Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter Ten



Before leaving for the rectory Nat had helped me to pull the storage chests from the loft and set them upon the floor for filling.  As I packed and sorted with an eye that it was unlikely I would ever be returning I realized there were few things I could not walk away from if the Sheriff balked at what I was bringing.

I'd hate to leave behind my housegoods but there is such a thing as starting over.  I had no attachment to most of the furniture in the cabin, nearly all of which was built in anyway and impossible to move.  And I had enough linens to fit a much larger home so I could take one set and leave the rest.  But my mother's comb and brush set I could not bear to part with.  Nor my grandfather's Bible that Nat had mended the binding of as a special surprise for my sixteenth birthday.  There was a crèche scene that my brothers had carved for me when I was finally old enough to stop chewing on my toys that I kept out year round and every year at the Celebration of the Birth they had added a new animal or character or some such ... until the plague had caused their deaths.  My father's hunting rifle had been disallowed when I went to Linderhall the first time but I dared anyone to try and take it from me this one.  My grandmother's sewing glasses was another delicate treasure.  The bag that held locks of my family's hair, snipped before their bodies were carted away to the town funeral pyre would be put into a special pocket sewn into my skirt as would my legal papers sealed in a thin, waterproof tube and the few metal rings I hadn't had to sell to purchase goods to get me started in widowhood.

I was dirty and sweaty and going through memories as much as I was going through what I was packing.  As muncheon approached I decided a break was needed.  I headed outside to bring in some fresh water and was at the pump when the Sheriff rode into my clearing.

"Widow."

"Sheriff," I said not looking up as I continued to pump.

He got down from his horse - I heard the creak of his saddle - but then there was a thud and I turned to see him on the ground.

"What kind of funning is this?"

He did not answer.

"Sheriff?"

He hissed in pain and finally started to try and roll to sit up.

I put my bucket down and walked slowly forward.  "If this is a theatrical ..."

The Sheriff groaned and then I got a look at his face.  "Oh by all that's ..."  I rushed forward.  "When did this happen?"

"Las ... night."

"Last night?!  When last night?"

He huffed but allowed me to sit him up and then get him standing up.  "So much for my damn pride.  I haven't been scooped up by a woman in ..."

"Hush.  I'm stronger than I look.  I wasn't born to this status I carry like a burden remember.  Come.  Sit on the bench and let me get some daisy salve and witch hazel."

"I don't need a doctor."

"And you aren't getting one but if you don't sit still I may send for Sister Serenity.  She has a way of making mincemeat of men who refuse help and it usually has to do with one ear feeling like it has been detached and then sewn back on upside down.  So what is it going to be Sheriff?  My help or the ... er ... help of the good Sister?"

"You and April are going to be friends.  I just know it.  She's always poking and prodding one of us."

"Good.  She sounds like a most reasonable lady."

I cleaned him up and noted that someone had already done it before me.  "Who tried to patch you up the first time?"

"Innkeeper's wife."

"Mrs. Larson?"

"The same.  When she was done I felt more pummeled than I had already been.  And the woman dosed me."

I heard outrage in his voice, like he couldn't believe anyone would dare.  Having a disagreeable husband and a half dozen sons of the same temperament I could well believe Mrs. Larson dosed on very little excuse any man she thought was being difficult.  It was simply easier than her listening to them squall.

"There, all finished.  You may be the Sheriff but you should still inform the Brothers and give them a description.  They'll know whether they're local or not ... if they are they'll deal with them and if they aren't they'll be on the lookout."

"Already been done.  I went to see your cousin."

"Why?" I asked carefully as I put the cleaning cloths to soak.

"To see whether you were 'available' or not."

"Hmmm.  Nat is protective but not confiningly so.  What did he say?"

"Said to walk softly because if I offended you that you might take my head off ... and that if you didn't he would."

"Oh he did not."

"Yes Widow, he did.  And rightfully so.  Let us just say last night did not go precisely as I had expected."

"And what did you expect?  That I'd just go off with those men?  I may be young ... and perhaps still be more foolish than I'd like to admit ... but I'm not stupid.  And I've better manners as well."

He bowed in my direction, nearly tipping onto the ground.  "Will you sit?!  Honestly, did they crack your noggin to go with this black eye?"

"They tried."

I shook my head and poured him a dipper of water.  "Nothing stronger."

"Agreed.  I think we've both seen more of that than we'd like."

"Wha ...? "  Then the look on his face told me to what he was referring.  I sighed.  "Rom was ..."  Then I shrugged.  "I don't know what he was.  I don't know him now.  Why I feel the need to make excuses for him I don't understand."  I shook my head to clear it.  "Have you heard news of Fan?"

"I was there before seeking your cousin out.  There's been a huge row.  The Mayor of Beaumont was informed during the night of his daughter's state and has come to collect her.  Apparently the Mayor of Waverly was further shocked when his son informed him that it was he that sent word to his father in law and that he would be escorting his wife and daughters someplace that Fan could get the proper care she needs."

I said nothing.

"Did you hear me Widow?"

"I heard.  I asked how Fan was.  The rest is none of my business Sheriff."

"Hmmm."

Rather than take note of his tone I said, "I am wrapping the last of these journey cakes for Nat but there is one that didn't set as well as I like.  Care to help me to polish it off with some soup?  That should be soft enough not to irritate your mouth."

"Very well ... but don't think you are getting off lightly.  We haven't even begun to discuss last night."

"Sure we have ... and we are now finished discussing it."

"Do you not wish to hear of my discussion with Turner Waverly?"

"Knowing Turner why would I wish to hear of what is an undoubtedly dull conversation?"

"Actually I found it rather enlightening.  He was certainly and honestly outraged to find out that Mr. Tosh has discovered a second set of books and that his father has been syphoning money from the town and family coffers for some scheme that has yet to reveal itself."

That stopped me for a moment but I tried to not let it show.  "And apparently he has been so successful at it that he made the mistake of thinking he could take and hide the money sent by the Linder Family with no one being the wiser."

"Which explains Mrs. Waverly's confusion about the funds that you had transferred on my behalf."

"Exactly though I suspect she has suspicions of something going on, just not what it might be.  But I could be wrong," he added with a shrug.  When I asked no further questions he sighed.  "Widow … Leeda ... I am going to recommend that Mr. Waverly be removed as Mayor."

I dropped the serving ladle with a clatter.  I turned in shock and just looked at him.  "You ... you ... can't.  Harper has been independent since before the end of the Days of Destruction."

"And independent it will remain."

"You ... I mean the Guardian ... will appoint a new Mayor?"

"No.  Well yes.  Damn, I think I might be getting too good at this sneaky political stuff."  He looked at me with a sardonic glint in his eye making me very uncomfortable, like I had been played.  "I believe that for the sake of his health the current Mayor needs to retire to someplace quiet ... perhaps to his holdings further to the east, a hunting lodge I believe.  In this case the succession would be advanced and Turner Waverly will take on the mantle of Mayor of Harper."

"Your job is Sheriff ... if that's who you really are ... not ... not rearranging status."

"Have no fear Leeda, I am indeed the Sheriff and my brother is indeed the Guardian.  However you are wrong that my job does not include rearranging status.  Often times I run into ... issues ... that while they break no law outright they certainly destroy or have the potential to destroy the stability of this land.  While the Guardian handles the authority of status - to give it or to take it away - one man alone should never have such power.  James and I ... balance that power if you will ... through being Sheriff and Chancellor.  Admittedly we cannot force life to be fair to everyone but we can see that justice is done as much as possible.  Too many things were not adding up with your story, there was too much gossip going in every which direction and Ceena and Tonya didn't make matters any easier; I have discovered no outright lies but they certainly added their share of confusion.  And then the money went missing.  It could not be allowed to continue or fester.  It is a matter of law and honor.  Tomas is still consolidating his position as the new Guardian ... both with the Mayor's Council and with the Great Council itself.  The review of the tax rolls and this situation gave him ... us ... a chance to show how we mean to start and go on.  Status or not, all will at least have access to justice whether they want it or not."

Nastily I asked, "Well if you pretended to get the stuffing beat out of you to make your point, it was a silly bit of theatrics and completely unnecessary."

"No ... no that was real.  It seems that I've pried open a lid on something that has even more stench to it than a little financial fraud.  Which leads me to ask Widow ... could you be ready to leave by morning?"

Shocked I asked, "Excuse me?"

"I know I meant to give you another day but I have business to discuss with the Guardian and Chancellor but I don't feel comfortable having you follow of your own accord."

"I ... I suppose ..."  I looked around thinking what could be left behind.

Something must have shown on my face because he said, "Easy there.  I have hired some help and they should be here shortly if you agree.  Tell the two girls what you wish packed and how and the two young men will load the trunks into the wagon I see you've pulled around for that purpose."  When he saw me open my mouth on a protest he added, "I said I hired Widow Linder.  Whatever the expense I'll pay if it gets me my way."

Flustered I said, "I need to speak with Nat."

"He is the one bringing the helpers.  He will ride with us to the rail and while he goes west we will load onto the cars heading north."

"The rail?" I asked shocked.  I'd only ridden it once and that was to visit my sister wives' relatives in Paduck.

"Aye."

"But ... but Nanny, and my fowl ..."

"Will be placed in a livestock car."

"Argh!  Fine ... but ..."

"But what?"

"I don't even know where I will be staying when we arrive.  I cannot go back to my old room.  What if I go to the trouble of packing all this only ..."

"No, your old rooms are now occupied by my sisters.  What James proposed, and Tomas has already agreed to, is the building that was being used by Widows Ceena and Tonya as the Dower House.  They had it cleaned up and decorated and were living there before they became ill.  It hasn't been opened since it was sealed at their deaths and will require cleaning.  Tomas has also set a sum aside equal to what they received for redecorating and repairs as they become needed."

"The old overseer’s house?  They had mentioned something about turning it into the Dower house as they said it had been used as such by other widows to the Guardians over the years."

The Sheriff laughed and then groaned at the pain he had caused himself.  "Indeed.  You are probably the youngest Dowager ever to live there."

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