Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter Twelve



"Damnation, where is that woman?!"

"Easy Dar, she is on her way."

"And how do you expect me to explain to Tomas if I can't even manage to fetch a small scrap of a woman without getting her killed?"

I blinked my eyes open and found that I was in the sleeping car and on the bench that served as a bed.  "Are you always this quarrelsome?" I asked.  "It is headache inducing."

I tried to sit up but the two men crowded me.  "Back before I skewer you both.  I've had enough of men and puzzles for one day thank you very much," I snapped looking around for my knife.

"Forget that fang you carried.  I've put it up for safe keeping.  I have no desire to be ... er ... skewered anytime soon.  And why didn't I know you carried such?"

"Because you've got manners despite being the Sheriff and have some false idea that I'm fragile.  I'm a Woodsman's daughter.  You're lucky I don't carry an axe around to cleave the heads of those that annoy me.  Now move.  And who is he?  Never mind, he's a relation to you, I can see it clear as day.  An infernal Linder."

The man's eyebrows tried to climb into his hairline but the Sheriff just smiled.  "Not a Linder ... a Nealy ... from my mother's side.  That's the side I take after.  This is my cousin Ronald Nealy and he is a regional guard."

"How do you do?" I said to the man.  "I beg your pardon for my foul temper but I really dislike being attacked."

"Uh ... of course ... I assure you the feeling is mutual Widow Linder."  Turning to the Sheriff he said, "I'll return in a moment."

After Guard Nealy left I said carefully, "Your brother is making enemies."

He caught my meaning immediately.  "Why do say you that?"

"I was given a message to pass along."

Once I'd repeated exactly what the man had said several times the Sheriff fell silent and thoughtful.  I told him, "The one thing I learned during my tenure as one of the Guardian's wives was that the status quo was all important.  Anything ... or anyone ... that disturbed or threatened the status quo could create problems far larger than the act or person should have been able to.  Trouble like that ... it was an unexpected consequence of my marriage and what irritated my husband most.  I still don't understand all of it but it didn't all lie at the feet of Ceena and Tonya's prejudices against me."

The Sheriff reached over and locked the door of the compartment we were in then placed his finger over his lips before whispering, "I hesitate to ask but how much did you know of your husband's ... habits?"

Confused I said, "I'm not sure what you mean?"

"Did you ever notice him sipping from a small, filligree flask?"

"Oh, you mean his stomach medicine."

"Is that what he called it then?"  I was confused once again and he looked at me so compassionately that I was ready to bolt from the room.  "Widow ... Leeda ... what he sipped can be used as a medicine of sorts but he shouldn't have been taking it.  It was an opiate blend ... highly addictive but because of how it is processed has far fewer side effects.  It is the addictive part that is concerning however.  His valet told us that he had a fresh flask of his 'tonic' made up every morning.  One flask should have left him comatose.  The fact that he drank a flask of it every day without apparent behavioral effects speaks of an addiction of long duration."  Carefully he asked, "How ... how often did you ... were you in ... in your husband's bed chamber?"

I wanted to scratch his eyes out.  "THAT is none of your business."

"That rarely is it?"

"You .... you ..."

"Don't hiss and growl at me Widow.  I wouldn't embarrass us both if this wasn't important.  I need to know."

"Twice," I spat.

"Twice a week?  Twice a month?"

"Just twice you ... you awful ..."

The Sheriff leaned back like he was shocked but then the shock faded and he nodded like the knowledge fit some kind of puzzle.  "You can throw something at me later or help my sisters make me miserable but we need to finish this discussion."

Rudely I told him, "Stuff your discussion sideways."

"I almost wish I could.  It's as uncomfortable for me as for you I assure you.  The ... er ... infrequency of your ... interaction ... with your husband is probably part of the reason why you didn't recognize the symptoms despite your training; overuse of it leads to infertility and ultimately impotence.  Marta mentioned he was too fond of his stomach medicine but he kept his ingredients for it a state secret and she never could find out what it was. He was heavily addicted to what he kept in that flask.  Our family apothecary says that it is a very expensive version of a drug that is uncommon ... or should be uncommon ... in our region.  The Great Council keeps track of the trade for security reasons."

"Should they not be doing something about something so evil?"

"It is not the GC's place to prevent people from being addicts and idiots if they so choose.  The GC gets involved if taxes aren't paid on imports or there are disagreements between regions but beyond that they merely organize the various militias to protect the foreign borders and promote trade agreements.  They turn away or sink most of the illegal drug ships before they dock because they usually carry disease or promote slavery - not because of the drug itself - but smaller shipments come by way of smugglers.  It is the Guardians who guard against rampant problems of addiction by making sure that if someone does choose to consume substances that they do not hold public office, nor inherit office while under an addiction, and that if they break any other laws while under the influence that there is a further penalty."

"In other words if they aren't breaking any laws they can be as addicted as they can get away with being but if they are addicted and break a law the punishment is that much greater."

"Aye.  Exactly.  Except add that poverty due to addiction is illegal to relieve with charity.  Tentuckia's only problems for several generations has been the occasional batch of poisonous liquor and attempted incursions of savages from the border lands between regions.  Plus the occasional internal struggle with the anarchists."

"And plagues."

"We all suffer from the plagues of our day Leeda, politics will not inherently protect anyone from a germ.  Nor will it make anyone inherently more vulnerable."

"Fine," I said thinking about what else the man had said.

"You're still thinking.  Did you leave something out?"

"It's nothing I did not already know, I just didn't expect to be so ... so bluntly warned of it."

"And that is?"

"That the Linder family will use me as much as they can get away with."

"What?!"

"Oh climb down out of the luggage rack and stop acting so outraged.  We both know it is a true fact.  You may not even set out to intentionally use me but you're a Linder just like all the others that have come before you and I begin to think it is in your blood as much as it was in theirs.  You claim to have no talent or patience for politics but you really do quite well when you aren't trying to pass yourself off as some harmless, lovesick puppy."

"I never ... well, I suppose I did.  But only for a moment and because I was desperate."

"Don't get that desperate again.  You look ridiculous trying to look wholesome and innocent.  If you had an eye patch or something similar you'd look like a river pirate."

"I believe you are trying to insult me."

"Not trying, doing.  You simply aren't cooperating.  Now leave and go about whatever it is that Sheriff's do when rails are attacked.  I wish to clean up and I'm not about to do it in front of you."

He stood up and gave a small bow.  "I've sent for someone to look after you and make sure you are not injured."

"No need.  I prefer to tend to myself.  It is unnerving to have another woman helping me dress and undress."

"Well then let the unnerving begin because at least this once you will accept the help.  Your neck is turning the color of vomited blackberries and you have red spots all over your face."

And so saying he turned and left.  As soon as he closed the door I rushed to the small mirrored cabinet then nearly stomped my foot in exasperation.  His description had been all too accurate.


 

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