The Silk Mind

Ashlin Smith is bored with his apparently pointless job in the Royal Badger Survey, and is trying to quit so he can go and be a blacksmith like his family expected. However, the true purpose of the Badger Survey is a lot less boring than he knows or would prefer.

Ashlin, Jenna, Justin and Derk face monsters natural and unnatural as they are tangled up in political intrigue and the civilization-threatening side-effects of ancient sorcery.


35. Justin Stops Running

Justin stalked the peat-cutters’ cart, staying out of sight behind them during the day, or running ahead in the dark at night and finding shelter where he was sure they wouldn’t get past him without his noticing. Of course, he could smell them even when they were out of sight.

After several nights and days, they turned off onto a narrow track that wound up into hilly, rocky, boggy land with scattered pines and very little cover. Then he hid more during the day and pursued them more at night, and after another few days, they came to the edge of a thick forest.

Where a stream cut out steep banks under the old trees, the peat cutters searched up and down, poking at the peaty soil until they seemed to find what they sought. They chopped out great wet bricks of earth.

They wore thick leather gloves as they worked, dropping the slimy lumps onto a canvas sack and using that to carry them to the cart, held well away from themselves. They seemed reluctant to touch the stuff. As though they didn’t want to get their hands dirty.

Too late for that.

Justin approached.

“Whatcha doin, lads?” he asked, trying to keep his voice friendly. Trying to keep his eyes friendly. Totally failing to keep his smile friendly.

“Who are you? The bloke from the stables? Have you been following us? Didn’t we pay you enough for donkey-fodder? Be off with you.”

The younger one looked nervous.

“Why would you be following us? Leave us alone. We’re only cutting peat. It’s not a crime.”

“Lord Bern sent me.” Justin was trying to remain calm, but felt his breath come heavier, heard a quiet roar in his ears, or somewhere between them.

“What? No he didn’t.”

“Yes, he did.” Justin kept walking forward. The men stood uneasily, ready to fight or run, perhaps. “He didn’t want to send me. He didn’t mean to send me. But he sent me, sure enough. By what he did. And here I am.”

He was close in now, and grabbed at the hand-shaped amulet, snatching it from the older man’s neck. He held it up.

“Man is Beast, eh?”

Their faces showed guilty recognition but they said nothing.

“Yeah, about that ... want to see somethin?”


Two weeks later, Justin was back at Sheepdim. With his last handful of coins, he paid for a hot bath and a sheet of paper, and borrowed a pencil. Then he stared at the blank sheet long into the night, before giving up and going to bed.

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