Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter Twenty-Nine



"Prodded on one side by a group of people that abused their status in the world and on the other by a group of people that thought they didn't have enough status a war started but it was not a quickly fought and won thing like everyone expected but drew out and then the terror attacks, and bombs, and plagues were released upon the world and chaos reigned.  Even once the fighting stopped the world continue to be ripped apart by the consequences of the war.  The histories written by the ones that lived through it make it seem like hell on earth though the Brothers have said that hell will be even worse.  During this time of chaos there were people that arose that worshiped Himself Down Below.  They believed themselves to be his church and operated like a bastardized version of one only ..."  I shook my head.  "Tales of human sacrifices, cannibalism, and numerous other atrocities are recorded but the thing people feared most it seemed was that they were child-stealers.  The darkfriars - which is what they eventually started calling themselves or were perhaps dubbed by those that they terrorized - overestimated the protection their god would give them and they traveled through contaminated regions looking for booty and weapons to keep the chaos going.  It affected their ability to procreate.  They had children but there were deformities and all of the other consequences of the Days of Destruction but concentrated and magnified.  So to keep their order from dying out they stole children, raised them as their own, and then made them in their own image.  In doing so though they perpetuated the problems and the child stealing became what they were known most for as the world began to stabilize.  The religion went underground."

"And these keys are from that group?"

"No.  They are from someone that has chosen to follow the path of the darkfriars.  It is the crest, someone has woven the darkfriar symbology into the Linder crest.  I had not thought ..."

I frowned.  What I was thinking was a scandal if it was true and could radically influence the difficulty the family was already facing.

"Widow?  This office is as secure as I can make it.  Speak freely."

I looked at his face and frowned when I saw something I did not like.  "You know don't you.  Somehow, some way you've known ... perhaps all along."

I saw the Sheriff's expression go from shock to glaring balefully at me. "How by the names of the saints did you just figure that out?  I saw your face, your eyes.  You had no idea and then ... suddenly you just did."

Irritated with him more than I had ever been up to this point I said, "I don't know.  It used to annoy my fellow students at college as well.  I wound up taking many classes in self-directed study because I didn't fit in with the correct age group.  But don't misdirect, you've been using me all along."

I stood up to leave but he stepped in front of me.  "I am many things Widow, and yes I have been using you but only for the purpose you were told you were being brought here for.  The rest of this ... you have knowledge we need.  I ... in truth I was being less than forthcoming in an attempt to protect you."

"I do not believe you.  Let me pass."

"Don't be stubborn.  After last night at least acquit me of desiring your injury in any way."

"I do not like being played for a fool."

"The last thing you are Widow ... Leeda ... is a fool."

I snapped, "And do not try acting like a besotted idiot again.  You look like a puppy that's been kicked and dumped on the ash pile.  You are the Sheriff of Tentuckia so act like it."

"I am also a man."

"Who is about to have his cork rung if you do not let go of my arm."

The rear door to his office snapped opened and The Linder stepped in.  "No violence if you please.  He has been keeping silent primarily at my direction."

"Begging your pardon but do not seek to manage my anger and redirect it in a way you do not think I am capable of throwing it.  I might just surprise you."  I turned back to the Sheriff and said, "I warned you I would not get involved with your infernal politics.  I am here to help Mizz Marta and the below stairs staff, nothing more and nothing less.  Yet almost from the beginning you've been ... been ..."  I stamped down trying to get his foot but he moved too fast then pulled me back against him trapping me.  "The Waverly event, you getting pummeled, the train, and all of the nonsense since I arrived at Linderhall.  I tell you I will not be used like this.  I will ..."

"Not.  Yes, yes ... I see that now."  The Linder seemed rather amused by my tantrum.  "Please forgive me my dear.  But look at it from my side, there is a spider somewhere about, spinning its web and you fit the part so handily."

"What?!"

The Linder looked at the Sheriff and said, "Explain it to her.  Wendolyn is on her way here with one or two of the Vanburen women and I am expected to show my best side to their men."

That irritated me even more than being accused of atrocities against the family.  I finally managed to get close to the Sheriff's toes but it did me no good as his boots were metal reinforced and all I did was bruise the bottom of my own foot.  "Ow!"

The Sheriff said, "Serves you right.  Told you all I want is to protect you."

I demanded, "Release me.  I've got to run to the kitchen.  Mrs. Cooksey is going to be near hysterics and I don't know which of the other staff are in any shape to ..."

The Linder smiled superiorly and told me, "Relax Widow.  It is for cocktails only before they head to the rail yard.  April has it well in hand.  This is the kind of entertaining that she does well with ... come in, refreshments, then get them back out the door before anyone becomes bored or offended.  If she needs more help she can call upon Mrs. Kinsey."

"No!" both the Sheriff and I blurted at the same time.

"Hmmm.  Daren, do we need to talk?"

"In a manner of speaking.  On an unrelated matter ... damnation woman stop wriggling."

"Then let go."

"No.  Not until I'm sure you aren't going to skewer me."

Never losing that half-bored humor The Linder said, "I'll leave the two of you to it shall I?  Widow, please do not skewer my brother.  He is actually turning out to be quite useful despite Father's accusation of chuckleheadedness on occasion."  To his brother his said, "Daren I expect a report tonight."

He left the room the way he had come in and I glared.  "So you did know of the secret passages."

"Only the one and that's because the man who occupied the office before me told me in confidence as he lay dying.  He was trying to tell me something else but he was in too much pain and too weak to communicate it fully."

He finally released me but jumped back quickly and continued to block my exit from the room.

I straightened my apron and the rest of my ensemble the best I could as well as fixed the pins of my snood that had begun to slide.

"Was that necessary?" I snapped.

"In my mind it was.  And damn enjoyable too if you must know."  He barked a laugh.  "Stop looking like an offended feline, you're fuzzing up all over."

He reached over and I couldn't slap his hand away fast enough to avoid a tug on one of my errant curls.  "That's enough of that," I told him backing away.  "I demand an explanation ... and might I remind you that I am not a plaything.  I'm well aware of the ... reputation ... that some have tried to give me but ... but I thought you would realize it was unwarranted.  After this morning I'm back to feeling perhaps I'll never want ..."

He became serious.  "I meant no offense Widow.  I'm afraid my brothers may be correct.  I simply do not conform to being a Linder."

"Praise God for small favors," I muttered still keeping my distance.

He pulled out a chair and asked politely, "Would you please sit?  I will behave myself."

"Hardly likely but I suppose you'll try."

After we had both sat and eyed each other like a pair of gladiators ready for battle the Sheriff said, "I have hinted rather broadly at the troubles our father encountered when he inherited."

"The gaps in the bookkeeping."

"Yes but there were ... other things.  The odd relationships your husband had with some of the neighboring families and then discovering his addiction.  It has been difficult to investigate these things and keep them quiet at the same time."

"You did not ask Ceena and Tonya for information?"

"They were part of the problem.  Always making broad hints as if they were teasing about something they knew and we did not.  Their constant insults to Dwen despite Father's edict to them to stop.  That part of it started when she insisted on reopening the Linder Chapel and being quite incensed at how poorly it had been kept up over the years.  The altar area had been desecrated."  Sighing he said, "Father rather insisted that it had to be anarchists but Tomas was just as adamant that the answer did not fit.  Father was strong-willed and though he wanted his sons to be in advisory positions he didn't listen very well ... not at first."

I could hear the real grief in his voice.  I didn't want to allow it to make me receptive to his explanation but it did.

"Tomas had nearly talked him around when the plague arrived.  It all transpired so quickly.  We still don't know how some of the household became infected as we were so careful to contain the man."

"Someone mentioned that Ceena and Tonya were the first to go."

"Precisely.  They were in their house sulking with only Mrs. Kinsey as a possible vector for infection and yet Kinsey never became ill ... and then a day after the plague was diagnosed the two of them were so ill that nothing John could do brought their level of pain down.  John thinks the severity must be because they got such a concentrated dose of the illness but we don't know from where."

"And they exhibited all of the symptoms of the other plague sufferers."

He nodded, "Only magnified far beyond the pain levels of any of the rest of us.  I myself was ill for a few days and at one point I felt like my bones were going to break but it passed during the night after John dosed me with a mild sedative that allowed me to sleep through the worst of it.  In fact that was the same for most of the sufferers.  Some however ..."  The Sheriff shook his head.  "The widows Ceena and Tonya suffered the worst but the Sheriff, Dwen ... those four in particular did not respond to anything John tried.  Father was on the mend and then watching Dwen suffer and die in his arms ... it was too much for him and he burst a vessel in his head.  He lingered for another day and then the angels came."

Hesitantly I asked, "Who tended the ones that fell ill?"

"Whoever was healthy."

"What about the ones that were particularly ill?  Does anyone helping stand out?"

"Not to my knowledge why?"

"I'll ask Marta, she may know."

"Again I ask why?"

"It's ... it's difficult to explain and if Doctor Cummins has not made note of it then I could be completely incorrect but ..."

"Widow, I am too tired to deal in puzzles.  Just spit it out.  And I do not wish a repeat of your fear this morning.  My brothers may have been stuck on the character they had built for you but I told you before we arrived that meeting you had forced me to rethink the plot we had written for your part."

I looked at him and realized that at least for the moment he was telling the absolute truth.

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