Chapter Three Cubed
Scene One: Childhood Incident
Half a minute ago, Denario had been worried about being too soft-hearted to conduct an investigation. Now he realized that he’d been too hard on a boy who had, after all, been beaten. Probably Leonid had been threatened and pressured to other commit crimes for the gentry. Now, as he’d known in his heart had to happen, he’d been caught.
“Leonid,” he said. He didn’t know how to reassure the slave. If the town decided he was someone’s property, he was at the mercy of their whims. “Boy. Get up.”
As Leonid continued his blubbering, looking more and more like a frightened child, Ulf appeared in the doorway to the church. Brand joined a moment later.
It took the newcomers a while to take in the scene but they seemed to understand. The leap in logic couldn’t have been hard. Unfortunately, from the way the two reacted, Brand and Ulf seemed to assume that Denario had done the beating. The difference was that Brand nodded with approval while Ulf sped over to join Ragna at the lad’s side.
They all had to wait for the sobs to subside enough for the boy to breathe.
“No one’s going to hurt you anymore,” Ragna said, perhaps seeing that Ulf had not quite understood. “There are no gentlemen here.”
“We know you were pressed into this crime,” added Denario. “Rise from the floor, Leonid. We need you to tell us who beat you. And why. Explain how this all happened.”
“Huh, huh, huh,” Leonid said. He scooted to his knees. His mouth moved as he tried to speak through his heaving. “Huh, huh, he. He … he bought me!”
“The gentleman!” He wailed. He leaned back on his feet, still seated, the way a child would. He wiped the dripping tears out of his mouth. “It was Master Grimsli. And then he b-beat me.”
He rolled up one sleeve of his robe. Along his left arm there was a row of fresh bruises, still hot and pink with the centers beginning to swell and purple. One mark, the size of a fist, had started to turn green. The boy had been tortured by someone who was rather expert.
One of the dwarfs, Ulf, grunted in outrage. Ragna merely sighed. It was the sigh that attracted Denario’s attention. It felt to him as if the heavy dwarf had expelled his faith in humanity in that breath. The accountant felt ashamed. He’d seen this sort of thing before. The dwarfs hadn’t. Even many humans never did, of course. When they did see something like it for the first time, their reactions usually surprised Denario. They seemed so shocked and dismayed, sometimes even outraged. He forgot that not everyone knew about this part of life.
Leonid leaned forward on his hands and knees. His legs struggled to move, to get his body upright.
“Was there a record of the transaction, Leonid?” Denario felt that he shouldn’t let the boy’s thoughts run on too far or too fast. He needed to pose questions to occupy his mind. “That is, of your sale to the master?”
“I-I don’t know.” The boy lifted his head as he tried to remember. He lifted into a crouch. “A paper passed between the old Grimsli and young Brumsbeard. I didn’t see what was on it.”
“It was illegal from beginning to end.” For a moment, he thought he’d have to prove that. But he didn’t, not really. He only needed to sway the opinions of the most important people. “We need Jakob Seidel. He’s the main one.”
“Oh, yes.” The deputy had been standing in shock. He seemed to wake from a trance. “I got to go and get the mayor. That’s my duty. Bring in the mayor.”
“It’s a shame. Shame to hang the boy. Don’t want to see it.”
Denario shot out of his chair before a thought entered his head. He looked down to see his knife in his hand. He’d taken it from his belt on instinct.
He pointed it at deputy Voight.
“You watch your mouth.” To the left of Denario’s vision, he could see the dwarfs staring aghast. “This boy isn’t going to hang. You can tell your mayor that. Leonid acted as a slave doing his master’s bidding. If you try to blame this cheating on him, you’ll prove to your knight that you’re the lot of cowards and thieves that he suspects you are.”
“I ...” Voight seemed at a loss for a moment. “I don’t want to see it. Really. I know it’s unfair. How could … how could anyone not see it’s unfair? But Mayor Seidel said the penalty was death. He won’t back down. The old mayor hung those children last year because the priest said they were guilty like men.”
A hiss escaped Ulf’s lips.
“Bring your mayor, then,” said Denario. He returned the knife to his belt. To himself, he dared this town to do more evil.
“I’ll walk with you, Voigt.” There was a twinkle in Brand’s eye as he spoke.
“I know the way.” The deputy’s brow darkened. His lips set into a heavy-looking sulk.
“There are nasty gentlemen about. This is their work. Anyway, Voight, I insist. After all, you are in some danger.”
The deputy paused to think. He must have realized that the person most likely to put a blade in his back was Brand. He also could see that the former caravan master was going to follow anyway, permission or not, and he wasn’t going to be intimidated. The deputy froze. One heavily-booted foot moved forward. He pulled it back. His glance swept the room. He couldn’t find comfort in the gazes that returned.
“Oh, come on.” Voight’s hand rose and fell, his gesture of concession. He marched out into the misty night.
Next: Chapter Twenty-Seven, Scene Two