Cold Days
Page 15

 Jim Butcher

  • Background:
  • Text Font:
  • Text Size:
  • Line Height:
  • Line Break Height:
  • Frame:
"Ah!" the Sidhe said, smiling. "You see, Sarissa, he's worked it out. It took a while, but he got there."
"You're a redcap," I said.
"Not a redcap," he said, snapping annoyance in his voice. "The Redcap, little Knight."
The Redcap was one of those figures I had hoped was a story. According to what I knew of legend, he got his name by greeting travelers in a friendly fashion, and then murdering them horribly. Once that was done, he would dye his cap freshly scarlet by dipping it in their cooling blood. Odds seemed reasonable that he was a badass. Legend was about as reliable as every other rumor mill on the planet, but looking at the guy, I got the impression that he would smile and have an erection the whole time he murdered Sarissa. Or me.
He certainly expected me to react with fear and caution. Which just goes to show you that no matter how old something is, centuries don't necessarily make it all that bright.
"The big bad Redcap," I drawled. "And when you were picking a red cap for tonight to emblemize your power and skill, you went with Cincinnati over Philly? Or Boston? Seriously?"
The Redcap apparently didn't know what to make of that. He just stared at me, trying to decide whether he'd been insulted or not.
"Man, you Sidhe are a crowd of poseurs. Did you know that? You try to do and say the things you think will push our buttons-but you just don't get it, do you? Have you even been to a ball game? I caught one with Gwynn ap Nudd a few years back. Decent guy. Maybe you've heard of him."
"Do you think your allies frighten me, wizard?" the Redcap demanded.
"I think you're an opportunist," I said.
"A what?"
"You heard me. You jump people traveling alone, people who don't have a chance in hell of defending themselves against you. Especially not when you make nice and put them off their guard first." I gave him a toothy smile. "I'm not off my guard, Red. And I'm not someone who doesn't have a chance against you."
"Touch me and I will kill her," he snarled, giving Sarissa a little jerk by way of demonstration.
I looked at Sarissa and hoped that she could read deeper than the surface. "That's bad, but there's not much I can do about it if you decide to kill her now," I said. "Of course, after you do that . . . I don't really like your chances, Red. If she dies, you'll join her."
"You wouldn't break Mab's law," he sneered.
"You're right," I said. "So I figure I'll just open a Way back to the mortal world, drag you through it, and after that . . . well, I've always been partial to fire."
Evidently that line of possibility had not occurred to the Redcap. "What?"
"I know it's not thematically in tune with my new job and all, but I find it effective. Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day," I said. "But set a man on fire andhe's warm for the rest of his life. Tao of Pratchett. I live by it. You wanted to face me down in front of everyone, get props for tweaking my nose on my first night here? Well, congratulations, Red. You're the man."
The Redcap's eyes narrowed, gleaming bright, and his foxlike smile widened. "You think I'm afraid of you."
"The last time somebody swiped my date to a party, it got a little messy," I said in a very mild voice. "Ask the Red Court about it. Oh, wait."
The Redcap actually laughed at that, and it was hurtful. Literally. My ears rang painfully at the sharpness of the sound. "It is nothing to me how many cockroaches or vampires you have ended, mortal. I am Sidhe."
"Whatever," I said. "Killed some of them, too."
"Yes," the Redcap said, and there was an ugly, hungry heat in his tone. "The Lady of Summer. I was in that battle, mortal. I saw her blood flow."
I nodded and said, "And what makes you think I won't do it again?"
The Redcap jerked his chin a little to one side and said, "They do."
I froze.
Dammit, Harry, I chided myself. You're dealing with faeries. There is always a scam with faeries. There is always a sucker punch on the way. I'd gotten too forward-focused. The Redcap hadn't been a challenger.
He was the bait.
As if on cue, the wild dancing turned to stillness. The music died. All motion in the chamber, as far as I could tell, ceased entirely, and suddenly I stood in a small glade within a forest of lean, wickedly beautiful figures and weirdly sparkling eyes.
Two beings emerged from that forest, shambling out from the crowd of Sidhe, one on either side of me, maybe fifteen feet away.
The first, on my right, was a huge figure, shuffling forward with its form doubled over beneath a tattered grey cloak that could have covered a small truck. Its legs took strides that were two or three times as long as mine, and when it came to a halt, its long arms spread out to either side of it and rested on the floor. Beneath its hood, I could make out a flat, broad head, as stark as a skull and colored red and glistening. Its arms ended in hands with only three fingers, but they were proportionally too thick and a couple of feet long. They, too, were red and glistening, as if something had been built on a bone framework with flesh and muscle added on over it, but then whoever had made it had forgotten to put the skin on. It dripped little patters of ichor onto the floor and stared at me with very wide, very white eyes that contained only tiny pinpoints of black.
I recognized the thing. It was a rawhead, a creature that assembled itself out of the discarded bones and flesh of slaughtered hogs and cattle. Then they started eating whatever they could catch, usually starting with pets, then working their way up to schoolchildren, and finally hunting down adults. If you caught them early, you should shut them down hard-but no one had caught this one.