Telling Tales 130
The Best Laid Plans
The reedy pipes played a tune that would have been at home in a burning building, embers cooking away paint from the walls and reducing wood to ash and powder. It was a hungry song, desperate to hear itself out to the end, even if in the playing it would consume itself and take all the air away with it. When the soldier lowered the pipes from his mouth, he was panting with the effort of the music and before him sat No Legs and No Eyes.
“Good day, uncles,” the soldier eventually said.
“Ah,” said No Eyes, “so that’s who it is. Our nephew.”
“I thought your manners had fled,” grumbled No Legs.
“I’m out of breath is all,” said the soldier. “I hope you’ll forgive me.”
No Eyes nodded. “So I hear. I take it you got away from Yumni then.”
Not wanting to offend them, the soldier decided to soften the events. “He did kill me, but I’m alright for the moment.”
No Eyes frowned. “Is that the Gathering Storm I smell coming?”
No Legs raised his head and stared at the clouds. “You don’t think we can do anything about the Storm, do you? On the other hand, we’ve got some time. It’s not Yumni, beating down the door the moment we arrive. You’ve done better, nephew. We can take you anywhere you need to go.”
No Eyes agreed. “Name the place. The dogs won’t be here for a few minutes yet. That gives us some room to work.”
The soldier offered his thanks, explained his situation with his breath and that he needed to speak with the Storm’s hunters, ending with the apology, “So as much as I appreciate the possibility of escape, you see that it would ultimately do me more harm than good.”
“That’s a pickle, to be sure,” said No Eyes.
“Never cared for pickles. Don’t like the vinegar,” said No Legs.
“Do you know Aniwye?” asked the soldier.
“The skunk?” asked No Legs. No Eyes screwed up his nose in such a way as to say that he did, in fact, know him. “What do you want with him?”
“It’s not so much him as his track.”
No Legs and No Eyes tilted their heads toward one another in silent conference. “Clever lad,” nodded No Eyes. “Aye, it’s a great deal easier to move a track than it is to move a creature, whether that creature be lowly Russian soldier or giant skunk. Where do you want his track to have gone?”
“How long will it take him to get here?” countered the soldier.
“I like this one,” grinned No Legs. Unlike the cat’s pointed teeth, his were blocks of stone, worn by wind and water. To his companion, he said, “Sometimes when my belly rumbles I think back on how sweet his meat and his screams would have tasted, but this makes me feel better about our decision.”
No Eyes smiled back, and his grin was just as horrible. “Right you are. This one’s free, lad, for the humor.”
“We might hang on for a bit to see how it plays out,” said No Legs as he hefted his crutches under the bulk of his body.
No Eyes stood next to him, and together they towered over the soldier. “Might be a snack at the end, do you think?”
“Could be,” agreed the other. The plodded into the forest out of the soldier’s view.
He hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath for most of the last part of the conversation until they were gone.