Cobb rode into the way station on a dying horse, and when it settled into the ramshackle barn there, he had a feeling that it would never move again under its own power.

The station was little more than a crossroads, a barn and a hitching post and a house where the road from Smokewood met the road to the Old Mission in the foothills of the wilds. A tattered sign offered stables for the night, a meal, and a roof over one’s head for the right price. Cobb, his eyes hard and the mess of brambly curls that served him as hair all tussled, was after something else entirely.

“I’m looking for an orc,” he said, sauntering into the main house. “Big guy. Tattoo of a royal flush on one arm, and green as a field in springtime.”

The proprietor, slouched in a hammock and limp against the late-season heat of the wilds, cocked his slouch cap up. “We don’t sell orcs here, tattoos or not,” he said. “We sell cold food, cold beds, and cold stables.”

Cobb reached into his haversack, an old ex-army rag, and produced a coin, which he slapped on the countertop in front of the man. “For all of the above,” he said. Removing another one–his last–he laid it alongside. “Just in case this helps spark some emerald-colored memories.”

This, at least, was a language that the way stationmaster spoke. He was on his feet alarmingly fast, pressing the coins between callouses and passing them up for a nibble in his few remaining blackened teeth. “Coin’s good,” he said. “You can stay the night, get whatever tuck you need from the pantry. As for your friend-”

“He ain’t my friend,” Cobb said sharply. “I mean to see him hanged by the neck until dead.”

“As for your enemy, ask the stablemucker. Everyone what comes through here looks the same to me.”

“Coin purses on legs?” Cobb said. “Sponges to squeeze?”

“Fools,” the man said flatly. “There’s nothing out there but starvation and edor-breedin’ elves and orcs that’d kill you as soon as look at you.”

“Thanks for the encouragement,” Cobb said. “I’ll take it under advisement, as I told your sherriff.”

The stationmaster grumbled and pulled down his cap. “When there’s buzzards picking at your bones and a wild miscegenated edor wearing your britches, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

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