Westerson, Errand, and I stripped off our harnesses. Errand laid his out neatly, while Westerson and I just dropped them on their pegs.

Sheila was out helping Bard again. He wasn’t ready to be a Jack, but he was old enough and the only survivor of Morrison’s Jills. There was no polite way to deny him the post. So several of the Jacks lent him Jills “until he was ready to choose some of his own.” It was no real secret that Sheila was really the one in charge.

“That was a bloody nightmare,” Errand said as he broke the rifle apart. He still smelled of gunpowder, and the sharp lines of dust where it snuck between his mask and goggles were stronger than ever.

I shivered, images of Quixotes climbing the side of the Giant coming unbidden to my head. “That was the biggest pack I’ve ever seen,” I said. “Why did they have to be passing by right as we stopped her?”

Errand gave a mirthless chuckle. “There always seems to be one nearby. I think they know somehow. Still, at least the repairs were quick this time. I only had three bullets left by the time you got the Giant swinging again.” He deposited the pieces of the gun on a sheet of canvas.

“Did you want me to clean that for you?” I offered. Errand’s fingers would be cramped, and my small hands were better for cleaning the rifle, anyway.

He considered for a moment, then shook his head. “No, I got it.”

“Like hell you do,” Westerson snapped.

“Sir?” Errand asked.

“I know you’ve got a girl you’ve been seeing. Bein’ a Jill is no excuse not to go do something romantic for her. It’s the eve of the Festival.”

He frowned. “She’ll be with her family. They… don’t approve of me.”

“That just makes it more romantic,” Westerson laughed. “And you, Massie,” she said, pointing suddenly at me. I had picked up a cleaning rag, but I froze. “You’ve got family of your own. Leave that work to me.”

“Are you sure, sir?” I asked, as Errand left.

“’Course I am. Market’s should still be open, so if you hurry you can get your mother and that little brother of yours something nice. Assuming you’ve got any coin you haven’t given to them already.”

I felt my cheeks flush. I didn’t exactly hide the fact that I sent most of my wages to my mother, but I wasn’t expecting to be called on it so openly.

“What about you, sir?” I asked.

She laughed again, but it was a little more hollow this time. “I’ve got no one waiting for me. I’ll clean up here, then head over to the Old Joy for a drink with whatever other poor sods are there. Now, go on, I see the you plenty the rest of the year.”

I paused, my hand on the door. “How about you come with me, sir?” I said.

“You think that’s a good idea, Massie?”

“I think that there’s no way Sheila let you spend the Festival on your own. You told me yourself that when she went off to help Bard, it’d be up to Errand and me to pick up the slack. So I’m going to go to the market while you finish cleaning up, and then I’ll come back and we’ll both go see my mother.”

“You win. Bossed around by my own Jills,” Westerson chuckled. “I must be doing something very wrong, or something very right.”

Advertisements