The undertaker came just as Graeme was finishing his beer. Graeme’s sensitive elven ears twitched. He couldn’t help but overhear her and her assistant fussing around outside with the corpses, though he tried not to pay any attention. The steady stream of their chatter as they discussed the condition of the Gunslinger bodies in excruciating detail cut through his heart like tiny little shards of ice. By the time they started debating what they were going to do about Dame Hanover’s shattered face, his knuckles and his brow were white.
After a moment, the undertaker pushed through the saloon doors and regarded Graeme with a cool gaze. She was small and dark-haired, with alert, sparkling eyes, and she hopped over in an odd sidelong way that reminded him of a half -wild raven that his sister used to feed back home. “Anything you want from the bodies before I take them away, Squire?” she asked him respectfully.
“Their guns,” he said immediately. His face flushed as only then did he remember that only another Slinger or Apprentice should handle those holy relics. He should have taken care of it already. He got to his feet and slung his hat back on his head, following the undertaker back out into the blazing sunlight and the rapidly-shrinking pools of shadow.
The Gunslinger and her Apprentice – Ned, the boy who wanted to chat up his sister – were laid out in pine boxes. The undertaker’s assistant, a blocky man maybe three times her size who must have some troll blood in him, was picking up the rest of the pieces of their bodies. Graeme tried not to look too closely as he unbuckled her gunbelt and worked it out from under her hips. Unfortunately, there was no avoiding the smell. Behind him, Woodhouse made a disgusted noise and Piper hitched in her breath.
He checked the flask pocket of her duster and took out the two gold coins that Slingers kept on hand to pay for their burial. These he handed to the undertaker. “I’ve been wonderin’ where the Sheriff is?” he asked of the three townsfolk.
“Dead,” said the undertaker in a dry tone. “We buried him last week.”
Graeme blinked in surprise. “Why didn’t anyone send word?” he blurted. Surely someone should have come looking for their father! What was going on here?
“I ‘ear they shot the messenger,” Woodhouse growled.
“They?” Piper echoed. Graeme shivered. There was more than one?
“His gang,” the undertaker’s assistant explained. “They don’t ride the Hell-Steeds.”
Well, that was a cold comfort, anyway. A gang of armed supporters was a lot better than a whole pack of blackhats. Had they been responsible for lynching the “necromancer”? Would Piper, Henry and the horses be able to get out of town if Graeme failed?
The undertaker looked Graeme up and down with a quick bob of her head. He got the distinct feeling that she was calculating his measurements. “Ol’ Joss there told me what happened, Squire. Sure I can’t interest you in anythin’ fancier than the standard pine box?”
“Why, you nasty money-grubbin’ little weasel!” snarled Piper. Her hands balled into fists.
Henry placed his hand gently on her shoulder. “Easy, easy now,” he chuffed, the way he might do with a spirited filly.
The undertaker threw up her hands and took a step back. “Can’t blame a girl for tryin’, can you?” she said with a nervous attempt at a winning smile.
“Don’t count him out yet,” Piper growled with blazing eyes. “He just might surprise you.”