Home > A Little Hatred

A Little Hatred
Author: Joe Abercrombie

 

      PART I

   ‘The age is running mad after innovation;

and all the business of the world

is to be done in a new way.’

   Dr Johnson

 

 

      Blessings and Curses

   ‘Rikke.’

   She prised one eye open. A slit of stabbing, sickening brightness.

   ‘Come back.’

   She pushed the spit-wet dowel out of her mouth with her tongue and croaked the one word she could think of. ‘Fuck.’

   ‘There’s my girl!’ Isern squatted beside her, necklace of runes and finger bones dangling, grinning that twisted grin that showed the hole in her teeth and offering no help at all. ‘What did you see?’

   Rikke heaved one hand up to grip her head. Felt like if she didn’t hold her skull together, it’d burst. Shapes still fizzed on the inside of her lids, like the glowing smears when you’ve looked at the sun.

   ‘I saw folk falling from a high tower. Dozens of ’em.’ She winced at the thought of them hitting the ground. ‘I saw folk hanged. Rows of ’em.’ Her gut cramped at the memory of swinging bodies, dangling feet. ‘I saw … a battle, maybe? Below a red hill.’

   Isern sniffed. ‘This is the North. Takes no magic to see a battle coming. What else?’

   ‘I saw Uffrith burning.’ Rikke could almost smell the smoke still. She pressed her hand to her left eye. Felt hot. Burning hot.

   ‘What else?’

   ‘I saw a wolf eat the sun. Then a lion ate the wolf. Then a lamb ate the lion. Then an owl ate the lamb.’

   ‘Must’ve been a real monster of an owl.’

   ‘Or a tiny little lamb, I guess? What does it mean?’

   Isern held a fingertip to her scarred lips, the way she did when she was on the verge of deep pronouncements. ‘I’ve no frigging clue. Mayhap the turning of time’s wheel shall unlock the secrets of these visions.’

   Rikke spat, but her mouth still tasted like despair. ‘So … wait and see.’

   ‘Eleven times out of twelve, that’s the best course.’ Isern scratched at the hollow above her collarbone and winked. ‘But if I said it that way, no one would reckon me a deep thinker.’

   ‘Well, I can unveil two secrets right away.’ Rikke groaned as she pushed herself up onto one elbow. ‘My head hurts and I shat myself.’

   ‘That second one’s no secret, anyone with a nose is party to it.’

   ‘Shitty Rikke, they’ll call me.’ She wrinkled her nose as she shifted. ‘And not for the first time.’

   ‘Your problem is in caring what they call you.’

   ‘My problem is I’m cursed with fits.’

   Isern tapped under her left eye. ‘You say cursed with fits, I say blessed with the Long Eye.’

   ‘Huh.’ Rikke rolled onto her knees and her stomach kept on rolling and tickled her throat with sick. By the dead, she felt sore and squeezed out. Twice the pain of a night at the ale cup and none of the sweet memories. ‘Doesn’t feel like much of a blessing to me,’ she muttered, once she’d risked a little burp and fought her guts to a draw.

   ‘There are few blessings without a curse hidden inside, nor curses without a whiff of blessing.’ Isern carved a little piece of chagga from a dried-out chunk. ‘Like most things, it’s a matter of how you look at it.’

   ‘Very profound.’

   ‘As always.’

   ‘Maybe someone whose head hurt less would enjoy your wisdom more.’

   Isern licked her fingertips, rolled the chagga into a pellet and offered it to Rikke. ‘I am a bottomless well of revelation but cannot force the ignorant to drink. Now get your trousers off.’ She barked out that savage laugh of hers. ‘Words many a man has longed to hear me say.’

   Rikke sat with her back to one of the snow-capped standing stones, eyes narrowed as the sun flashed through the dripping branches, the fur cloak her father gave her hugged around her shoulders and the raw wind wafting around her bare arse. She chewed chagga and chased the itches that danced all over her with black-edged fingernails, trying to calm her mangled nerves and shake off the memories of that tower, and those hanged, and of Uffrith burning.

   ‘Visions,’ she muttered. ‘A curse for sure.’

   Isern squelched up the bank with Rikke’s dripping trousers. ‘Clean as new snow! Your only stench now shall be of youth and disappointment.’

   ‘You’re one to talk of stenches, Isern-i-Phail.’

   Isern raised her sinewy, tattooed arm, sniffed at her pit and gave a satisfied sigh. ‘I’ve a goodly, earthy, womanly savour of a kind much loved by the moon. If you’re rattled by an odour, you picked the wrong companion.’

   Rikke spat chagga juice but messed it up and got most of it down her chin. ‘If you think I picked any part of this, you’re mad.’

   ‘They said the same thing about my da.’

   ‘He was mad as a sack of owls, you’re always saying so!’

   ‘Aye, well, one person’s mad is another’s remarkable. Need I observe you’re a long leap from ordinary yourself? You kicked so hard this time you nearly kicked your boots off. Might have to rope you in future, make sure you don’t crack your nut and end up a drooler like my brother Brait. At least he can keep his shit in, mind you.’

   ‘My thanks for that.’

   ‘No bother.’ Isern made a little diamond from her fingers and squinted through it at the sun. ‘Past time we were on our way. High deeds are being done today. Or maybe low ones.’ And she dropped the trousers in Rikke’s lap. ‘Best dress yourself.’

   ‘What, wet? They’ll chafe.’

   ‘Chafe?’ Isern snorted. ‘That’s the limit o’ your worries?’

   ‘My head still aches so bad I can feel it in my teeth.’ Rikke wanted to shout but knew it’d hurt too much, so she had to whine it soft instead. ‘I need no more small discomforts.’

   ‘Life is small discomforts, girl! They’re how you know you are alive.’ And Isern hacked that laugh out again, slapped happily at Rikke’s shoulder and sent her stumbling sideways. ‘You can walk with your plump white arse hanging out if that’s your pleasure, but you’ll be walking one way or the other.’

   ‘A curse,’ grumbled Rikke as she wriggled into her clammy trousers. ‘Definitely a curse.’

 

   ‘So … you really think I’ve got the Long Eye?’

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