When you said you were off to the Duke of Salt’s place to help him haul away a corpse, we weren’t exactly sure of your truthfulness. On the one hand, he has been hanging out at the medical college, where the purple-brown bloaters in the rescued from the swamps are stored. But. On the other hand. Everyone knows he’s banging the Bishop’s daughter and after all she’s a medical student, so there you are. Or were.
Our sources tell us the Duke stops at the college every afternoon at two. She emerges like a running joke, pushes her hair over her eyes and brows, and tosses the white coat out the window. Jalle has to retrieve the thing every day, because the Bishop, you know, isn’t made of money. (The Bishop sometimes rolls his eyes heavenward and prays for his daughter to be struck by sense or, absent that, a little divine fire. A light, crisp tongue of vermillion flame, licking at her silly feet and her pert little bottom. The Bishop enjoys dreaming this holy retribution.)
You say it’s more than that. The Duke drives the Bishop’s daughter to the desert, where she performs small surgeries on the wounded outlaws there. They trust her, because she always buries herself in the sand first and cries out for a savior, so the outlaws keep their dignity as they climb out of their caves to save her. Their wounds are usually no bigger than a Post-It Note, but they keep her in practice.
You said that last time, one outlaw was a carcass, a skin sack full of bullet holes. So in the name of science the Bishop’s daughter hit him in the back of the head, dragged his dark, flattening veins out and dried them in the sun. She then ground them up, packed the powder in a little leather case and sold it to the healers at the market for a marked-up sum. The skeleton she packed in Styrofoam pellets and donated to the college.
But the Duke had seen too much; he was full of thinness and inbreeding, and he had no wish to be brave. Or so you say. You say that you and he went to a small copse he frequents and he asked the dark for answers, and that the North Star opened its jaws and bit the Duke hard on the nose. Blood burst from the Duke’s face like a spiral galaxy starting, softening as he stanched it with a handkerchief. You say that you told him: if you are led the length of the earth by the night sky, you can never be wandering. You can never be lost. And that his face started to look like iron and his mind started to look like madness and you were afraid you might have given him the wrong-ish idea.
And now that the Bishop has Jalle printing posters and putting pictures on milk cartons, we think we understand what you mean. We think we see the map in the mystery, pointing back to our hearts as always the answer, always the cause of the corpse or the copse or the caves where we hide our deeds half-buried and forgotten forever.