Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chapter Fifty-Three



"Leeda, I'm still not certain when the manipulation began or even why specifically though we have our suspicions.  I'm still not certain what the reasoning for it is though again we have our suspicions.  All I can say is that Fan's betrotheds were intentionally stationed on the border by order of the Guard."

"That isn't unusual."

"No, it is not.  And that is the way it was meant to look.  Until you realize that all three men were ordered to the front line by the same commander who answered only and directly to the then Guardian.  And that reading the journals the assignments were specifically for a purpose and that purpose being primarily to narrow the playing field.  Fan's brother was also assigned to the border for the same reason though he survived through skill or luck much longer than was expected."

"Why?  Why would ..."

"As I said, we are still working that bit out.  What I am sure of is that both you and Fan served some purpose to the Guardian but as the plan took longer to enact than expected and Fan ... aged ... you became the primary object of his ... er ... desire."

I shuddered.  "I was never that so please don't ..."

"I ... I am finding it difficult to go into detail but suffice it to say that that is exactly what you were.  He had a ... er ... lively fantasy where you were concerned.  It ..."

It hit me suddenly.  I jumped up from the bench and ran to the sink and was violently ill.  "Leeda?!"

I held him off with one hand and pumped the handle with the other washing the evidence down the drain.  "Don't," I gasped.  "I realize those details might be necessary but just ..."

"Come and sit.  Now Leeda."

I was still finding it difficult to control my rebellious stomach.  "I was sick on him that first night too.  He was furious.  But ... but he forced me to eat foods that I was unused to and drink so much, something else I was unused to.  Then when we ... when we came to his chamber he poured some powder into a glass of wine and made me drink that on top of all the rest.  He said it would relax me.  It did the opposite.  It ... it caused me to hallucinate and then when he ... I just ... it ..."  I stopped and could only stare at my hands clinched tightly into fists in my lap.

"Leeda ..."

"There ... there is undoubtedly something wrong with me.  At least in that respect.  I had thought ... but it appears that ..."

"Stop.  This.  Instant.  Now look at me.  Leeda, look at me."

I didn't want to but I did.  He was a Linder whether he was all Linder or not and when they want something they usually get it.

"Leeda, you ... were ... a ... child.  You were there unwillingly.  You were given no choice.  Had no control.  And the old bastard then tried to dose you up to make you pliable so he could have his geriatric way with you ... that damned pervert.  He may have been sick but it was a sick of his own making and I hope the Maker has roasted him properly."

"Don't ..."

"What?  Don't say I hope he's with Himself Down Below?  Well I do.  Or at least that part of him that was who he was there in his last years.  The old bastard missed so much and if he didn't miss it then ... Damn.  Just don't let him ruin the rest of your life.  And stop worrying that it is going to be the same for you every time.  Any man that is a man that cares for you would be willing to wait and work with your feelings.  Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you?"

After a moment I nodded.  "Just don't be disappointed."

"I don't think it is possible for me to be disappointed in you," he said patting my hand.  "Do you feel able to ... to hear more?"

"No.  But still I must."

The Sheriff nodded and sat back in his chair.  "Some of what the old bastard writes in his journal does not make sense.  He gets somewhat more lucid towards the end of the last journal - at least for a time - and we suspect it is because he is not being allowed his 'medicine' any longer though undoubtedly he was receiving legitimate medicine for the very real pain he was in.  And ... and I must admit that ... that he was ... remorseful to a certain extent.  Unrealistic in what was and was not his responsibility but Tomas did not lie when he told you he was remorseful."

"Very ... very well.  He was remorseful and I suppose the rest of it is simply what will be dealt with on Judgment Day.  But ... but let us return to this issue of Fan and I.  Did he ... I don't know ... plan to do away with Rom as well?"

"He would have had he shown a tenacious design upon you.  But when it was seen ..."

"How easily he went along with his father's scheme?" I asked to ease his worry that he would upset me.

"Yes, that.  When he saw how easily he let you go your ... er ... the former Guardian lost interest in him and thought it a good way to hold Fan in the wings should he need to go back to the idea of using her."

"Using her ... me ... us ... using us for what?"

"An heir.  A viable male heir.  He knew about Ceena and Tonya's background ... had studied it, said he'd given them a chance though he'd never meant for them to provide his heir in the first place as he didn't want any, and I quote, any half savage brat taking the title of Guardian and it didn't matter what the treaties said he'd see it never happened."

"I ... now do not take this the wrong way ... but that is The Linder I knew.  He could be and often was ruthless.  I believe it is how he was able to have dealings with the Borderlands in ways that many other Guardians are not."

"True and Tomas knows that it may come down to the same for him but he'll politic it out if he can rather than use brute strength.  He's made a study of history and has no desire to wear the title of tyrant."

"Good.  But people will both want him to and expect him to ... may even try and force him to."

The Sheriff nodded.  "Tomas is already seeing that, and from unexpected quarters."

"The Vanburens?"

"Not all of them but some of them yes.  They seem to have grudges they expect the Guardian to ... rectify.  But thus far there is no connection of that to this."

"How does the man today figure into it?  Or is this more of Ceena and Tonya's leftover mischief making?"

"Very perceptive.  Do you remember when you visited their families?"

"How could I forget?  It is when I found Nanny."

"That it may have been but ... but in truth you were not to survive that ordeal."

"Oh.  Well.  I suppose I should have thought of that after all I've learned of them.  At the time however I thought their anger and scolds was because I had gone off on my own and then our husband heard and came down himself and there was a fury of an argument and I was sent back to Linderhall but I thought it was because I was being punished.  But the Headman let me keep Nanny so it didn't bother me so much.  I didn't like how they all laughed and stared as I rode her away but ..."  I shrugged.  "I knew not what was going on in their heads.  They were trying to frighten me one moment and almost like the Woodsmen I knew growing up the next, so in the end that is the way I treated them.  It made them much easier to deal with, except for the women.  I wouldn't turn my back on any of them and even at fourteen I knew most of them would be happy to slit my throat for their altar."

"Altar?  Ceena and Tonya ... they took you ... it was that brazen?"

"Yes.  I only saw animals being sacrificed but ..."  Troubled I turned to look in the past.  "One time when I was out walking I stumbled upon a pile of bones.  Not all of them were animal bones.  I saw ... several skulls, ribs, femurs and other smaller bones."

"Did it trouble you at the time?  Did you think they were an old die off spot?"

I shook my head.  "I ... I have no proof of this and I've never told anyone.  But ... but you know my training.  Looking at those bones I could tell most of them had been ... slaughtered ... and ... and boiled.  Even the skulls.  And they were fresh, not from the Destruction."

"I'll take that as a confirmation of some rumors I've heard during my investigation."

"Yes.  And ... and you ... you might want to speak to Dr. Cummins."

"Why?"

"There are certain diseases that such ... well call it what it is.  If I did witness the leavings of cannibalism then those that practice such deviant desires can develop certain diseases that become cyclical.  The disease lodges in the human flesh ... then when that flesh is ... is consumed ..."

"Yes," he said darkly.  "I've seen it.  I did a tour early on that was deep into the Borderlands.  They consume the disease then become the disease which is then consumed.  Do you ... do you have any reason to think that Ceena and Tonya ..."

"No.  Not here.  But they did attend some ceremonies that I was forbidden from attending.  It was part of the fight that they had ... after Nanny and I saved each other.  Our husband ... he ... he actually threatened them with divorce.  He said they'd agreed not to do ... something ... it was part of a treaty.  I never could figure out what he was speaking of.  It was only an hour or so after that that he came storming into my tent and ordered me to be ready to leave immediately.  That's when I begged him to let me bring Nanny and then the Headman came into the rooms and said that he'd make a gift of the mule to me as reparations.  I thought he meant that because I'd almost gotten hurt ... but ..."

The Sheriff was scribbling notes to himself and I waited for him to bring up the next point.  He looked up and sighed.  "They know who you are."

"Who?  The people at the market?  Well, it is no great secret."

"No, it isn't.  So when the man took you he had to know who you were and the likely consequences of what taking you would be."

"He was trying to instigate an incident?"

"No, he apparently is trying to prevent one though I'm not sure I understand the logic and what he is trying to prevent is ..."

"What?"

"Apparently certain ... people or groups ... do not want you to be a wife to The Linder.  There is some harem-scarem ghost story that a Linder/Harper progeny will bring about the end of the world."

I nearly strangled on the sip of cold tea I had just taken.  "I ... I beg your pardon?"

"Yes I know it sounds like a fairy story or a nightmare story but apparently they really do believe that The Linder and a Harper will come together and give birth to a monster that will swallow their people.  Do you know the history of your family?"

"Of course.  But ... but I'm the last Harper and ... and ... well I didn't have any children with The Linder ... I mean that Linder ... I mean my husband."

"You were correct when you said that Linder.  Apparently they think Tomas is looking to make you a second wife."

I nearly passed out at the very idea.

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