4. What All Men Want

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After the poisoned cow incident, it was hard to imagine things could have gotten any worse for the mayor. Then the Bursacks showed up, and things got much worse indeed. All five brothers came riding into town at dusk well sluiced and in high spirits. In place of their dilapidated, one-horse cart, three of them rode fresh steeds while the remaining pair shared a mount. Conspicuous additions had been made to their wardrobes such as clean hats, boots and shirts. Kadav even noticed a sword being worn the wrong way around. The three solo riders eventually managed to collect themselves in front of the tavern while the duo wandered off, bickering over whose turn it was to ride in front.

Now Kadav was really in a bind. If word of his dealings with the Bursacks got out, he would be pilloried and run out of town. Fortunately, the Bursacks were in little danger of being understood by anyone who was not blood related. Of the three Bursacks facing him, the gangly one with the sword appeared to be in charge. Bursack the Taller, the mayor pegged him.

The Taller dismounted clumsily, leaving one of his oversized boots in the stirrup. "We cumz ta kalects th' paymenz weze owed," he said.

"Get out of here, you drunken louts!" the mayor shouted loud enough to be heard up and down the road.

"Now mayuh, is that any way ta talk to yur ol' frenz?" the Taller said.

"Yeah, wut about our ranj-iment?" one of his mounted sidekicks joined in.

"Where'd you get the sword?" Kadav asked. "And the horses? Who'd you steal them from?"

"We jez sorta found 'em like," said the Taller.

"Yeh, someone up 'n give 'em to us on accoun' uv ur gud beehayvyer," said the Wilder.

"Whaz it mattah ta yah, anywayz?" said the Uglier.

"You brainless galoots! Tell me you haven't been raiding the border towns," Kadav demanded.

"Now ah wouldn' call it raidin' like," said the Taller.

"What would you call it then?"

"Negosheeyatin."

"Yeah, weze here tuh negosheeyate," the Uglier chimed in.

"I don't negotiate with ruffians!" Kadav shouted. "Now get off my property!"

Bursack the Taller turned around to address his posse. "Well, boyz, seemz like ur gud mayuh here cud uze hisself sum gen-teel perswayshun."

Acting on impulse, Kadav rushed forward and drew the Taller's sword which, owing to the fact it was being worn backward, slid smoothly from its scabbard. He brought the blade around and pressed it to the Bursack's Adam's apple, which jutted out like a second nose. He didn't know what he would do if the tall man resisted. He hadn't the taste for committing violence by his own hands; when wits alone were insufficient, he hired out the brawn.

The Taller had no intention of calling his bluff. "Pleez, mayuh, we wuz only hurse-playin' wid ya. Wuhn't we, bruthas?"

Caught between the conflicting impulse to come to their brother's aid and gloat over his misfortunes, the other Bursacks made no move to intervene.

Kadav shifted the sword. His palm was sweaty, and he was just trying to get a better grip, but the Taller interpreted it as a precursor to his doom.

"Honust to gawd, mayuh!" he pleaded. "We didna mean nuthin by it! I swearz by muh pappy's bonez. Pleez duhn't huht me!"

"Listen here you overgrown galoot with pigeon droppings for brains," Kadav spoke into his ear. "You and your brothers better never show your faces in this town again or else you won't just be swearing by your pappy's bones, you'll be joining them, got it? Now get out of my sight!"

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