Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chapter Seventy-Three

"Leeda, tell me again what the man said."

"Again?" I asked in near despair.  "Nat I've said it over a dozen times already."

He patted my hand and tried to comfort me.  "I know Leeda, just once more."

"That's what you said last time."

We were in the sitting room of the Sheriff's apartments in the Hall.  I was so close to breaking down that I could not even sit up straight and leaned over and put my head in my hands.

I tried to ignore the Chancellor and the three Church elders in attendance and focus solely on Nat.  Impossible to ignore was the Sheriff that refused to leave my side and who had refused to speak to any of his family.

One more time I told it ... Nancee's dress repair, April taking her back to the party, getting lost in my thoughts and then running afoul of the three - and yes they believe me about the number as the Sheriff had had all three young men rounded up and brought before us where they promptly broke down in fear, spilling their guts of how they'd been encouraged to take action by their brothers.  Then how immediately after extricating myself from that predicament I'd been waylaid by the old man, and all that he had said.  How I had returned to the gala with much on my mind and in a foul mood ... confirmed by Chelle who had by then been informed of what truly ailed her husband.

She'd exclaimed, "But that is impossible.  I filled Tomas' flask with my husband's own blend and he's shown no side effects!"

Chelle was now being consoled by Kate Cummins whose husband, Dr. Cummins, was looking after The Linder and trying to flush his system of the drug with everyone praying there would be no lasting effects.  The Linder was in the throes of a very bad detoxification process and had been closed up in one of the uppermost rooms in the Hall where his screams could not be heard by anyone.

April, Nancee, and Kate's companion were looking after Mrs. Linder who'd been given a mild sedative so that she would sleep.

The Doctor was also looking after Tosha Linder who hovered near death from a potion she herself had taken.  She'd left a note apologizing for her lie explaining that her mother had threatened to reveal an indiscretion from her youth if she did not comply; she had been terrified the story would destroy her marriage.  But after hearing what had happened as a result she could not live with herself.

The Chancellor was in shock.  I'd seen him try to approach the Sheriff but get rebuffed.  I actually felt sorry for the man.  His world had been turned upside down and his carefully crafted beliefs were being destroyed brick by brick.

I told how I'd returned to the Gala because frankly I hadn't known what else to do that wouldn't cause a scandal and I was still trying to decide if the old man had just been a political prank of unknown origin.  And how just as soon as I'd decided I couldn't wait to decipher the puzzle myself and headed to request an audience with The Linder that I'd run into the summons.

Every time I repeated what had happened in The Linder's office I could feel the anger start to radiate anew off of the furious man hovering beside me and witness the Chancellor become a little grayer.  Then came the story of the confrontation with Ronald Nearly and April Linder that brought with it the memory of watching from Nat's protective arms as the Sheriff had grabbed his cousin by the scruff of his neck and the seat of his pants and sent him airborne from the house.  He'd nearly done the same to his sister but stopped himself with a growl and a pointed finger to indicate she had best leave in all haste.  He had slammed the door in their shocked faces and then turned to me and simply stared.

He had yet to say anything to me directly, only through third parties.  Most often he would speak to Nat who would then speak to me but he stayed close and his hand would occasionally brush my arm in silent support.  Then I mentioned the arrival of the three Church elders from the university who I had learned had already been on their way to Linderhall and then of our removal to the Sheriff's rooms to begin the interrogations.


I looked tiredly at Nat.  "One more time?"

"No," he said coming to my side forcing the Sheriff to finally move away.  "The Elders have some questions for you."

"For me?  Why?"

One of the old men said, "Because we have heard a great deal about you Leeda Harper Linder and we would like to hear your thoughts.  Especially since you seem to feel you are somehow a point upon which this whole story turns."

I shook my head denying that interpretation.  "I do not feel it.  It is what I was told.  To be honest I am not sure that I believe half of what the old man told me.  I have not had much opportunity to study on it but there are so many holes in his story that the whole of the 'Cific could pour through it.  That prophecy business ... I doubt there is any way to prove it.  And the rest?  So few real facts and that is what is the most irritating about it all."

One of the other elders looked at me quizzically and asked, "How so?"

"How so?  Facts.  Or should I say the lack of them.  The prophecy itself seems like no more than a story made up to frighten children with ... or perhaps it started out as a true story that has simply been twisted for someone's own purpose.  Then there are the assumptions made about my character based solely upon innuendo regardless of all of the evidence to the contrary.  The unfounded and ridiculous assumption that I would ever want to be the wife of another Guardian."  I shuddered, tasting the bile that ran up the back of my throat.  "Once was enough," I whispered making everyone in the room try and look any place but at me.

"Then what do you think?" he asked.

"I think someone needs to be locked up in a padded room, maybe even me," I said sarcastically.

"Leeda," Nat warned softly.  "That is not helping."

I sighed.  "I suppose not but at least it made me feel better for a brief moment."  I heard a snort but though I knew the Sheriff had made it there was no evidence of it on his face.  A nudge from Nat and I tried to answer with more seriousness.

"I think that it really has nothing to do with me personally.  It is simply that I am the last Harper and those that have spent a lifetime invested in that prophecy being true have begun to panic."

The third church elder, the one that had yet to speak, leaned forward and nodded.  "Sister Evelyn - and yes I am well acquainted with that esteemed lady - warned us that you were level headed almost to the point of irritation and believed very little that you did not have proof for."

Startled I looked directly at him and it was like facing a curious raven.  "I ... I beg your pardon."

"No need my child.  I simply mean that most of the human species would try and make as much profit as they could if they'd been told they could make or break history and instead you roll your eyes and tell the lot of us to stop believing in fables like it is too ridiculous to even contemplate."

I shrugged.  "Life is hard enough, there is no need to make it harder by treating it as a drama troupe."

The old man chuckled then shook his head.  "You must have been an interesting child."

"I was an irritating carbuncle.  Ask Nat.  I was forever into things and asking so many questions my father finally ordered Nat to drop me at the town library on his way to training to give my mother and grandmother a break.  Then the librarian nearly threw me out when I kept telling him that many of the books held translation errors so Nat started taking me to the college and church library where I finally met people that had answers for my questions and if they did not have the answers they set me in a direction I could find them for myself.  That's where I met Sister Evelyn."  Quietly and more seriously I added, "That is also why Nat and I escaped the plague that stole our family.  I'd been practicing making hygienic washes and Nat let me experiment upon him.  I'd made the wash because of its pleasing scent but it turned out the combination of essential oils that I'd chosen for smell alone were actually exactly the combination that broke down the germs of the plague."  I stopped the memories with a shake of my head.

I told all those in the room.  "I'm just a woman.  I'm no point upon which the world turns.  I hold no inherent power in my hands ... at least no more than anyone else does.  And I refuse to believe that somehow I am the embodiment of both good and evil depending upon my begats.  It is too absurd."

Nat put his hand on my arm and pulled me to lean back in the chair that I sat in.  "Easy Leeda."

The first church elder spoke again and said, "But you believed in the Darkfriars when even the Sheriff doubted their existence."

"Only after serious research where I was able to put some actual facts and evidence together into a theory - or hypothesis I should say - that made sense.  As for what the old Borderlander told me of the Darkfriars and the Borderland priesthood I have no idea.  It sounds made up."

Nat slowly said, "Actually Leeda ... that part is true.  At least the framework of the story is."

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