From the author: A new US Marshal comes to the Hollow Earth territory. A Silverlockian homage.
We were all eager to meet the special stagecoach carrying the new marshal, but in the end we held back. We figured he might lose his composure if a whole bunch of us was crowding around him right from the start. He'd traveled miles and miles into the earth, from the light of the surface into the murk of the underworld. It used to be a narrow, dangerous path that no one in their right mind would ever take, but our miners had cleared it to the point that a coach could go the whole way. Anyhow, none of us locals was there to meet the stage except for the hostler Jonesy, who was human and from the States.
Course, I expected the marshal to visit me first thing. But it was a right surprise when the door to my office swung open and in walked a woman. Shouldn't have been shocked, being female myself, but still. She wore a businesslike blue dress, with a Colt Peacemaker on her hip. A badge was pinned to her chest. Not a deputy's badge, neither: full marshal. I had a star on my vest, too, dwarf-mined gold, but it wasn't as official.
She paused to take me in. Didn't boggle at all, which I liked.
"Mrs. F. M. Miller," she said. "US Marshal, New Territories. Or that's what I will be when the papers get signed back in Washington. A pleasure."
"Kallitoxotis, Sheriff 'round here. Likewise, I'm sure."
"You speak excellent English."
"Thanks," I said. "For a while now, best way to get here's been from the entrance in Nevada, the Carson range, I think you call it?" She nodded and I continued. "Before your people showed up we got the occasional medicine man on a quest, but now sometimes we get prospectors, explorers, folks like that. Not many, but enough to tell us how things are going. So we can keep up to date on life topside, second-hand like."
She held out her hand. A strong, firm grip.
"Please sit down," I said. "You'll excuse me for not doing the same."
"Of course." She drew a chair up before my standing desk. "Listen, Sheriff, I know this is hasty, but I wonder if you have time to discuss jurisdiction? I expect this will go better if we can set some boundaries up front, so we all know what's what."
"Sure thing, ma'am," I said. "Always good to know where we stand."
We were discussing whose law was going to govern whose people during the transition period when my deputy Teoxihuitl busted in. The marshal gave him more of an eye than she had me, but then he was dressed mainly in turquoise, and not much turquoise, neither.
"Sheriff!" he said, panting. "It's those Utgard boys. They're tearing up the saloon!"
"Damnation! Marshal, scuse us, would you? This one's mine to deal with."
"Yes," she said. "Yours for sure. But I'd like to come along, if I may."
"Your funeral," I said, regretting it right away. Never tempt the Moirai.
I paused to grab my bow and sling a quiver, stringing the old recurve by bracing it against my right front hoof. The bartender Eugenios was the only one in town I could talk with about old times back in Aeolia. My last link to the past. I wanted to race to the saloon to make sure he was okay. But no way Teo and the marshal could keep up.
She looked up at me as I pranced in indecision. "May I ride with you?"
"You follow us up," I told Teo. I hoisted the marshal up with one arm, and settled her on my back before galloping the mile to the saloon. She was a good horsewoman; and so was I, but not the same way. We passed through a mile of darkened mushroom caves, shy Nimerigar farmers staying hidden though they knew full well who I was. And then we emerged from the tunnel and entered the great world-cavern, the vast inner space that underlay the bright lands of the surface.
It was the violet hour in the katakosmos-- whoops, the New Territories, now. But the corelight from the inner sun illuminating the Hollow Earth was never very bright. That was one reason I was in favor of admission to the states. It'd been a long time since I'd seen the sun, the real one I mean, and a long time since I felt a proper wind in my mane, or heard the cries of birds overhead. We'd always had a trickle of human visitors, finding their way down here from the surface from entrances like the Acheron or the Cumaean Gate, but we'd never reached out to them before. But lately we'd been learning about the United States, how they'd gotten rid of slavery, and about their constitutional amendments that guaranteed freedom to all. Seemed to us like this was something new in the world. Seemed like we might have rights if we joined up, like we might not have to worry about massacres and running away to hide in our underworld anymore. So we all got together and we all said our pieces, and when we voted it was pretty much all in favor.
I was anxious about Eugenios, so I might have been galloping harder than I should given I had a rider to worry about, but Mrs. Miller had a good seat, and I didn't hardly have to slow down at all for her. Soon we got to the town proper, with the general store, the outfitter, the barber, the big smithy, and the saloon. There was a small crowd of kobold and lutin miners milling around outside. A gray-skinned kobold foreman came up to me as I was handing the marshal down.
"Sorry, Sheriff," he said. "Somehow those damn jotnar got their hands on some liquor back at the mine. We couldn't stop them after that. You know how they get. Eugenios is inside with them."
"Anyone killed or hurt bad?"
He shook his head. "Not yet."
"Jotnar?" asked the marshal. She looked excited.
"Giants," I said. "Mean drunks, too. Positive you want to come in with me?"
"Yup." I liked her pluck.
I ducked inside through the shattered saloon doors, the marshal right behind me. Sure enough, the three jotunn brothers were there. Gangr was passed out in a corner, his huge bulk sodden in the remains of a ruptured ale barrel. Idi was sitting splaylegged on the floor, guzzling whiskey; he looked up, saw me, choked and fell back insensible. Thjazi was at the bar, hunched over to keep his head from bumping the rafters, and -- shit -- he had his huge pickaxe up against Eugenios' throat. A trickle of blood was already running down the faun's neck. The bartender looked imploringly at me but he couldn't say anything.
"Thjazi," I said, "let him go or by the gods--" My bow was at full draw, a broad-headed arrow targeting the giant's heart.
"By the gods?" Thjazi turned to face me. "What gods're those, Sheriff? Utgardaloki is gone. Surtr's gone too. My little girl Skadi... dead like the Aesir, dead as your 'lympians. No one knows our names or our deeds, and we got no more kin in this whole wide underworld. Even Yggdrasil's roots don't reach this far down. So you may's well let fly, horsey girl. We just don't give a damn anymore."
I was thinking maybe I should just put Thjazi out of his misery, but I wasn't sure a single arrow would do for him, and I'd never forgive myself if Eugenios got hurt. So I hesitated, and while I dithered, the marshal stepped forward, surprising me. The giant glanced at her and leered, but she spoke up before he could say anything.
"Thjazi. Thjazi of Utgard. Your brothers are Gangr and Idi. Strong sons of Olvadi, mouths gaping with gold."
Huh. The marshall sounded different now. Like she was speaking another language.
Thjazi's eyes widened. "Who're you to know our kennings?" He lowered his pickaxe, and Eugenios slumped away without the giant noticing. I could have shot him then, but the marshal put her hand on my withers so I held back.
"I'm the new marshal hereabouts. Mrs. Miller."
"Why should I care--"
"Because I tell you to." The marshal had an aura about her now. I remembered seeing something like that, long ago. Back in the old days, when shining Apollo would stop by our halls to visit his godson Chiron. Was that a six-gun at the marshal's waist, or was she holding a bright-bladed spear? And her sensible dress... now a gleaming byrnie of polished mail? I blinked, seeing double.
"Don't you even know me, Thjazi?"
"Uh...." The giant was slack-jawed.
"I was a widow many times over before I married my dear Mr. Miller. My first husband was Odr."
"Odr? Odr? Th-then you must be--"
"Freyja Marigold Miller. US Marshal. And you boys are a disgrace."
"Oh! Freyja!" Thjazi started to cry.
"There," said the marshal. She stepped closer, raised her hand to stroke his grizzled cheek. "There. Don't cry. What would Olvadi think if he saw you sniffling like that?"
Thjazi blinked, wiped his nose. "Shouldn't-- Ain't we s'posed to be enemies?"
"That's over," said the marshal. "Over and done. There's a new dispensation in Midgard, too. They passed something called the fifteenth amendment. What it means--"
Thjazi dropped his pickaxe. He was snoring, his head cradled in the marshal's arms. She laid the giant's bulk out on the floor, effortlessly despite his enormous size.
"Well," she said. "That's done with. Happy to be of service." She held out her hand to me but I was goggling at her, too much in awe to take it.
Eugenios knelt before Mrs. Miller, his horned head bowed. I think he was crying too.
I was nearly tongue-tied. "Should I, uh, honor you or something, ma'am? You're one of the gods?"
"Once upon a time, maybe," said the marshal. "Thjazi was right though; the age of the gods is over. Now I'm just a law-woman. Same as you."
"Same as me?"
"Near as makes no difference. Not anymore."
She gave me her hand again, and I took it.
This story originally appeared in Galaxy's Edge.