Monday, January 12, 2015

Chapter 101




Suddenly the Sheriff yelped and I realized that Rulie had kicked his shin.  I grabbed the boy before he could do any further damage.  “Easy Rulie … he is one of the good ‘uns.” 

“But he’s the Linder!” 

The Sheriff made such a horrified face and then snapped, “I, by God, am not!” followed by a string of curses saying what he’d do if he ever inherited said title that even Rulie was impressed.  

“Well, that tells it don’t it.  But he’s still an older.” 

That added to the look on the Sheriff’s face to such an extent that I dissolved into a fit of the giggles and sat down just managing not to squash Damsie.  “Oh … oh …. Ddddear.” 

Rulie, ever practical called, “Hela!  Kizzie!  Best get over here.  The Lady is being a girl.  Or at least sumpin’ close to it.” 

It took less time than it should have for introductions to be made though the explanations had to wait.  The Sheriff kept looking at me and saying, “They’ll never believe it.  Not for all the imports from across the ‘Cific and ‘Lantic combined.  Dear Creator Above, I don’t believe it.” 

I shook my head as he was being over familiar while placing me up on Charger.  “Do not take on so Sheriff.  In this heat it does your complexion no good at all.” 

He climbed into the saddle and for a moment looked outraged but then became so tendered it nearly melted my heart.  “I’ve missed you Widow.” 

Carefully, trying to maintain what little dignity I had left after making such a spectacle of myself in his arms I said, “There have been more than a few moments when I wished for your presence as well Sheriff.” 

“Good.  I’d feel a complete fool if I’d been the only one pining.” 

“Pining?  Surely not.  I’ve heard there is some ridiculous war going on.  For your safety you mind should have been on that.” 

His arms briefly stiffened and I noticed a disquiet in the other men.  “What?” I asked, all attempts at levity put aside.  “Was what I said in distates?” 

“No Love.  And don’t fly up into the boughs.  I’ll call you what you are and everyone else can go hang.” 

I sighed but it wasn’t for the romance of it.  “You shouldn’t speak like that.  It … politically …” 

“I’ll be demmed if I’m going to let politics get in my way.” 

I shook my head and Hela, riding up on a spare horse with Ropsy that was tied to one of the soldiers’ mares asked, “Ye sure this ‘un be the one you want this time around?  He seems mighty twitchy.” 

Trying not to laugh I said, “Yes, his nerves do often get overset, but only because he is so overbearingly protective.  I can’t imagine what he would have made of some of my recent exploits.” 

“Most likely would have wound up on a stretcher and blessing us all out.” 

“Most likely,” I agreed. 

I was growing weary and after a moment allowed myself to be more firmly pulled back into the Sheriff’s protection.  The children were all distracted by their first experience on a horse and I whispered, “I will not allow them to be hurt.” 

“They won’t be if I have to stand their protector myself.” 

“Truly?” 

“I give you my word Leeda.” 

I relaxed but then asked, “Can you tell me … this war … I … I am having trouble fathoming it.” 

“Wasn’t a war … almost was.” 

“Almost?” 

I felt the Sheriff shudder and whispered to him, “Tell me.” 

“Two days back we were all set for battle.  Both sides with no outcome certain.  We had the might of weapons but they had the might of numbers.  It was like looking at ants boiling for a mound.  Then …”  He shuddered again and all I could do was wait him out.  “It was just after daybreak.  Weapons poised on both sides.  Then there was a rumbling beneath our feet.  Nothing new, we’d been feeling them off and on since we’d arrived weeks back.  None on the east side of the river thought anything of it, just another in a serious of curiosities.  But from the west side … Dear Creator … Leeda, the wailing and screaming rose in such volume we at first thought it to be a battle cry.  It disappeared Leeda … it’s all gone.” 

“What is?” I asked fearing to hear of some new and terrible weapon found amongst the ancient ruins. 

“New Paduck.  It’s gone.  Swallowed up by the ground.” 

“What?!” 

He tried explaining it visually and I simply could not believe it.  Then he tried telling me what the Linderhall engineers had hypothesized.  “When the river split it revealed an ancient graveyard of ships and war machines the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the Days of Destruction.  I saw it; it looked … hellish.  But you can get used to anything I suppose and watching the Damned and their allies crawl through it all took the fear of the thing away and left in its wake a fear of what they might find.  Most of the worry was that they’d unearth another sepulcher of disease to loose upon our world.  All in the name of their dark god of course.” 

“Of course,” I agreed quietly. 

“But a strange thing began happening.  All of that flotsam began to disintegrate.  It was slow to start but once started nothing would stop it.  Within a week the ancient debris was down to the water line.  With the university scholars that have been besetting my brother moaning and groaning enough he nearly threw them in shackles to get them out from under foot.” 

“Your … brother?” 

“I’ll get to that.  Let me finish this part first.” 

“Very well.” 

“That decay, though we thought it had stopped continued below the water line.  What we also didn’t know was how deep the decay went.  Apparently New Paduck was built upon the wasteland left over from a great battle over a large city, the rubble of which was covered up by time and the meanderings of the Great River.  That debris was disturbed first by the earthshaker that split the river and then by the weight of the decaying matter collapsing upon it.” 

“If I understand this correctly,” I said working it out as he explained it to me.  “The draining of the water out of some of the area, as well as the weight of the collapsing debris field accelerated what the earthshaker had started.” 

“You see it correctly my Dear.  My very Dear.” 

“Oh Dear,” I said, unsure of the feelings that he was causing. 

“Too much?  Too soon?” 

“It is not that precisely.  I just can’t …absorb …” 

“I’m a fool.  You’ve been traumatized …” 

“Shhhh.  It is not so bad as all that.  The children have been amazingly helpful.  There is just much to tell you.  And there is much I need to hear.  And I would prefer for the rest of it for us to have … privacy.” 

“I accede to that Widow … Leeda … just tell me there is still hope for my suit.” 

“You do not need to play a drama troupe act Sheriff.  In all honesty …” I stopped to clear my throat.  “In all honesty Sheriff there is not chance of anyone having hope besides you.  But I cannot … not in front of …” 

“Shhhh.  Hope is all I needed.  I can live with the waiting.” 

“Very well,” I said grateful he was more in control of his intensity.  “Tell me how you were so miraculously at hand.” 

“We were taking a looksee to ascertain whether the Damned had additional forces in reserve.  At the same time James bid me to survey the river enough to let us sketch in how far downriver the debris stretched.” 

“James?  I … I must know.  Is Tomas …?” 

“Tomas is still The Linder.” 

I was concerned at the frost I heard in his voice.  “Sheriff?” 

The Sheriff shook his head briefly.  “James and I have … reconciled if you wish to call it that.  But Tomas … he’s … dammit.  He’s the one that started this war.” 

“What?!” 

“Aye.  None of us have been able to talk sense to him since he took the notion.  He … he blames himself for your death.” 

“But I’m not dead.” 

“No, Thank all that’s Holy.  But … but the his own brush with death, then finding such a rift in the family … though … I suppose you must know some of it.” 

“Do … you speak of Ronald Nealy?” 

“Aye,” he said and I could hear the click as he swallowed. 

“Did he live or die of his wounds?” 

“He lived.  He’s mad as a fungus vapper though.  I’d almost wish him sanity so he could understand the fate his choice has brought him to but … but for his mother and sisters …” 

“Let it go Darren.  Don’t carry such a burden.” 

“You called me Darren.” 

“For this I will.  And for the answer to this question also … what … what of Tosha?” 

“We buried her a few days after the siege.” 

“Poor Chancellor.” 

“She redeemed herself you know.”  At my silence he explained, “She was barely conscious, in truth would not have lived much longer.  Then a borderlander came through the window where the family was hold up.  From somewhere she found the strength to throw herself across James’ back.  She took a knife meant for him.  She died almost instantly but with such a look of peace on her face that James …”  He cleared his throat.  “It was agreed that wish most of the participants dead that her calumny would not be recorded.  Unless you object.” 

“No.  Whatever beset Tosha … she’s gone to her Judgment.  I leave it in God’s hands.” 

“My sweet Leeda.” 

I felt my face heat up and was grateful that it was dark enough under the trees that no one could see it. 

I had many more questions as I am sure the Sheriff had for me but there were riders coming towards us.  It took only a moment to ascertain they were sent to meet us and add their protection and consequence to our arrival.  It appears that we were to be given the royal treatment.

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