Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter Fifteen

The door opened and a pinched faced man answered.  I didn't recognize him but the Sheriff did as he grinned and said, "Is my brother in Kirkwood?"

If possible the man looked at me and got even more pinched up.  To poke a bit and see how he reacted I added, "And please tell him the Widow Linder awaits his pleasure."

The man looked behind me and then back at me but I refused to enlighten him.  He made the wrong assumption and turned to the Sheriff and said, "Please tell the Widow Linder's maid that ..."

The Sheriff saw my move and quickly moved to try and forestall it.  "The lighting in this hallway needs improving if you think the Widow has a maid standing behind her."

The shock on Kirkwood's face was almost theatrical.  A voice in the room asked, "Why are you just standing there?  Come in already."

The Sheriff gave me a warning look and then led me in.  A woman sat at a stitching hoop working on some intricate design of white on white, probably meant for their baby.  A man sprawled on a sofa with papers in stacks all about him.  They spied me about the same time.  "A little warning Daren," the man growled.

The Sheriff shrugged, "I received a message from Thornsby that you were awaiting our arrival and we came straight here."

The man shook his head in irritation.  "I told him it wasn't necessary that you come straight here.  I expected you would wish to stop and clean up and get the kinks out."  He turned to me, "Pardon Widow, I'm afraid ..."

The woman interrupted in a voice I can only describe as prissy. "I am sure that the Widow Linder is not interested in our little problems."

My turn.  "Aahh, but Mrs. Linder, your comfort is the reason for my presence.  I have heard of the joyous event pending and of all the work you have to do getting to know the surrounding families and helping The Linder secure the succession.  That is a necessary task of great importance.  So, if I may?  I would like to lend you my support by managing some of your other burdens."

She opened her mouth on an immediate refusal, I could see it in her eyes, but I beat her to the punch.  "I know, truly I do.  The Sheriff has told me how you feel so responsible that you've even limited the aid you will accept from your sister in laws."  I gave a look of particular understanding that she could read exactly how she wished to read it but meant what I wished it to mean.  "However, as a widow of a former Guardian, it is my pleasure to fulfill my duty and responsibility so that you may focus your full energies where they will serve The Linder and your status best."

She blinked and I knew I had her.  "Oh ... well yes ... I do need more time in certain areas of responsibility.  If you truly feel led ..."

"Allow me to start tomorrow morning?" I asked carefully.

"Well ... yes ... I do believe that will serve.  I have a great many preparations to make with regard to a visitation to the Vanburens."

"A family much involved with the local missions," I said, knowing the family of whom she spoke.  "Their second oldest grandson was away at seminary when my husband passed but got leave to come back for the funeral.  He gave one of the prayers."

"Did he?  I had not heard that.  Did he receive a letter of appreciation?"

"The Widow Ceena would have seen to it but I am sure that now that you know you'll say something to Mrs. Vanburen.  Timothy - the young man in question - is her pride and joy."

She nodded.  "Thank you for sharing that with me.  It will give me something to start on.  It was a great surprise to me to find out that the Linders and Vanburens didn't socialize much."

It wasn't a surprise to me but I didn't say such.  Ceena and Tonya had practiced the religion of their mothers rather openly and did not care for the Vanburens who could be sticklers about church matters.  Below stairs gossip could sometimes come in handy and I realized I would need to dredge some up to feed Wendolyn to keep her from making enemies where none needed to be made.

The Linder glanced at his wife who had gone back to contentedly stitching and said, "You will excuse us Wendolyn but I wish to ask Daren and Widow Linder a few questions."

"Of course," she said inclining her head in our direction.

The Linder led us through a connecting door and then closed it and went to a cabinet.  "Drink Daren?"

"Better not.  Missed dinner and I still have much to discuss with James."

"Someone taking my name in vane?" asked a man coming down the spiral staircase that led to a series of bookcases arranged on a ledge above the main floor of the library.

The Sheriff and the Chancellor clapped each other on the back and I could see they were closer than they were with their elder brother ... or perhaps simply more demonstrative about their closeness.

The Linder looked at me closely and seemed to be debating offering me a drink.  Despite my status, my youth seemed to stump him.  I asked him, "Do you mind if I pull water from the tap?"

He blinked which I was beginning to realize was a reaction when this branch of the Linders was trying to figure out what to say.  I stepped over to a book case and slid it back revealing a small basin, water tap, and some crystal goblets.  I turned the tap and let it run for a moment and then put a goblet under the tap to catch some water.  I slid the bookcase closed and then turned to find all three men staring at me.

The Sheriff sighed.  "You know, you could simply tell us."

I shrugged.  "Where's the fun in that?  Not to mention this way at least lets you retain some pride or pretend you knew it was there all along."

The Sheriff rolled his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.  The Chancellor gave a slow grin and looked at The Linder who ultimately said, "Tell me in private and I won't need to pretend.  Is there anything else like this I should know about?"

I named off several features and then was asked to show them.  At the end The Linder asked, "Are there more?"

"Not in this room."

"Which means there are in other areas of the house."

"There's something in most of the rooms but the oldest parts of the Hall have the most ... relics of the Days of Destruction such as the trap doors I just demonstrated."

"And the staff knows of these features and did not mention them?" The Chancellor asked in a bit of temper.

"The Senior staff do certainly ... they are how I know.  And most of the understaff probably know but not even hot pokers would make them betray the family's secrets.  They likely assume that you know."

"Why would they assume that?" he said still unmollified.

"Because the secretary would have made a point to show your father and your father should have made a point of showing you.  Consider it inherited knowledge.  What I do not understand is why Ceena and Tonya didn't Lord it over you and show you how much they knew."

The Chancellor opened his mouth and then closed it while The Linder gave an irritated shake of his head.  "Father and the widows had a disagreement early on.  They were extremely rude to Dwen - Father's Consort - and after Father spoke to them twice and they did not moderate their behavior he forbid them the Hall until they could treat her with respect."

I whistled.  "That must have gone over well."

All three men shrugged nonchalantly.  I turned to the Sheriff and asked him, "Do you remember what I told you about the status quo?"

"Yes," he answered slowly after thinking for a moment.

"Ceena and Tonya's father was a tribesman from the Borderlands."

The Sheriff blinked.

"And their mothers were the daughters of important men that ruled two rather large and dangerous families of traders whose holdings once included Old Paduck."

"Are you telling me they are from a family of pirates?!"

"You might call them that and not be far off, so long as you called them wealthy and connected pirates.  The marriages sealed a deal of nonaggression and allowed my husband to broker trade agreements in territories that no other Guardian before him had managed to.  Ceena and Tonya were nearly as young as I when they came here as brides.  And they maintained their family connections despite over twenty-five years of separation."

"Well damnation."

"You've begun to say that quite often."

All three men looked at me but it was the Sheriff who said, "I have a feeling the frequency is going to increase."

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