Coachwhip and Wade, Hex-tamers for Hire
by Tony Pi and K.G. Jewell
The paddle steamer The Eagle churned through brown waters to the center of the Great
Miss River, out of the morning shade. Standing on the back deck, Lily Calazans stretched to
welcome the sun, her serpentine hair stirring in celebration of its warmth. She rolled up the
sleeves on her workdress, her reptilian skin yearning for every inch of heat.
Were she human, it would be a lovely voyage. But she was Serpentlock and the gambling
boat crew were not. Though they said nothing, their stares and sneers told her they wouldn't have
welcomed her aboard if they didn't need her to remove the River-Bride's hex.
The fairy hex was limned with fish blood onto the side of the riverboat. A mystic thrum
rose from the hull, drumming a siren song into the waters and rattling Lily's bones alongside every
beat of the boat's great paddle. Though the enchantment was meant to lure alligators into the
River-Bride's court, Lily's Serpentlock nature was kin enough to the gators' to feel the call.
She'd been drawn by the song to The Eagle at the port of N'Orlyonesse. Upon seeing the
hex on the hull, her human partner, Wade Merritt, who had history with the River-Bride, had
argued that no good could come from letting the fairy's call abide. As they had business in
Memfes, they could kill two birds with one stone by exchanging their services as hex-tamers for
"Hey Coachwhip, look at this!" Wade yelled up from his precarious perch on the side of
the hull. He was an almost comical sight, having refused to remove his ten-gallon hat or his gator-skinned boots for this task. With a pointed boot jammed into a looped rope hanging from the deck
railing, he pointed at the ship's window with a bristled wash brush. "Cracks, in the glass." He
blinked, shaking his head. "And not natural ones, either." No-Look Wade Merritt had the uncanny
ability to see magic with his mind's eye and to peer into the otherworld. It was what made them
formidable as The Pair, her with her family's lore of magic and him with his ability to see it.
Lily snaked her longest coachwhip coil over the side. An advantage to having coachwhip
snakes for hair was that her longest lock was six feet long, and that gave her perspective without
movement. She saw the sun reflecting off the clean glass, the image marred by lines through the
bottom corner. At first she thought Wade had been too rough with the brush and damaged the
pane, but all the windows she saw bore exactly the same cracks, from the concentration in a small
area, to the angles and lengths of the x-shaped fracture.
"Those weren't there when we left N'Orlyonesse," Lily said. "Something uncanny's
afoot." Magic ignored is magic that burns, her Aunt June liked to say.
Verner, the Bos'n that had hired them, emerged from the engine room door. He hesitated
when he saw Lily, and instead leaned over the rail to speak to Wade. "Merritt. We need the worst
of that off before we stop at Big Blood. We've important guests boarding and The Eagle needs to
looks her best. But watch out for alligators at the waterline--they've been seen circling."
Lily held back a scowl at Verner's snub. "Trust us. We will have it done." Verner hadn't
spoken a word straight to her face since they met the man in the bar, always addressing only
Wade. Likely he'd been raised to fear her kind. Perhaps it might have gone smoother if Wade
were on his own, but it took her partner's dogged persistence to convince Verner that they'd only
work as a pair.
Still, she had the sense Verner's love for The Eagle was more than just his job. In
discussing their hire, he'd waxed poetic about the boat's lines and history but complained of the
pit boss spending more on a new roulette wheel than his entire annual maintenance budget.
Wade clambered back on deck. "Listen to her, Verner. We're the best hex-tamers west of
the Great Miss. We broke the curse on Coffin Gulch and wrangled the Skeersome Buffaloes on
the range. We won't let any varmint get the better of us, least of all a bunch of gators in love with
the River-Bride." He hefted Blue Lightning, his hex gun, as punctuation.
"Well, you ain't west of the Great Miss, you're on it. Don't forget you're in the Bride's
Court." Verner made a sign with his left hand, acknowledging the fairy power.
Lily knew Wade was itching to insult the Bride, but he didn't need to push the Bos'n's
buttons. She nodded with her serpent-heads. "We don't underestimate any being's power. But
you hired The Pair, and The Pair gets things done."
Verner eyed her Medusan tresses with typical human unease. "You've an hour. Make sure
you get the windows clear--the guests will be touring the casino as soon as they board, and the
pit boss is proud of that view."
Wade gave his fake I-ain't-a-good-gambler smile, but kept quiet.
Verner nodded, and chased after someone carrying a ladder into the kitchen.
"The Great Miss River-Bride's a washed up re-incarnation of the piss smell of a real river
spirit. To say it politely." Wade checked his pocket watch. "Dammit, that crack's found my lucky
"We'll sort out the cause," Lily said. "Come on, we've more scrubbing to do."