The Folly of the World
cold, which meant he wasn’t dreaming. If that other place, the dark with all the Belgians, if that was hell, and he had bested the demons and escaped, was this heaven? That made some kind of sense. But who was the fucking fisherman, a saint? The Lord God himself? No, that didn’t wash… But neither had the Belgians, and they had been real enough.
    Hadn’t they?
    Rubbing his temples, Sander lay back in the scratchy grass, the river hurting his calves with its chillness. What if, he speculated,
what if
he hadn’t actually died and gone to hell, what if he’d simply jumped into a canal and floated away, dreaming about Belgians? Good…
    But what about his foot? Could have cut it on a rock, a root, anything. Good.
    But why the fuck was it early summer—no, late spring, he corrected himself, as if that made a lick of difference, late spring… But still, he couldn’t very well have floated downstream, asleep, for half a bloody year. Could he?
    Well, no. But he had lost days before. Usually where drink was concerned, but sometimes they just went away on their own and he would awake to find himself in strange places. Often bad places. Once he had come to floating in a well—that had taken some explaining when a farmer finally fished him out, wells in the Low Countries being exceptionally shallow but nevertheless easier to enter than exit. Could he really be sure it had been autumn when he was hanged in Sneek?
    Well, probably. But what had happened in Sneek?
    He remembered a barkeep saying something that had set him off, but the memory wasn’t as clear as it should have been for having happened so recently. Whatever it was, the fucker had deserved what he got, though now that Sander was sober and seriously considering it, he couldn’t rightly say what had convinced him the man was working for his enemies. Hell, Sander couldn’t recall exactly what had made him think he had enemies in the first place, beyond the obvious enemies one makes by virtue of not being a stupid asshole like most people you meet in taverns. He grimaced.
    What had happened, Sander surmised, was that he had gone off a little. Not a big deal if it only involved a few days out of sorts, a few fights, some mild convictions that everybody was out to get him… But killing bartenders, being publicly executed, and battling demons down in a giant fucking well were not the sorts of things he wanted to experience, real or dream, for any period of time, to say fuck all of blackouts lasting whole goddamn seasons. He was getting worse.
    No, he
had been
worse, but now he was better. He might not know where he was, or even
he was, but he was himself, and he wasn’t mad. Like a sleeper shaking off a nightmare, Sander kicked his feet in the water and smiled to recall the Belgian fancy he had taken so seriously.
    “Ho, friend,” came a voice that wasn’t as gruff as it probably aspired to be, and Sander sat up slowly, turning to meet the man. Men. Three of them, two leading horses and the third standing behind the others; the third was the fisherman, but Sander didn’t recognize the other two. That was probably good, he thought as he got to his feet, there was no reason he
recognize them, no way they could know him or he could know them.
    “How is it, then?” said Sander, eyeing them more closely. The two with horses had dusty riding gear, and the one who had spokenwore some sort of garish bronze medallion over his linen mantle. They both had swords drawn, and were quizzically staring at the nude man who had come from the river.
    “David here says he rescued you from drowning, only to have you attack him,” said the man with the medallion. Some kind of rural militia-type, a warden or something, Sander supposed, the sort of cunt who came from the same fields as everyone else but got airs, got all important, got all fancy, taking graaf money to do graaf fucking business, as if the graaf really cared about protecting the men and women who

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