Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter Three



"You've found it," I told the man.

He had an air of authority despite his obvious fatigue.  "Then please call her girl.  I have important business to discuss and don't have all day to do it in."

I wiped my hands on my apron and sighed.  "Sir, I don't know what your important business could possibly be since I know you not but go ahead and get it done."

"It is private.  For the Widow's ears alone."

I gave him the look Mizz Marta would give to those who were being silly on purpose and said, "I don't see my ears getting away any time soon for their own privacy so as I said, speak."

The man looked at me and then looked at me more closely ... too closely.  "You?!  You are the Widow Linder?"

"I'm the only one called such around here. There are two others by that title so perhaps your business is with them; but to reach them you'll need to go to Linderhall."

He shook his head.  "I've just come from there."

"Widows Ceena and Tonya were not there?"

Rather than answer directly he asked, "Word has not been brought here?"

"What word?  And honestly why would any word from them come to me anyway?  Perhaps you are mistaken and you are looking for the Mayor's home."

"No."  He stopped and scowled but I got the impression it wasn't directed at me.  Slowly and carefully, like one who is wary of jokes, he asked, "Are you truly the Widow Linder?  The third wife of the old Guardian?"

"Yes."

"Well ... Marta said I was missing some of the facts but I had no idea ..."  Suddenly he remembered his hat and took it off and asked, "May I come in?"

"I would prefer if we took our business in the dooryard if you please."

He nodded in acceptance and then moved aside so I could step out.  I pointed to a set of stone benches and there we sat.  He seemed unable to find his tongue so I asked, "You know Mizz Marta?  Is she well?"

"Recovering.  Most of the household is."

"Recovering?" I asked in alarm.  "And the rest of the household as well?  What has happened?"

"Someone claiming to be a messenger from the Great Council weaseled their way passed the guards.  We too late found that the documents he carried for identification were fake.  He came from one of the borderlands but we did not find out at whose direction before his death.  He carried some kind of plague, intentional or not is unknown."

"An anarchist?" I asked, referring to those that fought against the loose confederation of regions that worked together to deal with lands across the waters.  My husband had had trouble with them and cursed about them on a regular basis.

"Possibly."

I stopped to try and order my thoughts.  "Does Mizz Marta need my help?  I will do anything that I can."

"It is ... more than that.  Though I did not believe her at first when she said that you would come.  Yet you accept so quickly."

I shrugged.  "I owe her my life.  Anything I have to give is hers to have."

He crossed his arms and sighed.  "Are you certain you know none of this?  A rider was sent out more than two weeks ago.  He came back saying he delivered his news."

I shrugged again.  "I do not go about in town much.  Though, it is strange that my cousin did not tell me.  Nat would have heard anything that is common knowledge as he is a Brother at the church."

The man shook his head.  "The messenger was sent to the Mayor with instructions to get word to you."

Carefully I blanked my face and tried to look pleasant the way that the comportment teacher had taught me to behave when I had to be in public at Linderhall.  "I am sure it is merely an oversight or perhaps the rider did not ..."

He shook his head. "It is not your concern to bear.  I'll find out the truth of it, for now I have need of speech with you."

"Then speak," I told him hoping he would get to the point whatever it might be.

"You are the widow of my father's cousin."

"If you say so.  The genealogies of the Linders were not considered ... they were not considered part of what was necessary for me to know."

Understanding more than I was comfortable with he nodded.  "Aye.  The old Guardian was called The Linder as most before him were.  My father descends through the same line and same name though it was never in his mind that he'd inherit the seat on the Council that his cousin filled.  It was with some surprise that we all heard the news and our move from our holdings by necessity was fast and unfortunately disorderly.  We were informed only vaguely what we would be stepping into; however, it was expected that Father would have the care of three widows when he took over the job."  I saw his distaste but whether it was for caring for three widows, the fact that there were three widows to care for, or for the "job" itself I'm not certain.

"Well obviously he did not.  I am sorry if it has caused the new Guardian any problems."

"Humph.  The two were enough with their constant quoting of Old Law to make it seem like Father should marry them and put them back where they belonged in status."

I kept my face as pleasant as I could.

"Hmmm.  It does not seem a surprise to you. Did you not want to be part of such as scheme?"

"Ceena and Tonya would have ... preferred ... to keep their own counsel on such matters.  Perhaps you should speak to them about it."

"Can't.  Unless you wish me to dig them up out of the church yard and I doubt they'd tell me much even then."

I felt the blood drain from my face and settle some place down in my slippers.  "You did not say ... did the ... the plague ..."

"Aye," he said.  "And I apologize for baring the news to you in such a way.  I needed to know if you were playing tricks."

"About what?  And why would I do ... ?"  I shook my head and stood up completely shocked.

"Aye.  As I said, you have my apologies."  He stood as soon as I did and swore softly beneath his breath speaking of great frustration and no respect for my presence.

I said, "I do not know why you are here but if it was this news to deliver then you've done so.  You've done your duty so you may leave."

"Damn, I've handled this like a chucklehead."  He paced a bit before asking me to sit down.  I did so only reluctantly and he quickly sat as well as if he was worried that I would run off if he did not.

Before he could put voice to his frustration I asked, "How bad was the plague?  Were many in the household taken off by the angels?"

"Fewer than should have been thanks to Marta but the damage it did do was more than sufficient.  My Father and his Consort, Dwen Lafayette; Widows Ceena and Tonya; the Sheriff; and a few other key understaff."

"The belowstairs?"

"No deaths but many illnesses as they trusted themselves to Marta's potions faster than the above stairs did.  It has left the Hall in disarray."

"And right at harvest time."

"Aye, you see it.  Marta said you would."

"You mentioned your father's passing.  So you are the new Guardian?"

"No, thank all that's holy.  My brother is and better suited to the nightmare of it than I would ever be.  He thrives on all of the intrigue and politics.  And his wife is much the same."  He shuddered.

"I'm afraid I still do not know what it is you seek from me."  He stood up again and I suddenly realized he reminded me of a military man.  "Have you brought your troops with you?"

"What?  Has something been said?"

I shrugged.  "I have no idea.  You simply remind me of the Mayor's Captain when you stood like that.  I'm afraid it is my turn to apologize now for speaking out of line."

The man relaxed.  "No need.  I was a Captain in my father's guard before he became Guardian.  My job changed somewhat when he inherited.  My brother has a mind to keep me close so as to have an ally ... at least until the line of succession is secured and made peace with."  He set his shoulders and then forced himself to sit once again.  I wondered if he was beginning to feel like a child's toy with the constant popping up and down.  "Widow Linder ... er ... Leeda.  May I call you that?"

"Given your status you can call me what you choose."

He sighed.  "This isn't going at all like I had planned.  I had expected to find a woman not a ..."

I shook my head, the man surely wasn't happy and not the least bit a smooth talker.  Trying to hide the irony I told him, "Dispense with the flattery Sir and simply state your business."

He started to rub his eyes and then his mouth fell open when I slapped his hands and told him, "Stop that.  You've probably been touching all manner of filth on the road between Linderhall and here.  Do you wish to rub it into your eyes and cause an infection?"

Then he barked a tired laugh.  "You sound just like April."  At my inquiring look he said, "My older sister.  And I suppose it will be simpler to treat you as such.  The Hall is in need of more ... something ... organizing ... ordering about ... than any of us can give it.  Marta gives what guidance she can but my sister in law is ... is ...  To put it bluntly she is fit for the board room and bedroom but not for the running of an establishment like the Hall.  My sisters do what they can but Wendolyn can be a bit touchy about status and what she sees as implied criticism ... not to mention she is six months gone with her first child and the worry of it and the danger left behind by the plague is driving my brother mad when he needs all his focus."

"I still do not see ..."

"It is the damned issue of status again.  It is Wendolyn's bread and butter and she is oversensitive right now.  But as a widow of the old Guardian ..."

My face must have been a sight because he stopped in surprise and then laughed.  "You look like you've bitten into an unripe persimmon."

Trying to school my features I said, "I beg your pardon."

"Don't.  This is the first laugh I've had in ... in a long time.  And it at least lets me know that if you come back to the Hall it will not be for love of what you left behind or desire to have it back."

I shook my head.  "No.  It would not be because of that.  Still ... there's Marta ..."

"And if she was herself and full of strength I have no doubt that woman could manage Wendolyn quite well, but she isn't and in fact is who sent me for you."

"Mizz Marta is asking for me?  For true?"

"Aye."

"Then why didn't you say so.  Of course I'll go to her."

"Slow down.  This will not be for a few days or even a few weeks.  It will likely be the work of the whole harvest and then the winter.  Perhaps even the Spring as well."

I shrugged.  "It's not like I have anything else to do.  When do you want to leave?"

"I would like to ride out now but I must pay a visit to the Mayor of Harper."  From the look on his face I knew it wasn't just to tell Rom's father Bless You and Yours.  "Two days ..."

"Make it four if you please.  I would like to see my cousin Nat on his way and it will give me time to shut up the cabin against the seasons while I am gone."

"So be it.  I will stop by again to discuss travel arrangements."


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