The Test of Ostra, page 16part #3 of The Brotherhood of Merlin Series
Chapter 24: Infamous Bounty Hunter
Malachai was everything that Jebediah had expected physically but his personality and demeanor was nothing what he expected of the infamous bounty hunter who was rumored to have skinned many of his kills- as if they were wild animals. Hell, to him maybe they were.
As the man saunters into his jailhouse, Jebediah takes special note of his appearance. His hair is cropped short to the scalp in a meticulously groomed flattop hairstyle favored by many businessmen of the time. His mustache is also clipped short and neat.
He is quite handsome, Jebediah admitted, with a small, perfectly symmetrical nose, high cheekbones and full sensual lips, almost like a woman. The only blemish as far as Jebediah could tell were two small scars above his right eye. But really, this only added to his sensual allure. His face was almost too pretty.
Though, if his face was considered effeminate, his hulking body more than made up for it. He stood well over six feet tall- six five if not taller. He was barrel-chested and even underneath his loose-fitting clothing, one could see the amount of musculature- arms that were nearly as large as most men’s legs, attached to shoulders that were as big as melons.
He has a small tapered waist, giving birth to massive proportions that seem to sprout out like a tree and yet he moved with the fluid gracefulness of an accomplished acrobat.
Despite his line of work, his nails are short, bereft of dirt and shiny, as if they had been manicured. Perhaps they had.
He is just as meticulously dressed as well. He wears a shiny pair of orange hindserpent boots, which he likely made himself. He wears a black velvet pea-coat that looked as if had been freshly pressed, a gray chambray shirt, heavily starched and black pantalones, creased, clean and apparently custom-tailored to his unusual proportions.
The only thing on him, which appeared worn, were the holsters on his hips. They sported two Reingart speed shooters, an expensive custom built twelve-twelve caliber hand cannon. It was as accurate as it was deadly, truly the first choice of a renowned bounty hunter.
He had charcoal gray colored eyes tinged with a shade of dark brown, almost red and they burned with menace and hard purpose. Few men could meet his gaze for long. Jebediah was not among them. He was impressed but not intimidated. In his opinion, the man’s reputation was greatly exaggerated.
But the man was also intelligent. His numerous exploits could not be refuted, and he had an uncanny knack for ascertaining the trek of fugitives with the barest of clues. Jebediah would not cower from him but merely appeal to him as a man who is governed by his intellect. Jebediah respected such men more. Men who were given to caprice and brazenness were not unlike the man that now sits in his jail cell.
Malachai nods and takes off his hat. His eyes radiate warmth and congeniality, which surprised Jebediah. “Good day to you, Shariff. We are well met, are we not?” He asks courteously.
That impressed Jebediah. He was always big on manners. He stood up from his desk and extended his hand to Malachai, who shook it heartily, causing Jebediah a slight amount of discomfort. It was the shake of a man who expected to dominate the situation. They both look at each other in the eyes and do not waver from their gaze.
“Ai. Glad to make your acquaintance as well. Have heard high tales of you.”
“I would ken that many of those high tales would be greatly exaggerated, as all tales are prone to change with each man telling it. You ken?”
Jebediah nods. “Ai. Would have the same opinion, so I would.”
“You do know what brings me into your parts, then, do you not?” asks Malachai.
“Ai,” says Jebediah. “You be seekin’ Talgath. Do you not?”
Malachai nods. “Ai. A large bounty is being offered for him.” He says. “As a privy man like you would know, shariff. Oh, I know well about you. Did a little inquirin’ myself and have heard you are not the low brow sort. You are a man of hard skill and intelligence like me.”
“And I say thankee for the compliment,” says Jebediah. “So, let us negotiate, shall we?”
“Ai. Set watch and warrant it. I will offer you two hundred gold pence to relieve you of your duties of Talgath.”
Jebediah shakes his head vigorously. “No, I think not. You know full well, the bounty on Talgath is two thousand gold pence. You expect to take all the coin for transportin’ him. I would think not, sir. He’s all yours for five hundred, a tripe amount, considerin’ the amount of work involved. You ken?”
Malachai rubs his chin contemplatively and then looks at Jebediah with a menacing glean.
“Oh, Christ be tripe!” exclaims Jebediah. “I do know what you are thinkin’. You could simply bypass that fee, kill me and take him for yourself. But set watch and warrant, the people here have been well-informed of such possible mischief and there will be serious repercussions. I am not a man who desires complications. I ken that you are the same too.”
Malachai laughs. “Just testing your mettle, Shariff. I do have a reputation to uphold as the newly appointed imperionista in the Terra-Gaulian peninsula. I’d never sully it with killing some poor hick Shariff who’s doing his best amid a violent occupation. We’re both peacekeepers. Unless you become a wanted man and start butchering and killing innocents, I’ve got no beef with you. And I sure as fuck don’t need the complications as you have pointed out. I will give you four hundred gold pence. You ken?”
“I say five,” says Jebediah stubbornly.
“Four fifty,” says Malachai.
“Done,” exclaims Jebediah.
“Shake on it?”
Jebediah nods. “Ai. As men of honor.” They shake heartily.
Malachai extracts a large satchel with numerous gold pence and counts out 45 large. It is more money than Jebediah has seen in two years of service as Shariff and certainly more than he has seen in one pile. He becomes giddy at all the possibilities but manages to hide it from his face.
After he finishes counting it, he puts the extra coins in his satchel. He walks Malachai back to the holding cell. Talgath perks up at the sound and sees the giant of a man. There is no doubt it is Malachai. So, he has beaten Pent to the punch. Perhaps it is for the best. Malachai is an intelligent man. If he can appeal to anyone’s intellect, it is him.
His eyes bore into Talgath, but he does not cower. “I hope for your sake, there will be no trouble because if there is I will shackle your legs and feet. I will chain you to the mule and you can let the sun burn out your retinas. You ken?”
Talgath shakes his head. “No, there won’t be no trouble, set watch and warrant it.”
“Then I’ll grant you a few privileges, so I will. But set watch and warrant it, you try anything, and you will be in a world of hurt. You ken?”
“Ai,” says Talgath.
“He’s been a wily one, so he has. But once he got apprehended, he’s become as docile as a newborn lamb.” notes Jebediah.
“Let’s hope it holds up.”
Jebediah, always a man of honor, helps Talgath outside. There, he meets the rest of Malachai’s posse: his brother Devlin, who looks like a miniature Malachai except he is a few inches shorter and wears his hair long instead of short and sports a full beard, Wren, who has a vest of menacing looking daggers, Dylan, wearing a wool overcoat and sporting two Reingart pistols like Malachai’s. Jebediah greets them all with a nod as Malachai introduces them. It’s obvious he holds his brother, Devlin in particularly high esteem the way he introduces him. Jebediah respects that most of all. After all, he is a family man himself.
Jebediah turns to Malachai and shakes his hand. “Nice doing business with you, Malachai. He’s all yours. Best of luck to you.”
“Thankee Shariff. Nice doing business with someone I don’t need to worry about stabbin’ me in the back.”
Jebediah laughs at that but thinks that perhaps he’s telling the truth.
Once they have traveled a few hundred yards and are safely out of earshot of all townspeople, Talgath speaks. “I know your reputation we
“I already live out my days in luxury. Do you not see the finery I wear? You are going to the Municiary in Cortez and that’s all there is to it.”
“Do you believe that Pent will not try to intercept me, for such a large bounty? Sure, you can rest easy through the night? It is five days journey to Cortez. A lot can happen in five days, Malachai. You are not tripe.”
A smile runs away from Malachai’s face. A sardonic gleam remains with a look of menace in those steel-cold, dispassionate eyes. “Set watch and warrant, I’ll rest easy because I have my brother on the looksee while I sleep. But if you don’t quit pesterin’ me as you do, trust me that you will not rest so.”
Talgath nods solemnly. “Ai.”
Chapter 25: Perpetual Pain
Dante awakens from his cot in a frenetic outburst, screaming at the top of his lungs, inducing Cammilia into a bark. He is up with a start, sweat drenching out of his pores. His temples are exploding in a pounding fury of pain. Every second seems to bring the knock of the devil inside his mind as if he is using a ram to bust out of his head.
Visions of white form in his mind and for a second, his vision returns, which nauseates him from sensory overload and vertigo. He gets up on his knees and vomits.
Cammilia licks up the vomit and then comforts Dante. Still nauseous, he pushes her away and gets dressed. The pain abates for a few minutes, but by the time he has dressed, it returns with a vengeance.
Unable to sleep, he leaves his room and exits the rectory. Cammilia follows. He walks along the cobblestone streets and his senses alert him to another presence-female. The smell induces a plethora of emotions in him-giddiness, anger, resentment, and desire.
At fifteen, he is at an age when the stirrings inside manifest themselves in his body. At times, he must excuse himself as his classmates and instructors may see his persistent bulge.
Cammilia senses Sylvia too and barks out a greeting and then runs up to her. She licks her and Sylvia giggles.
He bows his head as is customary. “Good evening, lady Dais.”
“Good evening, Dante.”
“What are you doing out here this late? Could you not sleep?”
“No.” She says. “I was thinking on my family as I do often. Do you not think on yours you’ve lost?”
“Every day,” says Dante.
A startling vision appears before Dante. A beautiful little girl, on the crest of womanhood. Her tender breasts begin to shape; her childish features fade. She has bluish-green eyes, lustrous, long and sandy blonde hair, a small nose, and full supple, moist lips. Her low forehead sports a light sprinkling of freckles. She is stunning. But the vision soon disintegrates.
“I cry pardon for your loss, Sylvia.” He moves closer to her to comfort her, but she takes a step back. Tears glisten in her eyes as does Dante’s. This induces more grief in her, and she sobs in silence, hoping Dante will not notice.
Nothing escapes his notice. His senses are sharp. “Why do you move away from me? I only want to comfort you.” He asks, trying hard to conceal the breaking and anger in his voice.
“Can you not comfort me without touching me?” She asks.
“Why? I’m so lonely and I need contact. You ken? Can you not embrace me?”
Sylvia remains steadfast. “Not now but perhaps in time; for reasons which will become clear to you one day.”
“I don’t understand,” says a frustrated Dante.
“Set watch and warrant, you will.”
“I need you to embrace me. Seems like I’ve been abandoned.” He moves closer to her, but she backs away. For a moment, she considers reaching out to him but considers otherwise. She has made a solemn promise to the man who has become her protector, in a way her father now. She will not renege on that promise.
“I have to go Dante. I’m tired. You should do the same. We’ll talk soon. I promise.”
“I can’t sleep.” He says.
“Take care.” She runs off. Cammilia considers going after her and looks to Dante, for some verbal or telepathic command.
“Let her go, girl.”
Dante leaves the streets and returns to his dorm and tries to sleep. Unable to sleep and escape the essence of her, he does the only thing he can do which is to relieve himself. Once he does, he falls asleep in a few seconds.
Feeling she will not be thrown out of bed, Cammilia lays at his feet and sleeps.
Chapter 26: Bounty Up for Grabs
Pent takes the ceramic coffee mug and hurls it across the room, barely missing Deputy Mueller’s head. Mueller reaches for his pistol but is quickly dissuaded by Jebediah with a shake of his head.
“I’ll permit you that one Pent, but another outburst like that and I will have you jailed on a disorderly charge. You ken?”
Pent considers belting him across the face but thinks better of it, sighing deeply to dispel the worst of the raging maelstrom. He shakes his head in frustration and disbelief. “You say less than one day? One day stood in the way of me collectin’ the bounty? Are you tripe?” He asks.
“I am not tripe,” replies Jebediah in an even monotone, hoping to assuage the man. Pent is smart like Malachai but lacks the refinement and self-control. It shows in his demeanor and his appearance. He wears a scraggly, wool jacket that looks as if it hadn’t seen a day of wash. His beard is scraggly. Pent is a large man and his appearance is sloppy like his body-portly, unshaven, unkempt. He’s the antithesis of Malachai.
His hair is oily, rank with sour perspiration, and as distasteful as the rest of him. But such things do not concern him. He has a great knack for tracking men without the calculating and precocious mindset of Malachai. They understand and tolerate each other. But it was every man for himself outside the Terra-Gaulian occupation of the northern towns in the City States of Kent.
“Bounties are first come first served. I was happy to take leave of him for a fee. You got here too late. You know full well the rules. Whatever you wish to do now is up to you. My hands are washed of him. You ken?”
Pent nods. “Ai. You right, shariff. You were well within rights and I cast no blame on ya. I cry pardon for the outburst.”
Jebediah throws out a couple of gold pence. He knows it won’t appease him, but it may diffuse the situation. “Have a few rounds at Traney’s pub up the street-on me. A round for your men. Cool off and don’t be makin’ no trouble or you will have me to deal with. Do I make myself clear then?”
Pent takes the coin and nods. “Ai. And I say thankee, a generous offer shariff. We’ll be on our way.”
“Well then our business has concluded.”
“Ai, so it is.”
Pent slams his fist down on the spade table, eliciting several hard and menacing stares. He has spent the few pence Jebediah had given him and he is now down another twenty gold pence from this high-stake game.
“Take ‘er easy!” warns Raoul, Pent’s right-hand man and closest confidant. “Your rilings apt to get us booted out of this town, so it will. Mayhaps we should consider folding up. There are other bounties out there.”
“But none that would have paid so highly as that. That goddam cocksucker beat me to the punch again and I hate him,” exclaims Pent heatedly, slurring his speech. He is well on his way to becoming sloshed and his inebriated state only makes him more agitated. Raoul knows a fight will ensue if he does not intervene.
“Pent, we should fold up and head out. Cool yourself!”
Pent elbows him in the ribs sharply. Raoul winces. “You don’t tell me what to do, you toad-faced horsefucker! Set watch and warrant, I’ll fix you up!”
Pent and Raoul look up to see a group of men standing over the
Pent is curious but also agitated. “What do you want standing over me in such a way?” He asks, with measured agitation. He is more curious than mad but still on the offensive. He is not one to switch gears quite so fast.
The handsome one speaks. “My name is Felinius, and I have come here in the service of Herod Antipaz. Do you know of my employer?”
Pent nods. “Ai.” A slight smirk emerges on his face. “You will find we are not such hickbillies here that we have not heard the name of Herod Antipaz. The man is well invested in Cortez. What does it have to concern the likes of me?”
“I’d be happy to discuss the matter with you. It could be a lucrative proposition.”
Pent’s ears perk up at that. “You tripe, comp?”
“No, certainly not. As a token of my good faith, permit me to cover your losses at the table, on the agreement that you will sit with me so we may discuss Herod’s proposition for you. You ken?”
Pent looks at him dubiously. How the hell did he know about his losses? This Felinius is certainly not tripe. Pent nods. “Ai. The gesture will go far. You have my attention.” Felinius counts out exactly thirty gold pence to Pent. Pent watches as Felinius deftly counts out the thirty gold pence. The man’s dexterity cannot be denied. Pent is impressed. He stares at the pile of coinage a little incredulously and then pays the dealer and walks over to Felinius’ table. He points to the chair and Felinius nods.
“I say thankee for the gesture. Have been struck with losses ever since landin’ in this hickbilly town, so I have. You ken?”
Felinius nods. “Ai. To have come all this way only to discover that your bounty is gone, given to your competitor, Malachai. The man is quick. You ken?”
Pent furrows his brow and scrunches his face, resembling the weasel he is. “Ai. The man is a squirrely bastard. Not the first time he has taken a bounty from me.”