Most visitors to Riker’s Cove came by skytrain, validating Jonathan’s long push to build a formal station for them in town. However Riker himself and many of the first settlers arrived by boat. Indeed, the docks still accepted many newcomers to town in the present day. While popular, these large forms of transport were didn’t always fit the needs or wants of a man traveling alone. The trains in particular weren’t welcome in lands controlled by the League of the Sanna, either.
So it was no surprise that the Sanna man who came to Riker’s Cove the day after Roy Harper arrived on horseback, rather than by train. He rode in about late morning, old buckskin pants and worn linen shirt hidden under a long, brightly beaded coat. He gave the graveyard a wide berth. Jonathan Riker’s statue was not slighted by this as the customs of the Sanna and the Columbians were very different in regards to death. As they were in many ways.
However, when searching for someone the basics are much the same from one culture to another. So the stranger went to the hotel first. Then he crisscossed the public square a few times, visiting the pub, the smithy and the general store. Finally he went to the jail. But Sheriff Warwick was out at the moment so he sat down on the doorstep and waited.
Avery didn’t know any Sanna men, so when one turned up outside the jail he was more than a litle surprised. The dark skinned man regarded him with impassive stoicism as he approached. Avery returned the sentiment. Before the Lakeshire War druids primarily drilled with the expectation that they would be called up to fight the Sanna when hostilities broke out between their nations again.
Ultimately that never happened but that didn’t mean there was no low level violence between the Sanna and the Columbians. Out in the west it was actually pretty common. But it was rare for them to come so far south.
Avery tipped the brim of his hat to the stranger. “G’morning. Can I help you?”
“Good morning.” The Sanna man stood with an effortless grace and spoke with the precise diction his people were famous for. “You are the sheriff of this town?”
“That’s right. I’m Avery Warwick, and you are?”
“You may call me Proud Elk.”
That was an awkward name and no mistake. Avery was tempted to ask how he’d say that in Proud Elk’s native tongue but he knew some Sanna tribes really hated revealing things like that. “Okay, Proud Elk, what brings you to my jail.”
“I came to this town to meet Bright Coals, the man you call Roy Harper.” Proud Elk tilted his head and pursed his lips oddly, seeming to indicate the jailhouse. “I am told he is here.”
Avery reassessed the Sanna man. He’d never heard of their people sending out firespinners or bounty hunters but there was a first time for everything. Problem was, he wasn’t sure how Proud Elk would react if placed under arrest. “Well you were told correctly. You’ll have to leave any weapons outside so as to ensure there’s no jailbreaks.”
Proud Elk nodded and extracted a whip club from his jacket. It was a heavy stick of hexwood with an equally heavy sulfurite crystal embedded at one end and a long, fifteen foot vine extending from the other. Sanna braves were supposed to be deadly with them. Avery took the weapon and found it to be very unwieldy in the hand. “You will allow me to speak to him now?”
“Sure. Come on in.” Avery unlocked the door and ushered Proud Elk into the jail.
“What crime did Bright Coals commit that you were forced to jail him? I have heard he’s quite scrupulous.”
“I am.” Roy got up from the bench where he’d been sitting and approached the bars of his cell. “Hello, Proud Elk, good to see you. Did you bring Many Herons with you?”
“The Elder was recently injured and is unable to travel. Your Thaddeus Heller now serves as mayor of a town and his obligations prevent his travel right now. They have had a difficult time.” Proud Elk looked uncomfortable crossing over to the empty cell, conspicuously avoiding meeting Harper’s eyes.
“I know Sam Jenkins is dead,” Harper mused, drumming his fingers on the bars. For some reason that was enough for Proud Elk to relax. “Add in you and me and that’s five accounted for.”
“Many Herons sent a message to Lost Crow but he returned to the north and we do not know where he lives now. It may take weeks to reach him.” Proud Elk finally met Roy’s gaze. “That’s six. Do you have any news of the other two?”
“Ty Hutch went prospecting from what I heard. It may take even longer to reach him than it does Lost Crow and we have semaphore towers to work with.” Roy sat back down on his bench. “Van der Klein is on his way. Not the greatest response we could hope for. Three out of eight.”
“No one thought only eight would live, much less that they would be such as us.” Proud Elk frowned his disapproval. “So why are you here in jail, Bright Coals? We gave our word to that man that we should defend his family and home yet you are unable to do so. Such a mistake is unlike you.”
Avery cleared his throat. “I’m sorry to interrupt, Proud Elk, but is it possible you’re also here to hunt down Heinrich von Nighburg?”
“Yes. As a brave of the Sanna I must uphold the promises we made to the founder of this town.”
He said it with the kind of grave certainty that suggested he thought everyone present understood him. Most Sanna spoke that way. In fairness, the Sanna prided themselves on learning languages and clearly speaking them. From the amused expression on Harper’s face he knew Avery was lost. He didn’t leave the sheriff in the dark long.
“Did you ever meet Jonathan Riker, Sheriff Warwick?” Harper asked.
“No, I came here about six years ago. He was dead and buried by that point.”
“You ever ask how he died?”
“I heard he went off to sort out some kind of problem up north before it got to the Cove but he never came back.” Avery frowned. “I always got the impression the townsfolk didn’t approve of him doing that so I never pushed to hard on the topic.”
“Yeah, I heard that, too.” Harper gave Proud Elk a look but it seemed to go right past the Sanna man. “Well, have you ever heard of the Summer of Snow?”
“Couldn’t hear about anything else back when I was coming out this way.” Avery raised his eyebrows. “Why? Is that the trouble he went to deal with?”
“One and the same.”
“Wait.” Avery massaged his forehead, feeling a headache coming on. “Why wouldn’t people want him doing that? The Summer of Snow wiped out crops all over the West, nearly caused a famine over thirty counties. Stopping that was heroism on par with Arthur and the Founders. Why not talk about it?”
“Because he died doing it and it was his connections that brought half the ships here each year,” Roy said. “At least, that’s what I heard at the dedication ceremony for his statue.”
“Okay, I can somewhat understand that,” Avery conceded. “So historical facts aside, what does this have to do with you two?”
“When the snow was at its worst, sixty men from the northern Sanna tribes and the Western Columbian counties gathered in Leondale,” Proud Elk said. “We agreed that the cold must be broken, no matter the cost. If it remained it would cost us family and home and ultimately our lives.”
“But some folks weren’t keen on chasing down hunger incarnate,” Roy added. “If they died they couldn’t do much for hearth and home later, after all. So we made a pact. Anyone who survived would take on the obligations of those who died. We didn’t expect the numbers would be so lopsided at the time.”
“Nine all told, wasn’t it?” Avery rummaged through his memories and came up with half a verse of half forgotten song. “Sixty one men went down to Tyson’s Run and nine emerged when battle was done.”
Harper visibly flinched but Proud Elk didn’t seem to notice. “Not entirely correct,” the Sanna man said. “As I said, there were sixty of us in Leondale, the last man was someone we met at the sawmill by the river.”
“This is important because?”
“That latecomer was one of us who survived,” Harper said. “But he wasn’t a part of the Leondale Pact.”
Avery quirked an eyebrow. “You didn’t invite him, then?”
“I didn’t.” Harper shot Proud Elk a sideways look. “Did you?”
“The Sanna have learned it is better not to request help from him.” Proud Elk shrugged. “I don’t expect him, either way. Chipped Ax spoke as if he had contract with him recently.”
“No wonder he didn’t come,” Roy muttered. “Old man Heller must really be in a bad way if he cut another deal with him.”
“So that’s all very interesting,” Avery said. “But it’s not relevant to my main point. Proud Elk, I’ve arrested Mr. Harper because I don’t want him or anyone else tinkering with Heinrich von Nighburg. He’s a very dangerous man and the threat to the people of this town if you go and fight him, then lose, is very real. You’re not Columbian, so I’d prefer not to arrest you, too. But I will if I have to.”
Proud Elk scowled. “The pledge to that man is a matter of the Sanna’s word, not Columbian law, Sheriff Warwick.”
“Well we both know Sanna words can be pretty flexible. Ever heard of the Diamondback River massacre?”
Roy hurried to interrupt before Proud Elk could let loose the indignant retort building behind his stormy eyes. “Sheriff, do you really think you can keep things going like this?”
“What do you mean?”
“Black magic isn’t a spell or a crime, it’s a way of life. Once you start killing for power its hard to stop.” Harper braced both feet on the floor and leaned forward until his nose almost touched the bars. “Von Nighburg is going to kill again.”
“Mr. Harper, that’s a remarkably astute observation. My concern isn’t maintaining the status quo indefinitely. I just need to stay the course until I can find a way into that coalstoking lighthouse of his. Since you didn’t even know it existed when you got to town I presume you didn’t come with a solution in hand.” Avery gestured at the pile of loose paper Harper had squirreled in the corner of his cell. “Unless you’ve worked it out over the last day?”
Harper absently ran a thumb over the spine of the book that sat on top of his messy scribbling. “I’m afraid not. However, Johan van der Klein is a Son of Harmon, one of the deepest theoretical magic traditions on the continent. He may be able to tell us something when he arrives.”
“He coming on that L&K train this afternoon?”
Avery’s question was rewarded with a chagrined look from Harper. “Yeah, I suppose he is.”
“Well the three of you can get back on it and leave, thank you very much.” Avery sat down at his desk and picked up his candle holder. “I respect your dedication to an old promise. Most men wouldn’t go so far for someone who died six months ago, let alone eight years. But I have access to many sharp magical minds from the old days. If you want to protect Riker’s home and family you’re much better off leaving this in my hands. ”
Proud Elk stirred. “Our oath-”
“One of von Nighburg’s hostages is Jennifer Riker, Jonathan’s granddaughter. Please. I’m begging you, leave this in the hands of someone who knows the town and who they’ll trust.”
For a moment the Sanna man looked crestfallen. Then he rallied, turning stubborn and saying, “The word of the Sanna is not-”
“Sheriff,” Harper interrupted. “May I have a moment alone with Proud Elk?”
Avery nodded and got to his feet. As he walked out of the jail he lit his candle and sat down on the doorstep. He’d give them all the time they needed so long as they finally agreed to leave in the end. In the mean time he trimmed up his candle, lit it and waited.