Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter Eight

I was almost to the stable when Roda caught up with me and told me breathlessly, "Fan wants to see you."

Responding more waspishly than I had intended I responded, "Well I don't think it wise that I see her.  This whole mess is ludicrous and I'll be glad to see the backside of it when I leave to go back to Linderhall."

"Oh ... you ... you are ..."

"Yes.  With the passing of the other two Widow Linders there are some matters that need my attention.  Now please tell Fan to listen to the doctors and do what they say is best for her."  Looking around I added, "Rom's mother should be seeing to this, not you."

Roda glanced away then back.  "Things aren't as we've been told are they?"

"Since I don't know what you are referring to I have no idea."

She looked at me like an inquisitive sparrow.  "Rom's right.  You're different."

Growing tired of the whole of it I told her, "I was a fourteen year old child when I left here.  Given what I was going to there is no way I could not help but change."

She swallowed and nodded.  "Was it very bad?"

"Whatever it was or was not is no one's business.  Is that all?"

Berniece, Rom's sister that is about my age came out of the shadows and grabbed my arm.  "Rom is miserable since you left.  If you leave again I don't know what he'll do."

I looked at the drama queen and sighed and peeled her grip off.  "I can guess at the cause but it isn't me, that's for certain.  He and Fan seem to get along fine ... when the dunce isn't swimming in the punch."

Beniece shook her head and sighed dramatically, enjoying the part she had written for herself more than too much.  "Of course it is you.  You are his great love."

I snorted then started laughing to hide the pain of the memories.  "We were fourteen and sixteen Berniece.  What love we had for each other was the love of one child for another ... for a good friend they'd known their whole life.  I've found a way to live with what life has handed to me ... but Rom looks like he could use some help finding his way."  I looked to Roda.  "Tell Turner to get Rom into battle training.  Somehow, some way, however it may.  Something was taken from him that he needed.  He needs a way to burn off the frustration.  And have a goal that reminds him of what he once was and could be again."

"Like you have?" Roda asked in sincere curiosity.

I saw in her an honesty the others lacked.  I'd always liked Roda and I suppose it was possible that I still did.  "I'm getting there.  And I'll finish getting there after I leave here.  Nat will be leaving as well.  And with him gone I'm the last Harper.  Perhaps it is best to unlink myself from my family's namesake.  This place has changed so much from what it once was.  It has no connection for me or to me anymore.  Let both the town of Harper and me, the last Harper, go our separate ways."

I turned to go again but Berneice stopped me and asked, "Are we in trouble?  Will you tell the new Guardian that we aren't fit?  Father says you will.  He says you'll betray us and see us put out to live with the savages.  Tell me you won't Leeda ... please, in Rom's memory don't do that to us."

I sighed yet again, growing weary and irritated at her theatrics.  "What do I have to do with the Guardian?  I've never even met the man.  I'd be more concerned with what the Sheriff will say ... he's the Guardian's brother."  They gasped because apparently that tidbit wasn't known by all.

I rode Nanny hard all the way back to the cabin, only slowing down when it grew dark.  But she was still breathing fast and needed a good rub down when I got in.  Nat came out, took one look at my face, and proceeded to help me care for Nanny, ignoring the stray tear that would fall.

I'd calmed my anger down by the time we'd finished and locked the shed I used as a stable for the animals.  "I was going to head back to the rectory but I think I will stay here for the night instead."

I shook my head.  "Go Nat.  You have to finish your preparations and I want to finish the last journey cake for you."

"Leeda ..."

"And don't tell me there is no need.  You are my only cousin ... only family ... and when you leave I don't know when or if we'll ever see ... see ..."

"Shhhhh, no crying.  We said no crying, remember?  Whether we part permanently in this life or not, we'll always be together again ... all of us will ... after our Judgment Day."

I breathed to control my emotions and then nodded though my eyes still wanted to water.  "So it will be."

"Now sit and drink a cup of tea.  The night feels like it wants to chill before morning.  And tell me of this great party.  Was it interesting?"

I fell into a chair Nat pulled in front of the fireplace and answered his query with, "Interesting in the same way being watched by a Forest Cat is interesting.  I was on display and being pulled this way and that and if I can possibly manage it I'll never go to such another event for the rest of my life."

"Hmmm.  That interesting."

"Hah.  Your warning was timely but forewarned I refused all invitations to walk, view, visit, or anything else that took me from the dais.  And the Sheriff ... the lunkhead ... left me on my own the whole time.  Some escort.  Never again.  And then ..."

"There's more?"

"Not just more but worse,” I told him.  “Fan fainted and all the chickens did was run around like their heads were cut off and I was forced to put my foot in it.  Rom was drunk on the house punch and acting like Fanny's hind end until Turner - at my request - dunked him in something that got rid of the worst of the drink.  Mr. and Mrs. Waverly, when they finally showed up, treated me like I was the spawn of Himself Down Below and started berating me for being shameful and I don't know what all else since I decided I had had enough and left the party."

"Where was the Sheriff in all this?"

I gave an unladylike snort.  "No clue, probably doing his infernal observing.  He tried to stop me when he finally showed up and I informed him I was leaving but Mr. Waverly waylaid him and started spewing his bile.  Then ... then ..."

"More?" Nat asked.  I turned to catch him hiding a suspicious expression behind a false yawn.

"Don't you dare laugh Nat.  It was awful.  Berniece tried to play one of her theatricals and called me Rom's one true love or some such nonsense and then begged me not to slander them to the Guardian ... as if I would.  Roda ..."

"Turner's wife?"

"The same.  She ... she seemed as she always had been.  Nice.  She was shocked to find out that the Sheriff is the new Guardian's brother.  She said something strange ... that things weren't the way they'd been told.  I have no idea what she meant by that."

Thoughtfully Nat hypothesized, "The Mayor appears to have been playing a deep game."

"Aye, maybe that's it.  Because apparently Mrs. Waverly knew nothing about any monies that the Linder family had sent with the messenger for my keeping.”  With a deep sigh I said, “I'm so confused.  I expected to be angrier at people but ... but those I'm angry with ... it is for reasons other than what happened ... or at least not only for what happened.  And those I thought I would be the angriest with?  All I felt was sorrow ... for all of us.  Rom and Fan are unhappy Nat."

"I did try to talk to you about it Leeda.  You just weren't in a place you could hear."

I sighed.  "I need to work on that don't I?"

"Yes, but not just you.  It is a lesson we all have to learn ... and relearn ... much more often than is comfortable for any of us in the human race.  But for now you should get some rest.  Tomorrow will be a long day of sorting and packing.  I will stay here tonight."

"Nat ..."

"Until I know that there will be no ... visitors ... wishing to make sure you found your way home it is here I will stay.  One last night for old time's sake will not hurt me and the Rector will understand once I explain.  He's never really understood how you lived without a companion of some sort ... this will fit in with his view of propriety and make him happy."

Actually happy to have him when he did stay, I was doubly so when I thought about any possible "visitors" that he'd mentioned.  I'd never given that problem much thought because I'd never had such problems.  But then again I'd never socialized in company to get the notice I had tonight.

"Very well Nat.  I'll make your bed."

"No, just a pallet out here."

"Are you sure?"

He was.

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