“You done?” Lainie asked, her face still wan. “See anything?”
“Nothing but death,” he answered.
Her eyes strayed back to the town. “I don’t want to sleep this close to… that. Not with all those ghosts around and tonight being Darknight.”
“Me either.” He had said the rites, but on Darknight, the one night of the month with no moon and given to no god, when the gods hid their faces from the earth, it was harder for spirits to find their way to the Afterworld.
They mounted up and rode another league or so away from the town, far enough away that the smells and restless spirits were much less noticeable. There was no sign of livestock on the range out here; neither had there been any in town, unusual for a ranching town. Maybe the cattle let out to range in the area knew better than to come near this haunted place.
Silas pitched the tent. Using dead branches from a small copse of scrub oak, he dredged up a spark of power and lit a campfire. It might attract attention, but the midwinter Darknight was no time to be outside without a fire. He spread out his old coat and blanket by the fire, and practiced using a drying spell to extract most of the water. It was clumsy and difficult, like trying to saddle a horse with just one hand and that hand missing most of its fingers.
He and Lainie ate and then sat together at the fire for a while, deliberately speaking only of ordinary, comforting things – the horses, Mrs. Murrison’s cooking, how much money they still had. Lainie’s face was haggard with exhaustion, and before long her eyes started drifting shut. Though Silas had little desire to face the night watch alone, he kissed her hand and said, “You get some sleep. I’ll sit watch.”
She returned the kiss on his own hand. “Get me up later. Don’t stay awake all night. You need your sleep too.”
“I’ll do that.” He would let her get plenty of sleep before then, though. He could make do with only a couple of hours. He kissed her mouth, a lingering kiss as he both sought and offered comfort, then she crawled into the tent.
Silas settled himself for the watch. He left his mage senses – what there was of them – partly exposed to detect any hint of trouble, and cleared his mind, letting his thoughts flow freely around each other. The anguish of the dead still teased at the edges of his senses, and he sent up another prayer to the Gatherer and the Sunderer to help them find their way on this moonless, gods-forsaken night.
A scuffling in the dirt some distance behind Silas caught his attention. Instantly, he was on his feet, his revolver in hand. Guns wouldn’t do any good against restless, vengeful spirits, but they were still useful against bandits, renegade mages, and angry blueskins. “Who’s there?” he called out.