The Enterprise of Death

The Enterprise of Death

by Jesse Bullington


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As the witch-pyres of the Spanish Inquisition blanket Renaissance Europe in a moral haze, a young African slave finds herself the unwilling apprentice of an ancient necromancer. Unfortunately, quitting his company proves even more hazardous than remaining his pupil when she is afflicted with a terrible curse. Yet salvation may lie in a mysterious tome her tutor has hidden somewhere on the war-torn continent.

She sets out on a seemingly impossible journey to find the book, never suspecting her fate is tied to three strangers: the artist Niklaus Manuel Deutsch, the alchemist Dr. Paracelsus, and a gun-slinging Dutch mercenary. As Manuel paints her macabre story on canvas, plank, and church wall, the young apprentice becomes increasingly aware that death might be the least of her concerns.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316087346
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: 03/24/2011
Pages: 464
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Jesse Bullington spent the bulk of his formative years in rural Pennsylvania, the Netherlands, and Tallahassee, Florida. He is a folklore and outdoor enthusiast who holds a bachelor's degree in History and English Literature from Florida State University. He currently resides in Colorado, and his blog, as well as fan art, news and exclusive content can be found at

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The Enterprise of Death

By Bullington, Jesse


Copyright © 2011 Bullington, Jesse
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316087346


The Worst Beginning Imaginable

Pity Boabdil. King of Granada, last Moor lord of the Iberian Peninsula, reduced to a suppliant outside his own city by a Spaniard sovereign, an exile from a home hard won. The truce signed by kings and Pope, all that remained was for Boabdil to bow before his victorious adversary and kiss the man’s ring. The victor was supposed to refuse the offer, thus preserving some shred of Boabdil’s already tattered honor, but this stipulation must have slipped the Christian’s mind as he extended his pudgy fingers to the Moor. There was nothing for it. King Ferdinand’s seal tasted salty as the strait Boabdil would soon cross, and the man’s onion-pale queen leered at the Moor as he rose.

That dreadful Genoan sailor who hung around Isabella like a fly around a chamber pot stood a short distance off, and when they made eye contact Boabdil supposed the weather-beaten bastard was imagining his head on a pike. At the signing King Ferdinand had mentioned something about the explorer sailing for India the wrong way round and Boabdil had paid it no real mind until now, with the scheming seaman appraising the former ruler of Granada’s venerable pate. Boabdil hoped he drowned.

The handover continued, a grand display of pageantry and pomp, with the humbled Boabdil bowing in all the proper places as the procession carrying aloft a weighty silver cross all but stuck out their tongues at the defeated Moors leaving the city. Of course the treaty had many articles detailing how the Moors who chose to stay in Granada or thereabouts would retain all their rights and be under no pressure to convert and be protected as they had before, and of course each and every article would be cast down and shattered before Boabdil’s mustaches gained even a few ashen strands. The Christians had given him a token patch of broken Spanish earth upon which to reestablish his noble person, but Boabdil held no illusions, and so south they departed to sail to a continent Boabdil had never known.

When they came to a prominence upon the road where Boabdil could view the Alhambra of Granada one final time, history recalls the heavy sigh that escaped his lips, a sigh as weighty as if the whole country issued it. Indeed it might have—with the passing of Boabdil the tolerance and culture that the Moors had slowly cultivated over hundreds of years of conquest was likewise expelled, and within Boabdil’s lifetime the Jews and Moors who lived at peace with the Spanish Christians would be banished, murdered, or forcibly converted, the lanterns of illumination that mutual respect fosters traded for brands used to burn Qur’an and witch alike. Small wonder Boabdil might sigh, and smaller wonder still that this most famous of sighs was actually a ragged, choking sob.

“Must you cry like a woman over that what you could not hold as a man?” his mother asked him, which, predictably, only made him weep the harder. She could be unfair, could Boabdil’s mother.

Boabdil did not simply cry for his lost kingdom, he cried for his lost daughter. The son the Spaniards had kept ransom during the siege of Granada had been returned, but in his place Ferdinand, ever the son of a bitch, had claimed Boabdil’s daughter Aixa, and there was not a single thing the broken old ruler could do about it. A king should love his sons most, of course, but Boabdil was no longer king and so allowed his sorrow to run down his face in snotty dribbles.

The viscous, golden grief dangling from Boabdil’s nose and lips as his belly shook with emotion made him look for all the world like a walrus chased off a honeycomb by a greedier bear, for Ferdinand’s piggy little eyes and boxy jaw lent him something of an ursine face. None present had ever seen a walrus, however, and the only man who had encountered a bear was Boabdil’s second cousin, who had been severely mauled by the beast on a hunting expedition. The poor fellow had to be carried around in a lidded basket to keep those weak of stomach from fainting at the sight of the gnawed-up stumps where his legs used to be and the terrible scars crisscrossing his face. The result was that no one commented on the walrus-and-bear imagery, and Boabdil’s second cousin spent the rest of his life haunted by nightmares of the furry monster that had put him in his box. Pity Boabdil’s second cousin.

Ferdinand, king of This, That, the Other, and now Granada, was very fond of sexual relations so long as they were not with his wife. It was Isabella’s eyes, eyes so widely spaced she looked more sardine than woman, and seafood gave him gout. That the portly Boabdil had sired such a gorgeous girl as Aixa pleased Ferdinand greatly, and almost quicker than he felt the pinch in his hose the lecherous ruler had her baptized, renamed after his wife—a coup to Ferdinand, but a choice that unsettled everyone else he told about it—and established as a mistress. Behaving in a beastly fashion to Moors was something of a hobby for Ferdinand, and so as Boabdil kissed his ring that fateful January day in 1492 the conquering king murmured in his fallen adversary’s ear that were Boabdil to send him a beauty who outshone Aixa then the Moor should have his daughter back, thereby ensuring Boabdil knew just what carnal fate awaited his beloved child.

The time for pitying poor Boabdil has now passed. Upon emigrating to North Africa and settling in Fez, the still obscenely wealthy Moor did little but acquire pretty young girls in hopes of offering one to his old enemy. He thought his daughter peerless in beauty, however, and as the years passed and—whether or not he would admit it even to himself—his memory faded, he remembered his daughter as being yet prettier and prettier still, until a manifest goddess would have been hard-pressed to get an approving nod from the gloomy old walrus, and so none of the bought women ever made it further than his personal harem.

At long last the would-be royal pimp came into possession of the Egyptian jewel of a local merchant’s harem, a girl who caused even Boabdil’s rheumy eyes to sparkle and widen. She was little older than the son Isabella-née-Aixa had by this time borne Ferdinand, but the former king of Granada saw the potential her beauty hinted at and so he wheedled and maneuvered and finally managed to get her sent straight toward Gibraltar, accompanied by a dozen slaves to tend to her and two dozen eunuchs to guard her and three dozen servants to carry the crates of incense and wine and dates and other presents he included to help persuade Ferdinand to release Aixa.

Do not pity Boabdil, who committed vile sins in the name of fatherly love. When he heard that the ship carrying his nubile gift was sunk by Barbary pirates, he did not believe the herald and had him flayed, and the second one to bring him the same news he had burned alive, and the third he had quartered, and the fourth he had buried alive, but the fifth he believed, and was saddened. Having now lost two peerless beauties—which should not be possible in the first place, but pity the pedant who told Boabdil that—the former sultan finally gave up on freeing Aixa, and his sorrow was so pronounced that in his dotage he scarcely enjoyed his prodigious harem, or his sumptuous table, or his magnificent hunts, or his impressive stable, or his pleasure cruises.

As for Omorose, the young Egyptian girl Boabdil had sent to exchange for Aixa, she did indeed fall victim to piracy and shipwreck on the crossing from Ceuta to Spain. Rather than surrendering to the notoriously ruthless corsairs, the ship’s captain had sunk his own vessel, Boabdil’s incense perfuming the waves as the less suicidal crewmen dumped out the chests to use as rafts. The pirates were able to fish out most of the servants and slaves and eunuchs and sailors to sell into bondage, but a few drowned along with the captain, who had tied himself to the mast to ensure a proud end. Only Omorose and her least favorite slave, Awa, escaped both pirates and sea by dint of a courageous eunuch named Halim, and after a terrifying night at sea with Omorose sitting in a myrrh-stinking box as the other two clung to the sides, all three washed up on the coast of Spain.

Omorose was the oldest of the castaways and barely a woman herself, and her sheltered life had made her as skilled at taking charge of calamitous situations as it had at flying through the air. The two younger adolescents had weathered much harsher lives, thankfully, and Omorose deigned to heed their counsel when both Halim and Awa advised moving inland in search of fresh water. Instead of a stream or spring they found a gang of bandits, who wasted no time in tying their hands and feet. Omorose allowed her hands to be tied with a haughty dignity and poorly concealed relief at being discovered by someone, even if it was only a pack of mangy thieves. Halim took more umbrage at his mistress being thus detained and so had his nose broken before finding his own limbs bound, but Awa, who had fled bondage several times on her native continent only to find herself with a new master whenever she sought shelter, knew well when she was caught and obediently offered her wrists.

Off they went toward Granada, where the chief of the bandits had a brother who spoke the heathen tongue of the Moors and could appraise the worth of the incomprehensible foreign prisoners accordingly. Away from the coast and over plain and mountain they went, into that highest Spanish range to avoid the known roads where servants of King Ferdinand might cheat an honest businessman and his partners of their fairly found booty. Up and up they went, along paths unfit for goats, until they were forced to take shelter from a thunderstorm in a narrow cave. None of the three Africans had ever known such chill as the wind whistling down into their damp shelter, their weather-ruined garments small protection, and there, in that cold, miserable cave, their nightmare began in earnest.


Death and the Artist

The corpse gaped up at its killer, who squatted over it with a panel of pine steadied on the ruffled velvet covering his thigh, intently sketching the dead man’s startled, stupid expression with a nub of charcoal tied to a thin stick. It had taken no small effort to locate this particular body, the first man the artist could be sure he personally had killed in the battle. The youth had not died in a manner any would call brave or noble, instead fumbling with his intestines like a clumsy juggler as they fell out of his split belly, and he looked even worse with the grime and blood and filth and the reek of shit and sunbaked offal, but soon he would become a saint. Which saint exactly, the artist had yet to determine, but a saint to be sure; it was the least he could do.

“You’re a sick bit of whore-crust, Manuel,” said a fellow mercenary as he cut the thumbs off the corpse nearest the one Manuel drew.

“Say what you will, Werner,” said Manuel, scowling down at his handiwork and finding the representation no more pleasing than its model. “At least I don’t fuck them, you godless piece of shit.”

“Somefinn’s in his arse,” a third man said with a laugh as he strode up behind them, and, giving Werner a wink, he trotted the last few feet and kicked Manuel in that very spot.

Slipping forward from the blow, Manuel held his sketch aloft as though he had stepped into a creek that proved deeper than it looked. His exposed left knee fell directly onto his subject and he cursed as the fashionable slit he had cut in the fabric welcomed the warm push of rank meat, gutlining now lining his hose. He scrambled up and pursued his guffawing assailant Bernardo, and after settling matters with that jackass Manuel had to go so far as to draw his hand-and-a-half before Werner would surrender the thumbs he had nicked from the artist’s kill.

By then the light was ruined, a crimson sunset outlining the Lombardy hillside Manuel trudged toward. The bald stone prominence rearing up into the bloody sky reminded him of a skull, with eye sockets and a nose formed from the command pavilions and the grove of mercenary tents at the base of the mount creating a jagged maw. But then he was an artist and so everything looked like a symbol for something else, and because he was also a soldier most of the symbols he saw made him think of death.

“Manny, my little cowherd!” Albrecht von Stein did not stand to greet Manuel, reminding the artist at once why he despised the captain who sat across the obscenely heavy ebony table he insisted be brought from camp to camp with him. Von Stein was a large and hairy man whose blunt face would not have seemed amiss in some turnip field instead of wheedling at foreign courts, and his ogreish manners were little better than his looks. Were the bulk of Manuel’s fellow mercenaries not also Swiss who would testify to his military prowess upon returning to Bern, thereby aiding in his local ambitions, the artist would have sought out a less odious captain to serve under.

Von Stein had followed the scent of bloody metal south just as surely as Manuel had, however, and the mercenaries of Bern had gravitated to von Stein’s service rather than working directly with the French or the various local—and therefore unstable—dukes and mayors. The Lombardy city-states were constantly pouring coin into the trough-coffers of the French and Imperial commanders providing the muscle for their squabbles when the foreigners were not fighting each other directly, and the old crown-eater did have a knack for tactics. Noticing the disheveled state of Manuel, von Stein pouted in the same fashion he had at a dinner several years before upon realizing the young artist he had just met was not actually gentry.

“But you’ve spoiled your pretty little dress!”

“I think a splash of color lends it something distinctive,” said Manuel as the flap of the tent fell behind him. “Papal paint and all that.”

“Oh, that’s good, good.” Von Stein nodded. “Can’t have too many cute names for the wet red, and it’s distinctive to be sure. But do you know what the Emperor said about your little hose and silk and all? Your baubles and laces?”

Manuel knew what the Emperor Maximilian, former employer and current adversary, had said because von Stein had already told him thrice on the campaign road—another hazard of knowing the commander personally before enlisting in the mercenary company. “No, what did he say?”

“He said let them.” Von Stein beamed, thrilled as ever to recite the magisterial ruling as Manuel sweated in his brightly colored confection of puffed sleeves and tight hose, swatches of padding and finer cloth stitched jauntily onto the garb by the artist’s nimble-fingered niece. “About wearing that foppery and all, instead of proper attire. Let them, he said, let them have something nice in their wretched, miserable lives! As if we were hurting for sport or coin down here where all good men are trampled, as if we were wretched to play at wars other than his!”

“How generous of him,” said Manuel. “I don’t know how men could manage to serve were they lacking in ostrich feathers for their hats.”

“For all that piss, the plume of your toque is brighter than most.” Von Stein frowned. “Or do an old soldier’s eyes mistake your halo for mere millinery accoutrement?”

“I find a handsome presentation best for ingratiating oneself with the enemy. When they turn to fetch me wine and cheese I run them through. It’s quite less than Christian, really.”

“You give me the impression you don’t enjoy the work I pay you for,” said the captain, his frown deepening. “A pity when the butcher has no stomach for slaughter, and that’s all these little squabbles have been. How’s your wife?”

“Well, last I heard. And yours?”

“Well.” Von Stein narrowed his eyes.

“Well.” Manuel cleared his throat. “A very deep subject. But while it’s true I don’t relish the slaughter, as you say, I do appreciate the coin. One dead Milanese or Venetian or whoever will buy a lot of paint, the useful sort, and when we return to Bern I would beg the privilege of having your wife model for me—the powers that be mentioned a possible commission for the cathedral’s choir.”

“Oh!” Von Stein perked up. “What sort of painting do you have in mind? Nothing provocative, mind you—my wife is a lady.”

“I haven’t decided on the motif yet,” said Manuel. He had—she would be Salome, and John the Baptist’s head would be as closely modeled on her husband’s as Manuel dared.

“She will be delighted, simply delighted,” said von Stein. “She’s been pressing me to ask, but, I don’t know, I thought it might, well, it might seem…”

Manuel was taken aback that von Swine, as he was rather unimaginatively dubbed by his men, had actually demonstrated something resembling decorum. “Tell her it is my dearest wish, and that I hesitated to ask only out of respect for her esteemed husband.”

“Oh, wonderful! Good, good.” Von Stein nodded enthusiastically, and Manuel felt a twinge of self-loathing to put his verbal fingers even the slightest bit under the codpiece of the man’s raging ego. “So we need to get you home safe to paint, and you don’t like this business anyway, so…”

“I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t need the money,” said Manuel. “And if I had enough to go home I… I don’t have enough to go home yet. Sir.”

“Now you do.” Von Stein plunked a bag down on the table, a purse closer in size to a saddlebag than a pouch. The captain leaned forward, clearly delighted with his presentation. Manuel waited to see if the man’s enjoyment would shrivel if he let it alone long enough, but when the smile did not fade Manuel sighed and took the bait, reflecting that unless one is quite blond or white of hair having teeth that match your beard is a most unfortunate circumstance. The captain’s beard was a pepper-flecked auburn.

“A raid at midnight into a fortified city? A one-man assault on a gunner embankment? An assassination?” Manuel hefted the bag, poorly concealing the strain it took to lift it.

“An errand. You deliver something to the Andalusian border, then you go home. None of that Papal dye or what have you, unless complications arise. Brigands on the road, that sort of thing.”

“Spain?” Manuel cocked his head at von Stein. “What do I deliver? And how many men do I pick to go with me?”

“Five men, and I’ve already picked them. Werner—”

Manuel cursed.


Manuel cursed louder, glowering at the stained knee of his hose.

“And the Kristobel cousins. The three that are left—”



“We’re down to two Kristobels as of this afternoon, which is still two too many. Why do I get the dregs?”

“Are you really asking? We march tomorrow, Manny, you would prefer I give you my best and boldest?”

“Let me take Mo, and you keep the rest. The two of us—”

“You would prefer I give you my best and boldest! No no, my powder maid stays, and you take the five. Er, the four.”

“You said five. So let me choose someone else, anyone else, to mind my back. Werner and Bernardo aren’t too choosy about where their thumbs come from.”

“They’re cowards, Niklaus,” said von Stein, the sour expression on Manuel’s face at the use of his first name a welcome sight to the captain. “They’ll listen to you because you’re not. Now, along with the package I’ve got a letter for you to deliver, and if I don’t receive a letter back confirming that everything went smoothly you will find yourself in a bit of trouble.”

“Right.” Manuel still held the satchel aloft. His arm was hurting, and he liked it. “Spain. What’s the delivery?”

“Her.” Von Stein nodded behind him at a lump on the floor of the tent that Manuel had hereto failed to notice amidst the tent’s clutter, a faint smile on the older man’s lips, lips that looked oily as poached eels in the light of the candle on the desk between them. The lump was shaped like a human sitting with her legs crossed, a thick sack over her body with two bands of chain encircling it, one at the throat and the other at the waist. Manuel dropped the satchel on the table.

“Get fucked.” Manuel turned toward the tent flap, his face gone as pale as his most recent model.

“She’s a witch,” said von Stein, and Manuel did not need to look at him to know he was still smiling.

“Of course she is,” said Manuel, willing his feet to carry him outside and down to the mercenary tents, to wine and food and murder in the morning, good honest murder with a crown bonus for each thumb. “Spain. Of course. I’ve heard about what they’re doing.”

“Have you?”

“Yes. Have you?” Manuel turned back to look von Stein in the eye.

“No. I can imagine, though. Spaniards are evil cunts, as we both know from—”

“What’s special about her? Those godless bastards don’t have enough heretics or madwomen to burn, they’ve got to import ours now? Fuck that, and fuck you.” Manuel’s wife Katharina would like that when he told her, he knew, and that helped propel him out of the tent.

“They’ll rape her,” von Stein called after him, and he saw Manuel’s boots pause underneath the flap. “I knew you wouldn’t do the poor bitch, being as high and mighty as you are, so I wanted you to head it up, but if my work’s not to your liking I’ll put Werner in charge and hope—”

“Fuck that, and fuck you.” Manuel came back in, his lips drawn back like the cadaver of a hanged man. “I’ll take her.”

“And I suppose you’re too saintly to accept payment for safeguarding the maiden?” Von Stein reached for the satchel.

“Why?” Manuel grabbed the man’s wrist, surprising both of them. “What’s she done? There’s no such thing as witches! And why in Christ are you talking with her in the room, you cruel bastard?”

“As I said, I don’t know what she’s done or accused of.” Von Stein wrenched his arm away. “And I don’t care. I know a churchman, well, he’s an Inquisitor now, but you follow. He wants her, and he’s paid handsomely for her, and so he’ll have her, and in as good condition as you can manage to deliver. It took my best dog-snout to catch her. You know Wim?”

Manuel nodded, having seen the former huntsman go into the ground that very morning. Before the battle. At the time Manuel had not thought much of it, scouts being even more exposed to the elements than most and thus more susceptible to all sorts of maladies. “They buried him around Matins.”

“Caught something on the way back,” von Stein sniffed. “Fever must have worked his mind before he went, boy was raving all sorts of horrors. He certainly believed she was a witch, and worse. A black devil, he said.”

“Did he?” Manuel peered over the commander’s thinning pate at the hooded prisoner and lowered his voice. “Don’t you worry about her listening? She might, I don’t know…”

“Cast a spell?” Von Stein smiled. “Eavesdrop? We both know that where she’s going they won’t listen to a word she says, and even if they did, what of it? We’re men of war speaking of just that, albeit a spiritual combat.”

“You don’t mean you approve of what the Spaniards are doing, or those bastards in Como?!”

“It’s not just Spain or Lombardy, they’re going after them in the Empire, France, and even our precious little Confederacy. As I say, I am not as well-read as you regarding just what they’re up to,” said von Stein, and Manuel saw he wore the same unhappy, fearful expression as when his employers, be they French, Imperial, or whoever he was working for at the time, came to inspect his troops. “Rome certainly hasn’t condemned it, and I’m nothing if not obedient, something else you could learn from me, obedience, but yes, I’m obedient to Rome, so who are we to say if what they’re doing is the Lord’s work or not?”

“And if the pay is good—”

“The money they’re paying if we deliver isn’t the issue, it’s what we lose if we don’t. Our souls, Manuel, our souls!”

Manuel crossed his arms, trying not to look at the bound witch.

“Tell a single man and I’ll have you hanged, I swear it.” Von Stein nibbled his lip. “What was promised me, what was promised all of us when I donated that stallion to the Church, is in jeopardy! Forgiveness, Manuel, for everything we’ve done! They’ll take it all away! If I don’t deliver the witch there will be no indulgence, Manny!”

Manuel’s eyes widened and his hands shook. “Are you fucking serious?”

“Yes, yes! They mean it, too, and of course the Spanish cardinals are—”

“You actually believe God will forgive your sins if you give the Spaniards a woman to burn?” Manuel looked like he was going to be sick as he forced a dry, barking laugh. “And that story about you trading your horse for blanket indulgences is true? You really believe the word of pardoners, you sad-eyed old cock? I thought only merchants with more coin than sense bought that claptrap!”

“What I believe is no concern of yours.” The fear von Stein had poorly concealed ignited into rage, and his fists tightened as he stared at Manuel. “What should concern you is getting that witch to Spain, because if you don’t hand me a letter with a certain seal on it you’ll be burned yourself, you little tick! Yes yes, I see you, Niklaus Manuel Deutsch, tacking a little Imperial flourish on your name, clawing your way up, here and at home, ever anxious to have a word with your betters, ever eager to pretend your father wasn’t a fucking peddler. You say you want to get involved in politics, my boy? Loose those lacey breeches, bend over, and take your first proper lesson, you mouthy fucking peasant!”

The men glared at each other, Manuel’s left eye twitching until the older man finally exhaled, deflating like a sack of wine around a table of good friends.

“Take her and get out,” von Stein ordered. “We’ll be in Milan, playing nanny until the Emperor arrives to throw his hired landsknechte against we fine Swiss confederates, our French employers, and whatever thick-headed Milanese are still about. You meet us there and give me the letter, I give you the crowns, and then you go home to that nice little house on Gerechtigkeitsgasse or whatever fashionably unpronounceable street you’ve set up on, yes yes?”

“I don’t have a choice, do I?” said Manuel, knowing full well that one always has a choice.

“No. You’re the only one I can trust to deliver her, Manuel, and you can tell your confessor it was my fault. And even if she isn’t a real witch and you aren’t doing God’s work, what’s another mortal soul on your tally? I wager you’ve lost track of how many you’ve killed, yes?”

“No,” said Manuel, finished with lying to von Stein for the night. Not only did he know the exact figure but he knew all their faces, most sketched from memory but a few on the field, and if he returned to his workshop in Bern he would have another seven saints to add to his pile of planks. He wondered if he could bring himself to sketch the witch—to date there was a dearth of female martyrs in his collection.

“Go on, then,” said von Stein, waving toward the witch. “Better you set out tonight and camp some leagues away, lest the rest of the boys get a whiff of her. Hard on them since Paula and the rest of her whores skipped off back to Burgundy. The Inquisitor’s name is Ashton Kahlert, and he’s got men waiting to receive her at the church in Perpignan, off the Barcelona road.”

“Kahlert isn’t a Spanish name,” said Manuel, but he was looking at the witch.

“They’re all Spaniards to me,” said von Stein.

“I’m going to lift you up now,” Manuel loudly informed the lumpy, bagged woman. “We’re going to march for a while.”

“She’s got a leash round her neck,” said von Stein helpfully, and with a sigh Manuel untied the tether and fixed it to the chain around her waist instead.

Von Stein rolled his eyes, put the money satchel back into a small chest under his table, and retrieved a sealed letter. He waited until Manuel had taken the letter and awkwardly led the witch to the tent flap before setting his pistol, a glorified hand cannon, on the table next to the sputtering candle. Just as the flap fell behind Manuel, his kidskin boots visible under the edge, the captain called out a final warning.

“And if you find yourself imagining it’s your wife or little niece under that witch-sack, and if you then find yourself imagining that maybe I won’t be quite so cross if tragedy strikes and the delivery does not transpire for any number of reasonable excuses, then, dear Manny, then I want you to remember, and you will not need to imagine because we both know that it is true, then I want you to remember that I know just where your wife and niece sleep this night, and every other.” Von Stein smiled and raised his pistol toward the tent flap as it was ripped aside, the touchhole at the base of the weapon hovering beside the candle. Manuel took three steps before he noticed the gun, and then the long blade of his sword slowly slunk back into its scabbard as the artist backed out of the tent. Von Stein smiled in the empty, bright pavilion, while outside in the damp night Manuel futilely tried to stop picturing his wife or his niece under the sackcloth and iron as he led the witch into the darkness.


Excerpted from The Enterprise of Death by Bullington, Jesse Copyright © 2011 by Bullington, Jesse. Excerpted by permission.
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