Hamquist pulled back his cloak revealing his huge two-handed sword, the steel glinting naked and blue against his woollen breeches. “Have we ever needed more than this?” Hamquist replied. “Ever?”
That’s not what Crakes had meant, but he played along. “What a big sword you have.”
Hamquist grinned, then suddenly swung around and grabbed Crakes’s throat.
“W-what are you do-ing,” Crakes choked.
“Tonight you reek of carelessness, throwing punches around like some carnival puppet. Fussing about the stink as though we’re on a . . . a sniffing expedition.” He added in falsetto, “It’s so smelly here! Oh, where did I put my pomander?”
“I-I . . .” Crakes couldn’t breathe.
Hamquist let go, and Crakes doubled over choking. “Remember the last time you got careless?”
He tried to nod; speaking was impossible. Humiliated, Crakes studied the ground, but failing to fix on anything, inspected a small clump of mud on the tip of his boot. He picked up a stick and poked at it.
“You lost your hand and that’s why you wave that ugly stump around.” Hamquist pointed at a nearby tree stump. “Oh! Look at that!” he said with sudden alacrity. “Twins!” He laughed manically and slapped Crakes on the back. Crakes found himself laughing too. The joke wasn’t funny, but it broke the tension, a distraction from their real purpose, which they both knew was rotten to the core. Holding his sides, Hamquist was about to make another crack, when suddenly his eyes narrowed and his face became serious as stone.
“Athene,” he said, sweeping his nose back and forth. “She is coming.”
Headlights appeared around the corner.
“That’s curious,” Hamquist said.
“She knows we’re here.”
“Does it make a difference?”
Then it was time.
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