The White Assassin

Free The White Assassin by Hilary Wagner

Book: The White Assassin by Hilary Wagner Read Free Book Online
Authors: Hilary Wagner
    The feast was under way. Once Billycan and his chosen guests had been served, the horde ransacked the boar, scouring it for every string of succulent flesh and every clump of sticky fat. The rats giggled astheir scrawny feet hit the coals of the dying fire. The young ones tossed them to one another, making a silly game out of who could hold the smoking embers the longest. The horde was giddy with contentment.
    Despite the revolting smell, Billycan insisted Carn sit at his side. One night of the rat’s stench would be well worth it, if it meant an easier takeover of Nightshade City. Billycan could mold this one into something useful. Not yet sure why, he had a sense that this rat could prove much more valuable than Stono and Thicket; something about Corn struck him.
    Cobweb had arranged the seats for the feast, placing a handful of crushed elephant ear under his cushion. He leaned forward and checked on Carn, making sure the rat’s snout was still fat and swollen. For now it looked as exaggerated as ever. If he needed it, all Cobweb had to do was sneak Carn a small handful while Montague distracted Billycan.
    Carn nearly jumped out of his skin whenever Billycan made even the slightest gesture, reaching out for meat or scratching his ribs with his knobby knuckles. Leisurely consuming his huge portion of boar, Billycan had yet to utter a word to Carn. They ate in silence. Several times Carn noticed him tilting his head, staring strangely at him. Was it his distended muzzle, his detestable aroma, or did he recognize him, secretly seeing through his disguise?
    Carn reached out for another piece of meat. Billycan suddenly grabbed him hard by the wrist. He stared Carn dead in the face.
    “So,” said Billycan, furrowing his brow, “how do you possess enough strength to kill a snake? You’re not much bigger than the others. In fact, Stono’s larger than you, and even he can’t crack a snake’s jaw.” Flaring his nostrils, Billycan leaned in close, his liquid eyes boring through Carn’s skull, waiting for an answer.
    Nearly choking on his meat, Carn gulped, painfully swallowing a large clump of pork. Don’t think too hard, he thought. He won’texpect much. “I guess I just be stronger than most.” He slowly pulled his wrist from Billycan’s grasp and reached for another piece of meat, as if nothing bothered him. “I don’t know why. Just lucky, I guess.”
    “Well,” said Billycan, not surprised by the dim-witted answer, “Corn, is it?”
    Carn inwardly cringed. Why did he pick such a simple name, so close to his own? What was he thinking? “Yup, Corn be my name.”
    “How do you catch the snakes? How do you come upon them without being attacked first?”
    “Most times, I just play dead. The snakes come to eat me, thinking I’m long gone, and, well, I eat them instead!” Carn laughed foolishly, cramming more meat into his mouth.
    Billycan scratched his chin. “How did you think of such a crafty trick?”
    Carn relaxed slightly. Billycan seemed to be buying his masquerade. “I learned it from the possums. They play dead all the time. Just thought I’d try it one day, and it worked! I was eating snake by suppertime!”
    The lord of the swamp rats smiled with delight. “Billycan is pleasantly surprised by your resourcefulness, Corn. How many snakes would you say you’ve killed over the years?”
    “Well, back in the woods, I ate snake just ’bout every night.”
    Billycan’s eyes brightened to a diluted pink. “Tell me,” he said hungrily, “how exactly do you do it? I’ve always gone for their heads, chopping them clean off.” Flaring his digits, Billycan thrust four razor-sharp claws in front of Carn’s nose, showing him his tools of choice. “Now then, how do you kill them?”
    “Well, sir,” said Carn, slowly pulling his nose away, “it all depends, I reason.” He scratched his head, as if truly thinking on the matter. “Sometimes I wait till they’re right up in my face, and

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