Here is another snippet from book 2 of the Wellspring Knight series. It’s a cliffhanger because I’m feeling mean and manipulative this morning. I haven’t had my coffee yet.
Hope you enjoy.
He snickered diabolically, then clicked the publish button.
He pointed to a brown, earthenware jug. Gormer hopped up to grab it. He popped the cork and took a gulp.
“This is that beer we stole from that cart more than a month ago,” Gormer exclaimed. “I thought that was all gone.”
“Not all of it,” Woody said with a grin. He tapped the side of his nose with his index finger. “We’re still thieves, remember?”
“How could I forget?” Gormer replied. He handed the jug to Pleth. He mouthed the words “go slow.”
Pleth pretended to chug.
“While we’re waiting,” Gormer said. “How about a card game?”
Woody was about to take a slug when Gormer suggested the game. The jug paused halfway to his mouth. He narrowed his glassy eyes at Gormer. “How do I know you won’t read minds?”
“Of course, I’m going to read minds. That was our scam, remember? That’s what got me locked up two months ago. I see a lot of new faces in camp.”
Woody slammed down the jug and jumped to his unsteady feet. “Are you saying you want me to cheat my fellow woods people!” He growled, but not loudly.
Pleth tensed up and shot bolt upright in his seat.
“Yes,” Gormer declared.
“I fucking love you,” Woody replied and gave Gormer a clumsy embrace that produced an accidental headbutt.
Pleth drank a bit more than he intended. By the time they got around to breaking out the deck, he was light headed.
It took Gormer and Woody a while to select the right victims. They kept the card game on the down-low by saying that only a select few were allowed to play. The cover story was that Pleth was a sucker, and they’d need to work him slowly and take their time taking his money.
“Make him a compulsive gambler,” Gormer said. He also seemed distressingly drunk. “We’ll get every wanna-be card badger in the camp in here. Let’s turn all their pockets out.”
“Yeah,” Pleth said. “Pockets. All of them.” He belched.
They had a game with five players going by sundown. Woody made a few runs to bring in more firewood and set it around the walls of the teepee. “This should keep us warm all night.”
“No,” Merg said. “This will keep us warm.”
She shucked off her furs to reveal a tremendous amount of cleavage. She reached between her breasts and removed a pint bottle full of cloudy, green liquid. Her laughter shook her ample belly as she held it up for the crowd.
“Is that…” Woody asked.
“Absinthe,” Merg said.
“The greene faerie,” Gormer declared. His mouth watered. Oh no, he thought.
“It’s the real deal,” Merg said. “Made from the bark of the wormwood tree and warmed in a very, very special place.” She blew a kiss at Pleth, whose face turned completely red. “I like you,” she said. “You’re cute.”
“He’s also married,” Gormer said.
“That usually doesn’t stop men when they get a little liquor in them and they see what I have to offer,” Merg replied.
Before Gormer could object, Woody scrambled for cups while someone else went out to collect snow for water.
“Do you have sugar?” one of the players asked.
“I’m lookin’ at a big lump of sugar right now,” Merg said, blowing Pleth another kiss.
“Oh, no,” Woody said. “Merg, you got it bad. You broke the last man you got hold of.”
“I can’t help it if men are fragile,” Merg replied.
They were careful melting the snow to keep the water nice and cold. Woody put a bit of beet sugar into each cup. Merg was generous with her precious liquor, and a bit more so with Pleth’s cup.
“Who wants to do the honors?” Merg asked when it was time to pour the water.
“I’ve got more experience than you all,” Gormer said. He did, but more importantly, he wanted to switch cups with Pleth, who didn’t follow the advice to go slow. Who knows what Absinthe would do to him? He was clearly not a drinker, and absinthe had narcotic effects.
He poured enough water into each cup until the liquid turned milky-green.
“Go slow,” Gormer said. “I really mean it. This stuff is no joke.”
Woody swirled the mixture in his cup for a moment, then tipped it back and drank it all in one go.
“What a fucking waste,” Gormer said. He took a delicate sip, letting the cool liquid kiss his lips. The flavors revealed themselves like old friends at a costume party as his mouth warmed the drink.
Pleth cast scared looks around the teepee.
“Join us, honey,” Merg said, batting her eyelashes around her big, brown eyes. Her chubby cheeks flushed red. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Pleth couldn’t help himself. He smiled back and took a respectable sip. His eyes went wide and his mouth went slack. “That was… amazing.” He took another, larger sip.
“Slow,” Gormer said as the absinthe wandered through his mind like sweet vapor.
Before he knew it, the cup was empty. They shouldn’t have gone for another round, but Merg insisted. “No sense leaving this little bit,” she said.
“Can’t argue with that logic,” Gormer agreed. His words felt airy and light, like birds, flying into some field after a rain.
They all drank a second cup. Silence reigned for some unknown time until Gormer said, “My words look for tasty grubs. They peck at you.”
Woody somehow ended up on his back, arms and legs splayed out. His pants, as well as his shirt, were gone. Only his loincloth remained, and nobody seemed to mind. Gormer barely noticed.
“Were we supposed to play cards?” one of the players asked. Gormer never caught his name.
“No,” Gormer said. “You were supposed to play cards. Me and my friend over here were supposed to take all your money by cheating.”
The man smiled back and simply said, “You, too, eh?”
Gormer didn’t mean to, but he read the man’s mind. He blinked for a moment and saw a burst of impossible colors radiating out between all the bodies.
“I can see your intentions,” he said, reaching out a hand to pass it through the visible energy. “I see thoughts now.”
“No, honey,” Merg said. “It’s the absinthe. But isn’t it wonderful?”
“You don’t know what it’s like,” Gormer said. “How can you? How can anyone? The things I feel. The things I’ve seen… the hatred… the love… so much blood…”
He allowed the energy to wash over him. For once, he didn’t try to judge it, deny it, or reject it. He had no idea what it all meant, but he saw it all clearly—the life energy coming from the world around him, the mental energy coming from the people.
It was beautiful, and it filled him with bliss. And then, it wasn’t beautiful. Something else crept in. A predator. Something that wanted them dead.