‘Long way home for me. Got to tell ’em that nine-fingered bastard is back to the mud. Don’t you think, Master Lamb?’

Lamb curled his left hand into a fist so the stump didn’t show, and swallowed. ‘Long dead and gone.’

‘All for the best, I reckon. Who wants to run into him again?’ And just like that Shivers walked to his horse and mounted up. ‘I’d say I’ll be seeing you but… I think I’d best not.’

Lamb still stood there, watching. ‘No.’

‘Some men just ain’t stamped out for doing good.’ Shivers took a deep breath, and smiled. A strange thing to see on that ruined face. ‘But it feels all right, even so. To let go o’ something.’ And he turned his horse and headed east out of town.

They all stood stock still a while longer, with the wind, and the creaking rocker, and the sinking sun, then Wist gave a great rattling sigh and said, ‘Bloody hell I near shit myself!’

It was like they could all breathe again, and Shy and Pit hugged each other, but Ro didn’t smile. She was watching Lamb. He didn’t smile either. Just frowned at the dust Shivers left behind him. Then he strode back to the store, and up the steps, and inside without a word. Shy headed after. He was pulling things down from the shelves like he was in a hurry. Dried meat, and feed, and water, and a bedroll. All the things you’d need for a trip.

‘What’re you doing, Lamb?’ asked Shy.

He looked up for a moment, guilty, and back to his packing. ‘I always tried to do the best I could for you,’ he said. ‘That was the promise I made your mother. The best I can do now is go.’

‘Go where?’

‘I don’t know.’ He stopped for a moment, staring at the stump of his middle finger. ‘Someone’ll come, Shy. Sooner or later. Got to be realistic. You can’t do the things I’ve done and walk away smiling. There’ll always be trouble at my back. All I can do is take it with me.’

‘Don’t pretend this is for us,’ said Shy.

Lamb winced. ‘A man’s got to be what he is. Got to be. Say my goodbyes to Temple. Reckon you’ll do all right with him.’

He scooped up those few things and back out into the street, wedged them into his saddlebags and like that he was ready.

‘I don’t understand,’ said Pit, tears on his face.

‘I know.’ Lamb knelt in front of him, and it seemed his eye was wet too. ‘And I’m sorry. Sorry for everything.’ He leaned forward and gathered the three of them in an awkward embrace.

‘The dead know I’ve made mistakes,’ said Lamb. ‘Reckon a man could steer a perfect course through life by taking all the choices I didn’t. But I never regretted helping raise you three. And I don’t regret that I brought you back. Whatever it cost.’

‘We need you,’ said Shy.

Lamb shook his head. ‘No you don’t. I ain’t proud o’ much but I’m proud o’ you. For what that’s worth.’ And he turned away, and wiped his face, and hauled himself up onto his horse.

‘I always said you were some kind of coward,’ said Shy.

He sat looking at them for a moment, and nodded. ‘I never denied it.’

Then he took a breath, and headed off at a trot towards the sunset. Ro stood there on the porch, Pit’s hand in her hand, and Shy’s on her shoulder, and they watched him.

Until he was gone.


As always, four people without whom:

Bren Abercrombie, whose eyes are sore from reading it.

Nick Abercrombie, whose ears are sore from hearing about it.

Rob Abercrombie, whose fingers are sore from turning the pages.

Lou Abercrombie, whose arms are sore from holding me up.

Then, my heartfelt thanks:

To all the lovely and talented folks at my UK Publisher, Gollancz, and their parent Orion, particularly Simon Spanton, Jon Weir, Jen McMenemy, Mark Stay and Jon Wood. Then, of course, all those who’ve helped make, publish, publicise, translate and above all sell my books wherever they may be around the world.

To the artists responsible for somehow continuing to make me look classy: Didier Graffet, Dave Senior and Laura Brett.

To editors across the Pond: Devi Pillai and Lou Anders.

For keeping the wolf on the right side of the door: Robert Kirby.

To all the writers whose paths have crossed mine on the internet, at the bar, or in some cases on the D&D table and the shooting range, and who’ve provided help, support, laughs and plenty of ideas worth the stealing. You know who you are.

And lastly, yet firstly:

My partner in crimes against fantasy fiction, Gillian Redfearn. I mean Butch Cassidy wasn’t gloriously slaughtered on his own, now, was he?


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