“This is beyond ridiculous,” I muttered in agitation at the excess show of status given to me. “Make them stop.”
The Sheriff did his best to shield me but with little success. “I would if I could but this is Tomas’ show.”
“What do you mean show?”
And unfortunately I did. I shan’t record it beyond saying that I was welcomed back to the fold with great ceremony, stood upon the dais like a fat pig at the fair, made much of a fuss over, and then put on display while The Linder and Guardian of Tentuckia – in full regalia no less – told everyone present that God had shown our land great favor. He’d defeated our dark enemies, sending to a judgment no one could fail to understand, saved the goods of the merchants so that no one need suffer from lack that the destruction would have brought, and in the end even delivered me into the hands of one of the land’s greatest heroes. The Sheriff snorted so loudly at that last bit that not even Tomas could have failed to have heard it even had his ears been stuck full of river mud.
Right when he was in danger of getting smacked with cushions by both the Sheriff and I The Linder finally found the good sense to end the drama play and hustled us all off to a warehouse that had been converted for his use.
I had thought to escape and pen a letter to Nat letting him know my fate but it was not to be to my great frustration. I was looking around for the children and becoming agitated when Rulie popped up from beneath the cushioned divan that The Linder had just sat upon … truthfully almost from between Tomas’ legs … and informed me, “Just so you know Lady, they’ve got food here the likes of which I’ve never seen and I’m not too sure it bain’t be poisoned. Though the girls be pleased to be getting all washed up, and primped like brides with new clothes and all.”
“Oh really … and were you to be ‘washed up and gotten new clothes’ as well?”
“Deep subject sprat. Now you listen hear. I have not been saved by you upon numerous occasions only to lose my chance at repaying you. You will go with …” I looked around and a rather formidable maid stepped forward.
“My name’s Emer if it pleases the Widow.”
“Hmmm. As long as your name pleases you that is all I care about on that end. However, Rulie here … may need a bit of encouragement to clean all his cracks and crevices.”
“Got a ton of brothers m’self Widow. M’brother Chaucey is a good ‘un and likes to help with the boys what are too old for nursemaids. Rulie here, he’s no baby so Chaucey said he’d help him find his way about.”
Rulie looked at me then Emer with some consideration but Emer sealed the deal when she said, “And after they get all cleaned up I’ve been instructed to make sure they get custard and milk both. Boys need custard and milk so they can get along with the job of being boys. Or so says m’mother who has been blessed with more than her fair share of ‘em.”
I couldn’t even move for fear of putting my status as risk in front of such a large and prestigious company. The Sheriff came to my rescue by saying to the maid, “Sensible girl. Boys do indeed need custard and milk. Lots of custard and milk. But only after they are clean or they won’t be able to truly enjoy the taste of it.”
“Wellllll,” drawled Rulie. “I b’lieve I’d best be going to see how Ropsy and the others are getting along. Don’t want ‘em to take on and worry none. I’ll be sure and tell ‘em about that …” Leaning over to me he asked, “Does custard and milk taste as good as sun lizards?”
I just managed to squeak out, “Even better.”
“Oh now you’re telling stories.”
“Nope. Upon my word.”
Rulie crawled out and consented to investigate my statement – after a thorough cleaning – and after he’d left the room a soldier stepped forward and said to the Sheriff, “My apologies Sir. He’s as nimble as a tree rat and as hard to catch as a hopped up jackthumper.”
Putting some authority into my words I said, “Be gentle with them. They truly did save me when they had no reason to and I will not see them repaid with darkness.”
The soldier nodded and then saluted the Sheriff before quickly hurrying after the retreating back of the maid.
“Really my Dear. No reason to? What of your … status? What of the great reward that The Linder himself underwrote?”
I turned to the speaker and it was Mrs. VanBuren Jr. The look on my face was not one of polite disinterest in her comment and the senior Mrs. VanBuren realized her daughter in law had made a grave error in direction.
Pointedly I told her, “Not everyone is so avaricious that they’d go looking for reward before doing a good deed.”
There was a collective gasp in the room and then I turned coldly from the two women to stare at The Linder who had said nothing to me directly as of yet. He was looking quite pale, as if he was ill. Carefully I asked, “There has been no time for the Sheriff to apprise me of most of the family’s health. Are you and the others …?”
Gruffly he said, “We’ve suffered some losses, painful losses.”
“Yes, I heard of Tosha’s bravery … and Ronald Nealy’s illness that has taken him from company.”
Surprised at my wording when I could have shattered his political hold he nodded and said, “Then you’ve heard the worst of it.”
Suddenly he leapt to his feet. “Out! Clear the room. I’ll not wait another moment to … to …”
The Sheriff went to his brother in an attempt to calm him and I saw James rush in from where he had been standing out of my line of sight. The room was soon emptied and silence fell. And then The Linder fell … at my feet.
“My Dear … I’m … I’m … sorry.”
Shocked almost to stupefaction I fell back. “Stop. Enough. Stand up! You are The Linder and the Guardian of Tentuckia!” I looked at The Sheriff and Chancellor and demanded. “Get him up!”
Hesitantly they approached him but then a word I’d never thought to hear from such a man spilled from his lips. “F … ffff … forgive me.”
“What?” I asked caught between so many emotions that I could barely stand it.
“Forgive me Leeda.”
I looked helplessly for some assistance then realized something. Carefully, trying to not overset the man further I said, “It is not my forgiveness you need, but your own. Now enough of this. What will Wendolyn say? And while we are on the subject, please tell how she is. I’ve scarcely dared to ask.”
Ignoring my later question he said, “You … you don’t forgive me?”
“For what?” I asked shaking my head. “For a momentary failure of clarity brought on by a series of unfortunate events? If you need it you have it though after my initial flash of anger followed by a better understand of what happened I’ve scarcely thought of it. Your sister didn’t mean to poison you. Certainly you would never have willingly ingested such a substance on your own. In the process being torn in two by …” I stopped, unwilling to say Tosha’s name. “By witness of someone that was under terrible duress and being manipulated herself?”
James’ voice broke in and said, “Tosha and I made peace. She was sorry. She was much … much weaker than I was aware. I should have been aware but that is my burden and my lesson to learn. In the end … my love wasn’t enough to save her but her love saved me. I can … can go on with that. Live to eradicate …” He stopped but I understood.
I nodded to him then turned to the Sheriff. “Come. Tell your brother …”
“Tell him what? That he was a complete and total ass? I’ve been telling him that my whole life. He hasn’t listened up to this point.”
“No,” I said in some exasperation. “Tell him that nothing that happened irreparably broke any of us.”
“No it didn’t and if you must know I’m all the stronger for it.”
The Linder chuckled sadly and muttered, “God help us all.”
“Best be glad He does because left to our own devices, apparently not even our status and supposedly inherited capabilities can stop us mucking our lives up. Now truly, let us get passed this and tell me how the rest of the family is.”
It took a while and I suspect I will always maintain some reserve where Tomas Linder, Guardian of Tentuckia is concerned, but for the Sheriff’s sake I made it easier for us to move along to the next part than I might have been inclined to when I first returned to Linderhall.