Ronald had stopped screaming, at least for a while. He’d screamed off and on through the night and most of the day. I forced myself to look his way again and irreverently an ancient joke still told at the farming fairs crossed my mind.
A traveler seeking a roof to cover his head for the night walked up the lane to a nice, tidy farm. As he came near the door of the farmhouse he noticed a three-legged pig cavorting in the fresh green grass of the dooryard. When the farmer answered the door and asked what the traveler’s business was the only thing the traveler seemed to be able to ask about was the three legged pig.
The farmer answered, "That pig is the most amazing pig in the land, Sir." The farmer then went on to tell several tales of how wondrous the pig was, his feats of bravery and loyalty, how many lives the pig had saved.
The traveler was surprised and agreed, "That is one special pig. But why does he have 3 legs, is it from an injury it sustained during one of its magnificent feats?"
The farmer then said, "No Sir, ya see, a pig that special you just don't eat all at one time."
I realized that I was slipping into shock. The horror that I was witnessing, that Ronald Nealy had experienced firsthand, was beyond inhuman. I had suspected Ceena and Tonya participated in corrupt practices, had known in my heart that they had, but never in my worst and wildest nightmares during my marriage had I ever thought of anything this horrifying. I was unable to even compute the sheer magnitude of the soul destroying corruption required to perform the acts I had been exposed to on this day.
A sound had me slowly turning my head, like a hand puppet at a fair, to find a stool had been placed beside me and the cloaked man being sat upon it by two helpers who then stepped back a respectful distance. I was silent and it was he that was forced to speak first.
“You are composed beyond the expected. Perhaps the two Damned ones did their duty after all.”
“If you speak of Ceena and Tonya then no, they did not corrupt me.” I fell silent again rather than reveal just how close to hysterics I really was. I expected the man before me, corrupted or not, to be a formidable enemy and to try me at every turn.
Surprising to me is how short of patience he was as he snapped, “Then what? Do you think being a Harper grants you some power over me?”
“I am the one that is bound while you are free to move about … although it would appear you find it a painful process. What is your corruption? Bent bones? Tumors? Some other disfigurement you hide under the cloak you wear?”
“Infidel! Do not speak to me like you hold some high status in this realm.”
He raised the cane to strike me but an unexpected wind whooshed down from the mountains that loomed over us. The flames of the cook fire danced and then went out. Ashes flew into the eyes of those near the fire causing one to stumble into the fire ring, knock over the cook pot sending boiling liquid and … and other bits … pouring onto others in the group. The coals of the disturbed fire lit a third man’s filthy leggings on fire. In front of me the man’s hood was blown off and away from his disfigured face that had a gaping hole where the nose should have been and I realized his lungs were so weak that he was unable to draw breath properly and toppled off his stool and began to hack and cough and claw at his throat with his glove covered hands.
The wind was gone as quickly as it had come. It was not an unusual occurrence. I’ve felt similar winds my whole life – like the ones that sometimes rush through the forest and catch you off guard - but for some reason this wind or the timing of it revealed a deep fear and superstition in my captors.
The man who had been intent on striking me in anger threw the cane away from him and clawed at the tree to stand. Suddenly my antipathy for this man vanished and all I could feel – despite his corrupted behavior - was deep pity. As calmly as I could I told him, “That cloak is insufficient protection. You should wear some type of covering across your face to prevent germs and debris from entering your respiratory system and making you ill. Are you not in enough pain without causing yourself more through thoughtlessness? I have some clean cloths in my pack. Allow me to …”
He drew away from me and made what appeared to be a sign of protection against me and it only seemed to disturb him further that it had no apparent effect on me. He quickly pulled his cloak up and called to his men, “We leave. Now. Put her on the roan mare.”
His actions and behavior infected the others in the group and the nervous and fearful energy then infected the animals making them recalcitrant. Strangely, rather than handle me roughly as they had when they took me from my steed, I was afforded a strange respect when I was placed back upon it. That didn’t mean that they removed my bonds but it did mean that I was able to seat myself in better form so that I was able to control my horse with my knees; a situation which once again put me in an advantageous position.