Having dined on a feast of facts I thought I had reached my limit but yet hesitated to say such because I knew it would mean leaving the Sheriff’s presence. It was then that The Linder decided to discombobulate me one more time.
“Leeda … I need your input.”
“On the terms of surrender.”
“I … I beg your pardon?” I asked, sure that I must have heard him wrong.
The Sheriff snapped, “Honestly Tomas, she’s had enough. Leave her be.”
Tomas shook his head sadly. “I would if I could … and you can lay this at my feet for blame as I spoke hastily.”
Fear gripped me and putting out my hand I said, “Stop. Just explain it to me. In words of as few syllables as possible if you please. My brain is about to pop.”
“It was the Convention of War convened by the Great Council. There was some talk that I was out to subjugate the Borderlands so that I might … hmmm …”
“They thought you were going to annex a portion of the Borderlands and upset the delicate political balance we all exist under.”
The Linder nodded. “Very good. You see it.”
“A blind buffalo with one ear and three legs could see it. And having been exposed to some of those people during my first marriage some of them are akin to such an animal. Few of them have even travelled more than a few feet, if that, into the Borderlands. They have no idea of the …”
James broke in and said, “We tried to explain it. Darren even brought witnesses and proof but … they’d insisted on Tomas being present and he still wasn’t at his best.”
Tomas said, “You’re being too kind James. I should never have been let out of the nursery I was locked in at that point.”
“And you said?”
He sighed and his brothers looked away trying to not witness his shame. “Among other things I said they were a bunch of cowards and didn’t seem able to see that if it could happen to someone of your status it could happen to someone of theirs.”
“And exactly how did you walk out of the room without someone assassinating you?!”
“It wasn’t easy. It might yet have happened if Darren hadn’t been there was an entire unit of the Guards. Then word got around. Gossip had it that the war was over you … er …”
“Oh for the love of …” I groaned and felt ill. “Do not say it. Do not. I may be a stronger person than I was but there are still some things that could very well overset my stomach to such a degree that …”
“So Darren kindly explained to me once he’d gotten wind of the rumors.”
I could tell from his tone that kindness really hadn't factored into the explaining at all.
Slowly I turned to the Sheriff and asked, “Was that the reason for your … warm … reception when you …”
I got no further before The Sheriff had gathered me up and hauled me out of the room. “I will not be thwarted by my own idiot brother. I won’t.”
“Oh do put me down before someone sees.”
“I don’t care. Now you listen to me Leeda Harper Linder. If it takes me until the sun sets for the last time I will prove to you that my feelings have nothing whatsoever to do with anything but you being you and me being me.”
There was a pause in the proceedings that I simply will not share but afterwards we returned to the Sheriff’s brothers’ company and The Linder, after giving us both an appraising look, explained that in order to right the political mess that had been made, now that I’d returned I was to have a say in the terms of surrender.
“Preposterous. What have I to say about such a thing? I wasn’t even dead. It was a mistaken belief.”
“Yes m’dear and I am more thankful of that than I can express.”
“But it makes no sense!”
“Nevertheless our status must be brought forward and an end put to this situation so the whole of Tentuckia can move forward.”
I could have cried out of frustration but then for some reason I thought of Old Solomon’s “ghost.” I thought of the old priests of Nat’s order and the things they’d told me. I thought of the lessons Nat have given me and the books I’d read at the town library. Then I started asking questions.
“How many survivors?”
“Survivors? How many? The darkfriars … priests of the damned … whatever they are calling themselves these days. How many survived the New Paduck tragedy?”
“You call it a tragedy?”
“Tragedy, coincidence, luck, blessing … people will call it whatever they will for decades to come. But if we are to write the history books as the victors, lets make sure that it is a truthful history and with as good a resolution as we can create and some moral to it.”
The brothers three looked at one another. It was the Sheriff who said, “The destruction of New Paduck is complete. We’ve found no survivors and we’ve honestly looked. It’s been difficult to even find any bodies. The entire area simply liquefied and swallowed everything. You have to dig down over six feet to find the first evidence that New Paduck even existed.”
“By all that’s Holy.”
James nodded. “Aye. But there are enough certificated witnesses – academics, church fellows, and military – from this side of the river that we cannot be accused of covering up what really happened.”
“Very well, but you’ve all heard the story of the original darkfriars.”
“You mean are there enough left to rebuild?”
James shook his head. “We’ve no evidence of it.”
“You should give it some more time. Watch carefully. The sect was dying but they’ve spread out from the borderlands enough that … it could still be possible.”
The Sheriff nodded, “We are going through all the evidence left by Ceena and Tonya, as well as what we are learning by interrogating others that have been found connected to the Damned, and an investigation is underway.”
“But don’t let it turn into a witch hunt. It would be sad to turn into the very thing we are fighting against.”
The Linder steepled his fingers and asked me, “What boon will you ask for your kidnapping?”
“Boon? For myself none, I have no need for such. However, there are children that need to be given a choice – a viable one – that need access to education and training so that they can survive and prosper in the new world they are going to be faced with. There are children like Damsie – the child you saw me carrying who is Rulie’s twin – that will never be able to fully function without some type of assistance. There are children being begatted that need protection from death at the hands of those who would kill them … perhaps kill and consume … simply because they aren’t free enough of the curses left over from the Days of Destruction.”
“You set no small task … and one that would bankrupt Tentuckia if we tried.”
“We can’t do it on our own. I suggest we enlist the Church and other private foundations rather than turn it into a political circus. There are sects that would take these children in and care for them if no one else can be found. I know of the whereabouts of a sect of the Compassionate that even have some experience with dealing with the behavior of the Damned who might even help to spearhead some of this along the river as an initial test. Torm and Kizzie – the two oldest that came in with me – might even have some ideas on how to proceed.”
“But they’re …”
“Careful Linder … your status is showing.”
After a moment The Linder inclined his head. “So it is. But these are not the conditions of surrender and that we must start with.”
Without hesitation is said, “Complete and total unconditional surrender.”
All three me stopped and sat up. “What? You expected me to beg for mercy on their behalf? No. The darkfriars, priests of the damned, all of them … it must stop and it must stop here and now. Their way of life is abhorrent. The belief system deranged. Curses are blessings and blessings are curses. The madmen are in charge of the asylum. The way they live they could start a plague of unimaginable proportions and none of us would be safe from it.”
James looked at the Linder and at the Sheriff. “There is some legal basis for that last … we could take it before the Convention and with reasonable proof we could act on behalf of …”
The discussion went on well into the night. I must have fallen asleep at some point before the next thing I remember is hearing Nat’s voice. “Has she seen a doctor?”
“I was hoping that you would be the one to broach that subject with her.”
“Oh ho … soon to be family you may be but you’ll need to toughen up if you wish to have Leeda do your bidding.”
“All I wish is that she let me do hers for the rest of my days.”
Nat snorted. “You’ve got it bad my son. Very, very bad.”
“Whatever it is I hope there is no cure.”
Barely able to swallow my throat was so dry I muttered, “I simply must find some way to exercise that romanticism out of you. If anyone were to hear the Sheriff of Tentuckia talking such nonsense …” A cup quickly came to my lips and a sipped gratefully.
“No one but you – and perhaps occasionally your cousin here as it is a delight to actually find something that flusters the man – will hear it. I do have some concern for my consequence you know.” I heard the humor of his tone but also concern.
“I’m fine. But oh Nat, I have such a lot to tell you. So much to tell you both. The world is such a strange and wondrous place. Both bigger and smaller than I ever thought. So many consequences that aren’t consequences but fulfillment of destinies. And … oh, there really isn’t a place that The Light doesn’t reach.”
In due time Leeda had told all her tale with both men wondering at it, each one having their own ideas of how and why the events took place and were resolved. They also wondered at the changes in Leeda herself. On the surface she was the same but there was also a new depth to her … one that always sought a better understanding of things but also learned that sometimes she simply had to accept and have faith even when she didn’t understand.
The rest of the tale can be recorded something like this. Nat lived to be a ripe old age, eventually moving from the university to Linderhall where Leeda could look after him when he wasn’t studying the old texts of the Linderhall Library and other written artifacts brought in for him by the many Linder children that eventually populated the grounds. He also became a favorite at the local school, with his tutoring sending many to university that might not otherwise have attained it.
Marta continued to fail in health and mental faculties but was nursed by faithful Alice, who after Marta’s death, returned briefly to Linderhall to complete her training under Leeda and the new Linderhall Housekeeper, the redoubtable Mrs. Dargen who turned out to be less of a dragon once Leeda came to know her. In fact they became close friends for many years as Leeda continued to prefer Below Stairs to the drawing rooms of Linderhall.
April was reunited with the young man her father had sent packing, both of them more mature and ready for the challenges they faced since they came from far different status levels and backgrounds … the young man being a half-begat of the tribe that had stolen April in her childhood. April eventually moved to a farm gifted to her new husband by the Linder brothers and set up her own housekeeping and gave birth to a son before catching a plague and losing her ability to begat successfully. She was depressed for a time until her husband suggested that they take in and raise some of the Borderlander children whose families turned them out as he had been taken in and raised by a family that had found him wandering after he'd been turned out for a birthmark he carried on his cheek. It was a success and when eventually death found April – as it must find us all eventually – her marker was carved simply with the word “Mother” and she numbered dozens of children as those she’d loved and helped to raise.
The younger sisters likewise grew up and carried on with life but it was to April they often returned to as she’d been a second mother to them all along.
Chell Linder retired from public life for the remainder of her years. Her husband outlived his addiction but never lost the weakness of character that caused it. She distanced herself from his antics when she could but her brothers were called often to step in and clean up a mess that threatened her. She tried to leave him numerous times but then fell for his pleas that he would change. He never did. Two days before their oldest child attained their majority the man became drunk and fell into a pond on their property. It was the middle of winter and it was a while before he was missed. Eventually he was found but not a person could be found that expressed great enthusiasm for his rescue. Pneumonia set in and eventually Chell finally found peace that she couldn’t while the man still lived. She never remarried but had no regrets and found solace in quietly helping behind the scenes of the local home for women looking to start a new and productive life.
The Borderlander children that had saved Leeda were all given a solid education and training as she promised them, and were encouraged to seek their fortune and better their lot from their beginnings. Torm, Kizzie, Hela, and Ropsy remained together to the end of their days, sharing in raising Hela and Rospy’s begats. Some found it unusual but others took it as an example and years later you could still find communal homes where those formerly called Damned would join with a begetting couple to co-parent and share in the responsibilities of providing for and loving special children.
Damsie did not live to adulthood but she lived many more years than she was ever expected to. When she was laid to rest under a spreading cherry blossom tree the entire Linder family agreed that her headstone would read “Damsie Linder, Our Small Wonder.” Her brother Rulie became Nat’s apprentice and after some years became a noted author in his own right, translating – and often embellishing – stories from the ancients into the prose favored by children and young people of his era.
James Linder eventually remarried to a young woman introduced to him by his half brother. He and his new bride were content in each other with both uninterested in anymore drama than was necessary. Doctor Cummins and his wife continued on as The Linder’s personal physician, one of their sons eventually succeeding in that position. Tomas and Gwendolyn continued in a monogamous marriage despite the pressure for Tomas to take up the practice of multiple wives as predecessors had. Tomas however was adamant in his refusal as was several of The Linders who came succeeded him, all of them to a man stating vehemently that one wife was more than enough to keep any sane man entertained and busy.
Leeda and Darren married and shared many years together and as the succession was secured by Tomas and Gwendolyn’s rather large brood they never had to worry about the burden of the politics of, as Darren put it, “being in line for the throne.” Was Leeda and Darren’s life perfect? No, no more than anyone’s life is perfect. They were two strong-willed people with the added burden of a high status and lots of responsibilities. It also took Leeda some time to overcome the fears she’d learn to have in her first marriage, but Darren was as patient as he had promised and with time their private times flourished and they begat a respectable sized brood of their own who could – if they were being honest – get into enough scrapes to make the mischief of their many cousins pale in comparison. There were those times when Leeda and Darren were out of charity with each other but it only made those times that they were even sweeter.