Damir had no love for the Clans in the area — they had no history, no individuality, slaves to the Protectorate. But this girl, Anja, was a fighter. The Judges had chased her for two days. She had eaten roots and had drunk water from the small pools scattering the landscape. But the trenchcoat-clad bloodhounds were coming. They had her scent. They were going to make an example out of her. A bloody, messy example. She could fight nature, but not them.
“Parents? Family? Friends?” Damir asked. Anja shook her head, her mouth full of the rabbit stew he had given her. She had shaken her head to more or less every question.
“Dead. Disease. The Spitalians torched their bodies,” she answered in between spoonfuls, her voice cocky. “Friends? Not anymore.” If anyone had seen her, and in the small village she was from probably everyone had, she had burned all bridges when she ran. There was no going back now. No one in a community that small would risk their bones or livelihood hiding a thief.
What the fuck should he do with her? Help her? Let her go? Hand her over? Sell her? Images of a cracked skull and bloodied steel-tipped boots flashed before his eyes.
“You can’t…” he started, when a scream pierced the afternoon gloom. Someone was suddenly in a lot of pain. Cockiness was replaced by sudden fear.
With a knife in one hand and a long piece of scrap metal in the other, Damir rushed out of the small burrow he had made his camp in. He looked down the hill outside. Three men in wide-brimmed hats, wearing leather coats, were on their knees around a fourth man on the ground. He was the source of the screaming. They were frantically trying to save his leg, stuck in the bear trap Damir had set up the day before. A satisfying sight.
Damir took a step back, but one of the men — a large man, almost as large as the Scrapper — spotted him. The Judge took a few steps forward, then, realizing that he was at the edge of Damir’s turf, stopped in his tracks.
“Cave bear!” the man roared. Damir cursed. “We know you’re there! We know you have the girl! Your trap fucked up my friend here! Give her to us, and we’ll forget about it. We get the thief, you get to live another day, despite the blood on your hands.”
The injured man kept screaming as the others finally managed to get the trap off him. He’d never walk again. The Judges would never forget that.
“Fuck off, köcsög!” Damir shouted back. There was no turning back now. This was it. Is this how he’d die? How fitting. He should be panicking, but all he could feel was rage. They wanted to take their hammers to a young girl. They would have to take their hammers to him first. “Your authority ends where my home begins!” A weak argument.
“She’s not even worth her weight in scrap,” the Judge answered. He had a dialect similar to Anja’s. He had probably gone to Justitian for training, then had come back, drunk on newfound power, his hammer an aphrodisiac, his musket an extension of his erection. “You have until nightfall to decide if that is enough.” He spat, turned around, walked over to his men, and helped them drag their injured friend towards their horses.
Anja stood behind Damir at the entrance to the burrow. “You’re staying,” the Scrapper said in a rough voice, pushing past her into the camp. Then he realized something. He stopped. “You took his musket when you ran, didn’t you?” She nodded. Damir rolled his eyes. She might as well have stolen the Judge’s balls.