“I ever catch you blasting on my land again, I’ll draw an’ quarter you an’ chop you up for dog feed!” the second man yelled. “You hear me, Gobby?”In a blur of motion, Gobby twisted out from under the other man and dropped him with a blow to the jaw that sounded like an axe thunking into wood. “You threatening me, Dinsin? Cause if you’re gonna threaten me, you better be ready to back it up!”
“Yeah, he’s threatening you,” said a man with an extravagant moustache from the covered wooden walkway in front of the Bootjack. His right hand dropped to the holster at his hip and came up holding a six-shooter aimed straight at Gobby. “An’ I’ll back up his threats for him.”
The gun was also aimed straight at Silas. Silas stepped back into the shadows of the covered walkway in front of the rooming house and edged out of the line of fire. A handful of men from the saloon next door, the Rusty Widow, came trickling out to see what was going on. Gobby stood up slowly, turning to face the moustached man with the gun. He was now also holding a gun. “Well, Winnard?” he said. “You think you can beat me?”
“I can –”
A shot fired from right next to Silas. Winnard tumbled back against the wall of the Bootjack and collapsed. More men came pouring out from both saloons, guns drawn. Holding onto his hat, Silas dove aside as gunfire exploded from both sides of the street.
And then — a wild burst of magical power, panicked and uncontrolled, and close by. The rogue mage? That power didn’t have the same flavor, the same feel to it as the brief flares of power that had led him to Bitterbush Springs. Silas started to raise his head to look around, then a bullet split a board in the wall of the rooming house not one arm-length above him. Throwing up a protective shield would slow down the bullets enough that they would do little harm, but it would also give away his presence to any other mages who might be around, so Silas pressed himself even flatter against the boards of the sidewalk. He lay flat against the wooden walkway, praying to the Defender that the unwritten law of the Wildings that it was an even worse crime to kill a horse than a man would keep Abenar safe.
All at once the gunfire stopped. “What’s all this, boys?” a deep, resonant voice called out from nearby.
Now Silas raised his head. Three or four men lay sprawled in the dirt of the street, unmoving. The fighters who were still standing had all lowered their guns and were looking at a man standing in front of the Rusty Widow. He was tall, with a hearty build, handsome, pale face, and luxuriant black moustache. He wore a finely-fashioned black suit and black flat-brimmed hat, and had a lace-and-ruffle-bedecked house lady clinging to each arm. Silas got to his knees, made sure his hat was still in place, and stood, brushing dust from his long brown coat. He kept close to the wall, in the shadows of the overhang, curious about this man who had the power to stop a gunfight just by appearing.
“Dinsin threatened me, Mr. Carden, sir,” Gobby said. “Me an’ my friends was just defending ourselves.”
“Go back inside, my dears,” the black-suited man, Carden, said to the house ladies. “No need to worry yourselves.” The ladies retreated into the saloon, and Carden stepped down from the wooden walkway into the street. He stood in front of Gobby, shaking his head. “Don’t tell me you went into the Bootjack again, Gobby,” he said. “You know damn well that’s rancher territory. You’re stupid enough to keep going in there, you deserve whatever you get.” Though the words were harsh, the deep voice was genial. The crispness of a Granadaian accent underlaid his informal Wildings speech.
“When are you gonna start paying us for the ore that was taken off our land, Carden?” Winnard, the wounded man in front of the Bootjack, shouted. The right shoulder of his shirt was soaked with blood, but judging by the anger in his voice, he was a long way from dead.
“If you have a difference with me, Winnard, I’d be happy to discuss it peacefully,” Carden replied in the same friendly manner. “There’s no need for anyone to be shooting anyone else.”
Two men helped Winnard up, and they and several other men who had come from the Bootjack walked over to Carden and started arguing with him. A small man with a silver sword-shaped badge pinned to his shirt came over as well, but he stood back and remained silent.
Silas couldn’t make out what the men were saying. He looked around, wondering who had been responsible for that explosion of magic. Further down the street, towards the east end of town, in the direction the burst of power had come from, he spotted a boy hunkered down behind a barrel, arms wrapped around his knees. Silas walked over, taking care to avoid attracting the attention of the angry men.
When he reached the barrel, he saw that what he had taken for a boy or youth was actually a small, slender young woman wearing men’s clothing — brown canvas pants, a green plaid shirt, boots, and a straw hat with a curved brim like those favored by cowhands. A long braid of light reddish-brown hair trailed down her back from under the hat. She had her face buried against her knees and she was shaking badly.
“I think they’re done for the day,” Silas said. “It’s safe to come out now. You okay?”
Abruptly, as though startled, she raised her head and looked up at him out of wide hazel eyes, set in a delicate, pale face with a dusting of freckles across her nose. Slowly, she took a deep breath and seemed to relax. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m okay. I just hate it when they start shooting like that.”