Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter Twenty-Six

The next thing I remember is a none too gentle shake.  "Widow.  Leeda!  Open your eyes."

"No.  I won't."

"Stubborn girl.  Just open your eyes, come along now."

It took a lot of willpower but I did open my eyes.  I told him, "I'm not a girl.  I'm ... I'm the 3rd widow ... 3rd widow of ..."

"Yes, yes ... now just breathe.  You are turning the color of spoiled paste.  Drink this."

"I do not ... GAG!!!  You ... you brute.  What did you just ..."

"Easy, it's not poison.  It's actually a rather expensive whiskey I'll have you know."

"It tastes abominable.  I can barely breathe."

The Linder looked at me and was quite pale, as were both his brothers.  The Sheriff took a swig from the flask he had tried to drown me with and then passed it to them.  After a heady drought The Linder asked, "Is that what you wished to show us?"

"By all that's holy no.  But to get to where I am taking you we must pass ... his ... his collection."

"So you know where they came from."

"No ... well some ... he was hard to understand and ... drunk ... I'm honestly not sure if he even remembered showing me and I was too ... too terrified to ..."  I stopped.  I rubbed my arms like it was the dead of winter and it did feel like winter had settled into my heart.  "I never wanted to remember this, thought that it could be buried with him ... my husband."

I looked at the three men and turned but realizing I faced the bed hurriedly turned again trying to find something, anything, to look at that didn't bring back those horrible memories.

"He was drunk that night.  Ceena and Tonya ... they did not like me, hated me for some reason.  I never did find out why ... lack of status before the marriage, my age, I honestly don't know.  It was simply a fact; they hated me with a passion I saw them give to nothing else.  I learned to live with the hate and the bullying after a while but that doesn't mean it was easy.  The staff ... they protected me when they could, sometimes at their own expense.  When I realized that is when I started being stronger; I couldn't allow them to sacrifice themselves for me.  I think I would have soon reached a place where nothing they did could have touched me ... and perhaps have finally reached it now that they are dead.  But back then I still had a few vulnerable places and ... and I made the mistake of taking in and becoming fond of a kitten I had taken from the barn.  It was a foolish thing to do.  I knew their dogs ... they let their dogs ... right there in the sitting room.  For such a small animal ... there was so much blood.  And they stood there and laughed ... said that I'd never have anything if they had to go through things and people one by one.  What none of us knew was that our husband had been going through the passage behind that particular sitting room for some reason ... he sometimes just spied on people to spy on them; it was unnerving and you had to be careful of your words all the time.  It was easier not to speak at all."

I stopped to arrange the disconnected scenes in my head.

"A few hours later he showed up in my chamber.  He had been drinking.  I could smell it on him.  He'd never done it before and the shock of it ... then he bid me come with him and ... and we wound up here."  I closed my eyes and shuddered.  "After ... after some time he ... he began to treat me strangely.  Telling me ... telling me he ... that he felt sorry for me but that ..."  I shook my head.  "He was speaking so disjointedly.  I think he was trying to ... to make up for what had happened, for my place in his household.  He told me that ... that he'd tell me a secret none of the other wives knew ... that none had ever known, that it was a secret only The Linder had, on pain of death.  He told me about the key and then he opened that secret passage over there.  I thought that was to be it.  Then he said that I would be his little 'secret keeper' just in case."

"In case of what?"

"I'm sorry Guardian ... I just don't know.  Maybe it meant nothing.  He was acting so strangely.  He pulled me off the bed, didn't even give me a chance to do his bidding ... just pulled me off like an old sheet and drug me into the passageway.  Then he turned on the lantern.  Everywhere I looked ..."

The Linder reached out and awkwardly patted my shoulder.  It surprised me so much I was able to continue.

"You ... you saw them.  The jars and ... and exhibits."  The men nodded.  "My husband fancied himself a ... a collector.  He was so proud ... arrogant ... about being The Linder but more about being a Guardian.  He started with a history of why the Guardians exist and how they have a sacred duty and ... and he collected things that ... that proved that the creation of the status helped bring order out of the chaos and saved not just our region but our race.  Those jars ... they hold the ... the results of the Days of Destruction that have been visited upon our race.  The diseases ... the deformities ..."  I shook my head again.  "It mimics what you might find at a teaching college in natural studies but these exhibits ..."  I shuddered.  "Please," I whispered. "I've seen it once, do not make me look at it again.  Just let us pass by and ... and I'll show you the rest."

"Is that the worst of it?" the Chancellor asked referring to the collection of horror-filled specimen jars and exhibits.

"Yes ... but there are passageways that lead ... that lead deep beneath the Hall to a place - a manmade cavern of sorts - where people hid during the worst of the Destruction.  There are still ... things ... remains ... down there.  That is another place I never wish to go again."

"How do you know of these places?" The Linder demanded.

"That night he drug me to and fro.  Sometimes I was close to being lost.  He would tell me stories ... I only half remember some of them and of that don't know what to believe. He shut me in that cavern for at least an hour before remembering to fetch me out.  No water, no lantern, nothing."  I shuddered again.  "Come, let us get this over with.  You will have to explore the rest of it on your own."

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