...THE THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE...
剧透 - :
“Think this trog’s old enough to turn tricks for her skinflint
cousin?” the leader asked one of his cohorts, who brayed laughter.
Harlequin didn’t see what was so funny. But then again, he was still
thinking of Ghostwalker’s tail vanishing into the rift, and of Aina’s
vacant, lifeless eyes.
“Can’t shut up, can you?” the painted elf asked, announcing his
presence. “Every bully I ever met can’t seem to shut his mouth. Except,
of course, when he’s afraid.”
The elven hooligan turned to him, his face all cheap cybereyes,
spiky piercings, post-adolescent acne, and dripping condescension.
He saw only the motley; fools always did. It was why he wore it. He
thumped one of his compatriots with an elbow, laughing.
“Look at this fucking clown.”
剧透 - :
Harlequin felt only the tiniest glimmer of satisfaction; this was
not who he really wanted to hurt.
The other two—kids, really, especially by Elven standards—
exchanged an uncertain glance. One of them then snapped out a
switchblade, and the other pulled a Colt America from the sweaty
waistband of his torn-up jeans.
“You don’t want to do that,” Harlequin said, sounding bored.
“Get your friend a tampon for his face instead.” He made the barest
flick of his eyes toward their still-prostrate leader, then he moved to
turn lazily away. The one with the gun hesitated, while the one with the
knife went for him while he was turning; stupid, but it’s not like they’d
have fared much better if they acted in concert. Harlequin caught the
kid’s wrist, pivoted, twisted, and spun, redirecting the momentum
of the thrust. The blade disappeared to the hilt in the other ganger’s
stomach, hitting the soft patch of tee-shirt between the unwisely
unbuttoned fringes of his armored jacket. The gun fell from suddenly
nerveless fingers as his mouth opened in an “O” of surprise. Harlequin
let go, and both of them fell to the ground.
“What did I just say?” he asked, in Sperethiel.
剧透 - :
He ignored them as they staggered to their feet and fled to seek
medical attention, leaving a trail of blood and curses in their wake. He
turned to the ork girl, who was staring at him, wide eyed, like he’d just
turned into a feathered serpent in the middle of the street. He knew
it probably wasn’t the violence she was shocked at—you didn’t reach
the age of thirteen in this neighborhood without seeing worse. She
expressed her surprise with some colorful Spanish vulgarity.
“Not any way to talk about your own mother,” he said, and
winked. Then he fumbled through the pockets of his leather jacket for
a rumpled silk pocket square, and wiped the blood offof his forehead.
His head hurt, slightly. Pocketing the handkerchief, he sketched a tiny
little bow (a bit theatrical, really) toward the girl, who seemed more
surprised by that than anything else thus far. “You see, not all elves are
He was lying; he was probably the worst of them.
剧透 - :
“Should I check him for weapons?” Alec Tintagel asked. He
knew from the angry frown that his patron was about to painstakingly
explain why what he’d just said was stupid, so he hastily added “That
was a joke.” Because it had been.
Lugh Surehand, the former High Prince of Tír Tairngire, smiled
thinly. Humor was never either man’s strong suit, and their current
situation—fugitives, hunted and in exile—didn’t help.
“Bring him in,” Surehand said, wearily, and with a dismissive wave
of his hand. He seemed about as eager for this meeting as he would be
to wrestle, naked, with a barghest. Maybe slightly less.
Tintagel did a quick sweep of the devices connected to his
PAN before doing so. The log-cabin lodge they were staying in
was rustic and traditional to the extreme, but the security network
he’d set up was not. Hidden thermographic cameras and chemical
sniffers covered the interior and the exterior of the cabin, and
motion detectors surrounded the perimeter. On top of that, he had
drones in the sky to watch out for any suspicious thermal signatures
encroaching on their position, and he’d left a few men out in the
treeline, wearing thermally insulated chameleon suits—it was fucking
cold up here—and taking rotating shifts. The place was, in short, as
much of a fortress as he could make it, but still a flimsy line of defense
if push came to shove. Their best defense, their only real defense, was
that no one should have any way of knowing they were there.
Except he knew.
剧透 - :
Gritting his teeth, Tintagel pulled open the door. His men had
picked up the painted elf traipsing obliviously into the perimeter
and hadn’t known what to make of him. They’d forced him into
one of the ATVs at gun point and driven him up to the cabin before
contacting Tintagel and asking him if he had been expecting “a guy
in clown makeup.” Tintagel was thankful the target had cooperated
and come along willingly. Good help was damn hard to find.
Even without the motley painted on his face, Harlequin looked
ridiculous, wearing a puffy goose-down insulated nylon jacket,
stamping the snow off his feet—his boots, Tintagel observed,
appeared to be anaconda skin—on the porch mat, his breath
misting in the air. He grinned awkwardly at Tintagel, stepping
inside as Alec shut the door behind him. He was at least half a
head shorter than either the former High Prince or his paladin,
and a good thirty pounds lighter than Surehand. Like Alec, he was
clean-shaven. His hair—tied back in a ponytail—was dyed a red
similar to Surehand’s natural color, but at the roots it was growing
into a golden-brown color, showing a touch of gray. For an elf, he
looked old, which was in keeping with what little Tintagel had been
told about him.
剧透 - :
Harlequin stepped over the wooden bench on one side of the
cabin’s sole table and sat.
“The Cypress Hills in the lovely Algonkian-Manitou Council
lands,” he said. “Been a while since I’ve been up here.” He frowned,
suddenly. “Actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever been here, come to think
of it.” He shrugged. “No relation to the hip hop group?” A joke of
some kind, and apparently not one he expected anyone else to get.
Surehand, for his part, sitting across the table on the bench opposite
Harlequin, managed not to let his face show any bewilderment or
exasperation. He was wrapped up in his heavy Mortimer of London
greatcoat —even with the space heaters running, it was cold in here.
A sharp wind blew through the lodge’s glassless windows, causing
the candle flames and their cast shadows, to dance wildly, stirring
the incense-laden air.
Tintagel was busying himself setting up a white-noise
generator. Just, he thought, in case. Surehand hadn’t responded,
so Harlequin went right on babbling, picking up his momentum
again after the pause.
剧透 - :
“What are you doing up here, anyway? Thinking of running for
Ceremonial Chief ? I wouldn’t recommend it. The higher-ups here
have some life expectancy problems.” This was an understatement.
Every chief elected to office in the last ten years had died by violence.
“Or are you just laying low? Not sure how well that’s working out,
either. You, me, him, and the charming gentlemen in the balaclavas
outside are the only palefaces I’ve seen since I left Calgary.”
“I could study you for a hundred years and never understand
how you do it,” Surehand finally said. Tintagel turned to face the
two of them, now that the white noise generator—producing a faint,
unpleasant whine, keener than the howling wind—was running. “How
the more and more you talk, the less and less you’re actually saying.”
Harlequin sniffed. “It’s a gift. I missed you in Seattle. I came there
to talk to you. I’d heard that you were hanging around Puyallup. My
old stomping grounds.”
“不管怎么说，你在这里做什么呢？考虑竞选仪典长老（译注：Ceremonial Chief， 阿尔冈昆-曼尼托议会领导三巨头之一，另外两个是内务长老Civil Chief和战争长老War Chief。）？我不建议。这里的上层有些寿命问题。”这是保守说法。过去十年里每位被选上的仪典长老都死于暴力。“还是你只是在低调行事？也不确定你干得多好。你、我、他还有外面英俊的先生们是我离开卡尔加里后见到的唯一一群白脸。”
剧透 - :
“The situation in Seattle became difficult,” Surehand said,
desultorily. “I had to get out of town for a while.” Another
understatement; they’d been dodging bullets as they fled the Daisy
Chain restaurant in Tarislar, Jonathon Reed’s Paladins making a game
attempt at killing the former High Prince. It had been entirely too close,
and Tintagel was intent on not letting it happen again. “How did you
find me? For that matter, how did you get here?” Tintagel noticed that
Surehand didn’t mention why he’d chosen the AMC to go to ground,
namely his ongoing, delicate negotiations with the leadership of the
disenfranchised Elven Manitou tribe. Surehand’s efforts at gathering a
power base here had made much more immediate gains than his work
in Seattle. He was ready to back the Manitou in their move against
the Algonkian-controlled Council government in exchange for their
support—assuming they won—in retaking the Tír when he was ready,
and a position in their government in the meantime. This would, of
course, pit Surehand directly against Aztechnology, who were the
major backers of the Algonkian Council government, a fact he seemed
to regard as an acceptable risk.
剧透 - :
“That unbelievable bastard,” Surehand said wonderingly, rubbing
an old scar on his cheek. “He doesn’t know, does he? How can he of all
people be the only one of us who was there that doesn’t know that she’s
not gone, at least, not really gone.” He shook his head. “You know, Alec,
even the world’s greatest liar never could deceive people half as well as
they can deceive themselves.”
He didn’t know what to say to that, so he said nothing.
After shutting the door, Tintagel did another sweep of the perimeter
security via his PAN, until he was satisfied. It was a silent night out there,
if not a holy one. Now that the painted elf had gone, Tintagel wanted to
feel relieved, but his patron’s attitude seemed to be the precise opposite.
Surehand climbed into his bunk, interlacing his fingers behind
his head as he leaned against the pillow and stared thoughtfully at the
“I have no idea what we’ve just gotten ourselves into,” Surehand
said with a weary sigh. Tintagel unbuckled his chest holster and hung
it and the heavy Savalette Guardian inside it dangling from the wooden
bedpost of his own bunk.
“You really think he can get us Hestaby’s support?” Tintagel asked.
“Those two have always been close,” Surehand said, sitting up
and stroking his beard. “If she’s really in a position to choose her own
successor, like he says, then all we have to do is choose our successor.”
Tintagel sat on his bunk, rolling his head around his shoulders,
trying to work out some of the kinks in his neck. “Then was everything
we’ve done here and in Seattle all for nothing?” he asked.
“Of course not. It’s not like I actually trust that mad fool. And you
can never have too many contingencies.”
剧透 - :
It was, Tintagel knew, one of his favorite sayings.
“Then why do you seem so...” He trailed off.
“Pensive? Regretful? Terrified?” Surehand barked laughter. “Pitting
our interests against Aztechnology’s is one thing, but this...”
“… could be even worse.” Tintagel finished for him. Both men fell
silent for a while. ffen why did you agree to it? Tintagel wanted to ask,
but in his heart, he knew why. It was because the jester was no fool at
all. He had known what Surehand wanted, and had dangled it right in
front of him. After so many years living as an exile, a refugee, a fugitive,
there was almost nothing Surehand wouldn’t have risked to see his home
and his throne restored. As a Paladin, it wasn’t his place to question his
master. Only to trust and serve.
“How many deniable assets—and their fixers—do we have good
working relationships with? Only list the best people, ones who are
So Tintagel listed them, the fixers they used in Seattle, Calgary,
London, Dublin, Hong Kong, Neo-Tokyo, and all the rest. The runners
that they’d hired and contracted through proxies and the proxies of
“Hmm,” mused Surehand, glancing sidelong at Tintagel as he toyed
with the ring he wore on his pinky finger. “We’re going to need more.”