Dead Book

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Piper and Henry picked him up.  “Good shootin’, Slinger,” he said.  Piper wordlessly placed the discarded gun back into his hand.  To think he’d left the holy pistol lying on the cobblestone!  That brought him back to himself.  He placed it properly in its holster.  Then he wiped his mouth.

Elroy the Eel was still dead.  Graeme crawled to his knees beside him.  “‘Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,’” he rasped through his roughened throat.  “‘From ashes we come, and to ashes we return, and the Lord and the Lady watch over all.’  I can’t wish you peace nor grant you mercy; but the gods are wiser than me.  May we meet in better circumstances in the next life.”  He drew from his canteen and spat.  Then he reached down to wipe his fingers in the blood.

For the first time, Graeme drew Cain’s Mark upon his own forehead.  “‘I have drawn life’s blood,’” he intoned.  “‘I have taken from this man everythin’ he has, and everythin’ he’s ever goin’ to have.  May the Lord and the Lady forgive me.’”

Silently Piper handed him an opened canteen and a vial of gunpowder.  He smiled – a sadder smile than he might have offered just an hour before – and he sprinkled a pinch of gunpowder into the container to form the holy water of the Order.  He poured it over his hands, to wash them clean of their guilt.  But the Mark of Cain he left.  It would be left until it wore away naturally.  Then, by tradition, he would bathe for his Vigil.  Or he would hang up his guns, and swear never to take another life until the end of his own.

He wondered if his sorcery would be considered dishonourable.  And he wondered what his father would think.

Later that night, as Queenstown celebrated his victory, Graeme sat in the corner of the saloon, nursing a glass of whisky. Taking advantage of a pause in the parade of thanks and well-wishers, he took out his brand-new Dead Book and inscribed the name Elroy the Eel.  It would be the first of many.

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