Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chapter Seventy-Eight



Unfortunately for my peace of mind I was to get no closer to the truth or His plan at that moment.  The Elders were feeling their age and needed to recuperate if they were to maintain their health.  Nat too was suffering - some of the suffering was of his own making but most of it was fatigue and lack of proper diet.  The Chancellor was as conflicted as I had ever seen him.  He looked more ill than anyone in the room.  And the Sheriff only stood because his anger kept him stiff and upright.

Taking the part of hostess though by rights it should have been someone else's duty I sent staff here and there to prepare meals and rooms for the Elders and for Nat.  Then passing the Sheriff I whispered, "Say something to him.  He needs you and it is your duty as a brother no matter your position as Sheriff."

His mouth tightened and I was sure that he would refuse but he unbent sufficiently to cross to where the Chancellor stood.  The Sheriff walked him from the room and I was just seeing to the last of everyone's needs when he returned an hour later.

"Leeda," he whispered.

I turned to him and went to come to him but he backed up.  "I ... I ..."

I shook my head.  "This is not like you at all.  You are obviously as fatigued as the others and should take a moment to eat and rest."

"Should you not have already done the same?"

"I'm afraid I selfishly hoped that you would let me know how the others were.  Tosha?  Mrs. Linder?  Your brothers?"

He shook his head once again and as if in great pain asked, "Why would you even want to?!  By all the Saints, Martyrs, and Dead Innocents.  Leeda ..."

Carefully I crossed so that he wouldn't feel the need to back away again.  "Foolish talk that is," I told him gently.  "Because they are your family ... and what affects you ... affects me."

All the stiffness seemed to leave his bones and if a chair had not been right beside him I think he would have landed on the floor.  As it was I worried he was going to topple from it.  He bent so far his head was in his hands.  Concerned I took the last few steps and bent down in front of him.  "Sheriff?"

"By all that's Holy.  If it is the last thing I do Leeda I will prove myself man enough for you.  I swear it.  Just give me time to prove it."

"Still with the foolish talk.  You already are.  If I had any question of it, your steadfast support during this time has won me over."

"I said nothing."

"You couldn't.  You aren't just the man in front of me but the Sheriff of Tentuckia.  But ... you still managed by presence and gesture that my greatest fear was not going to happen."

"And what fear might that be?  I'll slay it."

"Again, you already have.  My greatest fear was that ... that you wouldn't give me a chance ... wouldn't believe me ... and that ... that ... the glimmer I have felt would die."

"Glimmer?  Hell, I feel a raging inferno.  The only reason my heart is still beating is because you are still here.  When I found out ..."  He shook his head and abruptly stood but then swayed.

"Sheriff!  Here, sit.  At least eat a piece of fruit.  When is the last time you have had any sustenance?"

"Aye.  Too long.  And you too.  I will eat if you will."

He drew me to a small table - the same table where we had shared the cocoa only days before - and upon it sat a tray of fruit, cheese, and small crackers with cold sliced meat on the side.  He placed some food upon small plates while I poured us a bracing cider.

Finally I asked, "What did you mean?  When you said that when you heard?  Heard what?"

He sighed.  "I left a couple of little birdies to keep an eye on things while I was away.  This damned gala had the potential for trouble written all over it and I wouldn't have stayed away except this business kept me longer than expected as we'd finally begun turning over answers ... Nat and I.  Had your cousin the slightest inclination he would make a fine Investigator; he is tireless when he is on a quest."

"Yes.  It is why I worry about his health sometimes.  I'd say he needs a wife but he has no inclination."

"He explained why he cannot begat."

"Begatting has nothing to do with it," I said with absolute conviction.  "There are women that fear it or fear rejection because they cannot begat themselves.  They would love a man like Nat in their lives.  No, it is that Nat has no inclination.  His bride is the Church and the work he finds there.  I just hope that eventually there is someone that will watch after him as I have tried to when he would let me."

The Sheriff insisted on placing another cracker with cheese and meat upon my plate and then said, "Leeda, my birdie got word to me as soon as they could but I still had some miles to travel.  I would have spared you if I could have. I cannot believe Tomas ... all of them ... my God, even April ..."

I put my hand on his arm.  I had taken such comfort from him brushing me in the same way through the day that I had hopes to bring him comfort as well.  "I don't know the whole of it but at least in Tomas' case it was a poisoning of sorts that caused him to act as he did."

"James doesn't have that excuse," he said trying to hold onto his disgust by will alone.

"No, but Tosha ..."  I couldn't keep that deep hurt out of my voice.  Of them all, even knowing the deep distress she was in, she was the one that hurt me the deepest.  Trying to retain my composure I said, "Tosha is his bride.  I don't know if it was a love match in the beginning but I strongly suspect it became one shortly thereafter.  If she lives they will have a long, difficult road and will need a great deal of counseling.  A Chancellor cannot risk a wife that is able to be swayed in such a fashion."

Some of the wind went out of the Sheriff's sails.  "Aye.  He is hanging on by a thread.  On top of it all he knows that should Tomas ... die ... or become incapacitated that he would inherit the mantel of responsibility Tomas now wears.  Even if the babe m' sister in law carries is born healthy and whole James will be regent until the babe is old enough and trained enough to take their place in society, and that's assuming the child is a boy."

"Mrs. Linder is well?"

"Surprisingly so.  I just left her and she wants to see you.  In her words, 'Dear God, we owe her a debt that cannot be paid.  Tomas would have died of an overdose without this whole blow up.'  She's ... well she more than any of them is taking a ... well ... she's awful damn prosaic all things considered.  I'm not sure what to make of it."

I nodded.  "We all have our mantel of protection.  For now Mrs. Linder is taking the path that attempts to mend the most.  I believe we should follow her example."

"What?!  After all that you've been through?!"

"Easy Sheriff.  Do not take this the wrong way but as I see it there are two paths before us.  I prefer to take the one that brings the least amount of pain in the long run.  Forgiveness is not something we do for others but something we do for ourselves.  If I've learned nothing in this almost year since my husband's death, I've at least begun to see that. When we don't forgive others we fail to find forgiveness for ourselves and there is needless pain and confusion ... and it is of our own making."

"Bah!"

"You think?  Then puzzle this out for me Sheriff.  Had I forgiven Rom and Fan for what I considered their transgression it is very possible that I would have seen the plot without it having to be explained to me.  Instead I held onto my hurt feelings.  At the very least I would have escaped the lonely existence that was just a continuation of what I had experienced in my marriage."

A moment passed and then the Sheriff sighed.  "Dammit, stop having so much commonsense.  I wish to hang them all and to hell with the consequences.  You make me feel churlish for wanting such."

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