Amid the Green Corn: Part Twenty

by Cooper Young

Loops obeyed. His only rebellion was a long stare and a shake of his head. East on Horseback’s youngest son knew better than to do more than that. For now, at least.

If patience was a virtue, there was no more righteous man alive than Loops in the Knot.

He let the dogs run.

The hunt was unspectacular. There was no dramatic summer rain like there had been the last time they chased a Vondergast through the half-forested hills toward the Rilikan encampment, and it was substantially shorter than three days before a mediocre confrontation. The day was sunny, irritatingly windy, and just cold enough to trap Loops into wearing one more layer than was comfortable. There was no singing or drinking along the way, and no bond of fraternal revenge established between the hunters. It was no hunt for the Black Stag.

The Men of March rode in silence, many uncomfortable with the idea of hunting one of their own.They were a new generation–Loops’ generation– one that hadn’t seen the horrors just after the Bond or felt the desperation for communal survival that had turned their fathers against Simon. More still were unsettled by Fire’s change of tone. He had ruled them by preying on their fears of the Rilikan, starvation, and one another, but never of his wrath. His had always been a iron fist, but it had never before held a gun to the head of one of his own.

Still, he had followers left. They showed no joy, but they rode with their heads high, their offense at the nay-sayers apparent even in the silence. No one claimed out loud that Fire was in the right, and no one dared call him wrong. The tension followed the Men of March like a cloud.

Loops had no part in it; he had a job to pretend to do, whether or not he actively did anything. He kept company with the hounds, hoping they weren’t nearly as well trained as he knew at his core they were. There was no leading them away from their task and no disguising the trail. They knew Mercury Rising better than his own son had, and regardless of any human politics they would follow him down into the darkest pits of the earth.

They found him in a hole under a clump of bushes sometime after early evening. Two haunted eyes stared out at Loops in the Knot, and he the panic behind them hit him like a wave. “God, no,” he whispered.

The dogs were ecstatic, two plunging into the hole with him to nuzzle and lick at their master.”Come away,” Loops said to the dogs, attempting to pull them away. “Come this way. Come, goddamit.”

Mercury shook his head. “You have to be careful,” he hissed. “No matter what you do. He’s listening, always listening. He never stops listening, and he’s not nearly as dumb as I always thought. That’s what undid me: my ego. Codes help. Talking where he’s not listening helps. There are places. There are holes.”

“You’ve gone paranoid. Hurry, let me…”

“Shut up. He can hear us. This hole is not a hole. There are other holes that are holes. He’s already found this one.”

“We need to get you to the Rilikan.”

“Mercy.”

“I’m trying.”

“No, not that. There’s no time for that. Go to Mercy. Get out of this. Let him get one good look at you, and the Rilikan will protect you with their lives. I waited too long, and this is where it ends for me.”

“No.”

“You can’t stop it.”

“I won’t go. Come!”

“Stop it!” The moment of lucidity started to fade as desperation took him again. Loops could see it leave his eyes. “You have to go.”

“And what do I do when I get there?” Loops snapped, frustrated.

The old man’s eyes widened. “Then patience will matter. It will be hard, but you have let him writhe under his own weight for a while. Wait until he’s brittle enough to break before you try to bend him.”

“Make sense,” Loops hissed. He could hear footsteps moving through the leaves behind him. “For the love of god, if you have something you have to tell me, make sense.”

Those wide, staring eyes had gone blank. “I’m not even talking to you. I’m talking to the man who must be patient.” The footsteps behind Loops stopped. “I told you he could hear us.”

There was nothing grandiose about it. There was a bang, a hole appeared in Mercury’s forehead, and there was a brief silence before Loops bent and vomited into the leaf mold at his feet. The dogs cried out in fear and grief.

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