They say he lost sight in his left eye in a shootout with the highest warlock in all of Ravine. It must have been a few years back, long before I ever set my own sights on him, since I can’t find it in my memory to see his face any other way.
It was a hazy white now, that left eye of his. Like a clouded marble set deep under the shadow of his heavy brow and his heavier hat. It was only on the day I came face to face with him that I ever really saw it for what it was—a blinded eye in a face I wasn’t supposed to like so much.
The sun was low that morning. Low under the ruddy sky, but he kept his hat on just the same as always. I rarely made it in to Town myself, but I still knew exactly who he was when I slid to the ground beside the Runic Wonders shop. He pushed the door with a bit too much force on his way out and the older witch shouted at him from inside. He only grunted in response and kept on across the hollow porch, the brim of his black hat shielding that blind eye.
I’d worn lace gloves that day. That much stood out in my mind in the moment I saw him. It was what other young witches in Town were wearing, though none with the depth of my complexion. My pahtwa had laughed when I’d pulled them on. Said I shouldn’t try to fit in with the winter witches. I could never understand what he meant by winter. What kind of winter had Ravine ever really seen? Still, I’d slipped each hand into its delicate black lace and buttoned my collar up high.
“At least let your plaits down, Wylah Heloha,” he’d spoken in his soft voice with his head turned away. My pahtwa—my father—always the soft-spoken man even as our chieftain warlock. So I’d done that much for him, worn my hair in two loose plaits. It was no secret that we were not from Town, anyhow. Fitting in could only go so far.
The crimson leather on my feet stopped me on that worn porch as the shop door crashed against the outer wall with a flurry of dust, his staggering frame making its way through. His height was a thing I’d never seen, just heard of. It was only one clue that gave him away, anyhow, before he turned his face. That and his pitiful mess of cornhusk hair.
The angry voice inside the shop carried out to my ears, then the door closed more slowly. She’d brought it in herself with a whisper from afar. My body held itself to that porch while my eyes kept up their roaming.
Gil Vicious stood there like a church steeple, all clad in black and dark leathers with a knotted bandana at his throat—a red even deeper than that of my favorite boots. He kept a keen look on the passing beasts, valhests and other steeds, and on those who rode them. He was an outlaw in Ravine, but some people in Town liked to turn a blind eye to his little visits, funny as that sounds. He did good business with those who’d let him. Gave ‘em his money… wherever he’d gotten it, and even a bit of protection. The whole of the Vicious outfit was less welcome, of course, unless they were set to cast away a rival band of warlocks.
My gloved hand hovered on the railing, feet just as still as they had been, but my eyes searching for an easy path to the door behind him. I’d dressed the part of a redeemer and done my damndest to blend right in as usual, but that was all I had in me. Never wanted to draw attention to myself, that’s for certain. And in all my years of coming to buy things in Town, I’d only ever spoken to shop owners. Never a word uttered to another soul.
Never a word… until that very day.
“Must be some kind of porcelain hands you got under there.” My eyes darted up from the screen door in front of me to see him staring back. A tiny pop of surprise at his voice shook my heart. His brow was lower than before, an angle of concern like a thunderhawk making sense of its surroundings.
I creased my eyes right back at him and set my shoulders. What was I to do anyhow, be afraid? I’d been keen on avoiding him, but I didn’t fear an outlaw any more than the spirits that roamed the night woods behind the prairielands.
“That eye must be acting up if you think I’ve got skin the likes of porcelain under this lace.” My chest puffed up beneath its satin covered cage as I set my hands on my hips.
And then he laughed. He leaned forward as a deep howl tore through his mouth and he shook his dirty yellow locks at me. I glanced between his blue eye and his cloudy one.
“Well isn’t that just grand? Gil Vicious laughs. Or howls, I should say. Howls like a feral cur. Nashoba yut woha.”
His lip ticked up on the side, laughter still in his throat. “A cur ain’t a wolf, but I’ll take the compliment.”
The sun seemed to rear its head at that very moment and light its heat upon my cheeks enough that I turned on my heel and headed for the door.
Gilliam Vicious knew the words of the prairie people, and I’d called him a damn wolf.