting a lamp he rose, dressed, and crept out his front door. The moonlight on the overhang of the roof made a long pool of shadow near the corner of the hut, and he slipped into it, watching.

Slowly, the door to Michael’s hut opened. A man emerged; he couldn’t tell who it was and he didn’t care. The moon was bright and the revolver in his hand was well-polished. Well-loved. Mercury watched as he crossed the square, unhurried and purposeful, and entered his own door.

When it closed, he turned to the woods and ran. He followed the same path his brother had taken twenty years before.