The Children of Stron – part 58

Table of Contents (spoilers)

read part 57

Captain Fairchild’s brigade reached Callic village just after dark. They posted pickets all around the town as they set up camp just outside the walls. Once everyone had their fill of beholding the ettercap and monstrous spider on the wall, Fairchild sent one of his full-plated lieutenants by the name of Archibald into town with a squad of twenty hardened men to relieve Lieutenant Batter.

Sitting outside his tent waiting to be served dinner with Peep, Thorn, Pinch, and Knuckle, Captain Fairchild debriefed Batter.

“The scoundrel give you any trouble?”

“No, sir. He came along to the church. Still armed, mind ye. But he gave me his parole that he and his would wait there, detained for questioning,” Batter said, standing at a relaxed semblance of attention in his bandit-looking kit and brigandine armor.

“So he and his men are all in the church, you say?” Fairchild asked pointedly.

“Yes, sir.”

“Just a point of fact, Lieutenant,” Fairchild said, looking annoyed. “But if they are in the church, armed no less, they are not detained. You cannot detain someone in a church, where they can always claim sanctuary if they so choose. So they are not detained. Yes? You ought to know this.”

“My apologies, sir,” Lieutenant Batter said, his posture firming up quite properly. “I do know this. I misspoke, sir. When confronted, Mason did not consent to arrest without warrant, but agreed to wait for questioning if taken to the church.”

“There we have it. Details are important, Lieutenant.”

“Understood, sir. I apologize.”

“It’s quite alright. At ease,” Fairchild said, looking cheerful again. “So, where is this holy stoner jink monk?”

“In the church with the priest and his men, keeping an eye on the priso— the… Mason and his men,” Batter said, catching himself as he was just about to make another mistake of semantics.

“Very good. We’ll leave him to it for now. How does he look, Batter?”

“Sir? Mason?”

“No, Batter! The jink monk! Is he fearsome?”

Batter looked thoughtful. “I suppose so. Short. But thick as a boar. Iron wheel of Stron around his neck. Seems a killer.”

“Without a doubt! With his blood and upbringing? I am quite excited to meet him, I must say! And the priest?”

“Yes sir?”

“How is he? Altas or Stron?”

“Stron, sir. Seems solid. Mason and his men seem to have been brought to heel by him before I showed up.”

“Well that is good news. Callic is in good hands, then! Lovely! Okay, here is what I want. Go back to the church and invite the priest and jink here to dinner. Relieve Lieutenant Archibald of his watch and tell him to report back to me. Any questions?”

“No, sir!” Lieutenant Batter snapped off a smart salute and hurried off.

Lieutenant Archibald soon rejoined them.

“They giving you any trouble, Archibald?” Fairchild asked.

“Not as such. He demanded to speak to you.”

“I’m sure he did. You have all twenty of your men in the church with them?

“Yes, sir. In the church and right around it. There are just nine of them in total, but they all seem hard.”

“I’ve no doubt they are. There is to be no bloodshed within the church, though. I trust everyone understands that?”

“My men do. I cannot speak for the Chisel and his, though. What are your orders if they start?”

“In that case you are to retreat from the church itself and contain them there. Then we shall support the priest in his preferred course of action. Do you agree?” Fairchild asked his much more experienced subordinate.

“Yes, sir. Sound plan, sir.”

“Thank you. Where are the brigands’ horses?”

“In the tavern stables, sir.”

“Okay then. Here is what I want you to do, Lieutenant. Take another twenty men into the village and fetch those horses out. Turn them over to Lieutenant Batter and his men for safe keeping and tell Batter that he and his are relieved once they tend to them. Then, keep your additional men within the town walls, but outside the church. Secure the village, Lieutenant. Is forty men sufficient?” Fairchild asked earnestly.

“Absolutely, sir.”

“Good. Say nothing to Mason and his men. Just that they are to await my summons to be interviewed. If any of Mason’s men leave the church without Mason, you let them. However, they are not to leave the village. If Mason leaves the church, arrest him and any men with him immediately. If Mason kicks up a fuss about that, tell him I have his blasted warrant, but shall not be compelled to produce it for the likes of him upon his say so. When I am ready, I shall get to it. If he and any of his then resist, kill them.”

“Very good, sir.”

With this, Fairchild bantered in a lighthearted manner with his guests. He mostly focused his attention on Pinch and Knuckle to learn about their upbringing at the Brothers of the Holy Stone orphanage in Pekot. When Father Nate and Choke joined them, Captain Fairchild introduced himself and welcomed them with perfect etiquette. A simple but hot and hearty dinner was served, and Fairchild proved a convivial host. Despite his earlier fixation on Choke, he gave little indication of it during the meal. As for drink, he served a good white wine with the meal, followed by brandy.

“I am quite sorry I cannot offer any desert, Miss Otilla, but we are on the march, after all. I do hope you forgive me,” Fairchild said, giving Peep an apologetic bow.

“Yeah, I guess I’ll get over it,” Peep smirked.

When the brandies were done, Captain Fairchild turned to more serious matters:

“I am quite sorry for despoiling such a lovely evening with such an unpleasant topic, but I fear I must. It is about Mr Mason and his little gang. Tomorrow, we shall have a day of rest here while Sergeant Munn gathers my levy of longbowmen. During that time, I should like to put the whole sordid affair of Mr Mason and his backers to rest. Yes? So, to that end, let me just see if I understand everything correctly.”

Captain Fairchild went on to detail in concise terms everything that Peep and Pinch had told him regarding the matter.

“Did I miss anything?” Fairchild asked when he had finished.

“No, I think that covers it, sir,” Pinch answered after a long silence none of his compatriots seemed inclined to break.

“Good! So, Father Nate, I think that first thing tomorrow morning, I should like to speak to the couple that were accosted by Mr Mason’s men. Formally, I mean. As a matter of evidence. And, anyone else here that had close dealings with the rogues is welcome to speak to me as well if they feel their interactions with them in any way ascended to the level of criminal. Is that something you could help me with, Father?”

“Of course, Captain.”

“Thank you. Then, with all relevant evidence assembled, I think we can manage a trial tomorrow. Would you care to help me with that, Father?”

“Of course, Captain. It would be my very great pleasure,” Father Nate said happily.

“Most excellent! Sergeant!” Captain Fairchild said to the soldier that had been attending them like a servant.

“Yes, sir.”

“Get the Baron’s warrant for Mr Mason’s arrest out of my satchel, would you? Then go and give it to Lieutenant Archibald. He is to inform Mr Mason that I am ready to interview him and his men here in camp. When they leave the church, arrest them.”

“And if they don’t leave the church, sir?”

“Then come back and inform us of that.”

“Yes, sir. Once arrested, where would you like them put?” the sergeant asked.

“Good question! Any suggestions, Father?”

“Yes, there’s an empty cellar under the church stables. We use that as our gaol here. It should work,” Father Nate said.

“Pardon me, Father,” Fairchild said, looking concerned. “That is not within consecrated ground, is it? They cannot claim sanctuary there, can they?”

“No, it is not consecrated. So, they cannot.”

“Very good! Sergeant, once they are in custody, disarm them, strip them of their armor, and bind them tight. And you need not be gentle getting them down into the cellar. I want them to understand the precise nature of their situation.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Once they are safe and sound in the cellar, Lieutenant Archibald may set a guard and relieve any men he does not feel are necessary to keep the town secure. Any questions?” Captain Fairchild asked.

“No, sir,” the sergeant said.

“Very good, then. Dismissed.”

Before the sergeant could leave, however, Father Nate raised his hand and leaned in.

“Yes, Father?” Captain Fairchild said, holding his hand up to keep his sergeant from leaving.

“I’m just wondering if ye want me there, Captain?” Father Nate asked.

“Ah! My apologies, Father! How rude of me! I should have asked. I am quite sorry,” Fairchild said earnestly, looking quite upset with himself as he stood to give Father Nate a deep bow of apology.

“No, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it. I’m here to help is all. Wherever ye need me, Captain,” Father Nate said with an indulgent smile.

“Thank you, Father. But I unreservedly apologize! I quite overstepped my bounds! As the parish priest and local magistrate, you are the ranking official here. Particularly since the rogues are in your church after you brought them to heel. It is unforgivable for me to forget it!”

“Not at all. Forgiven and forgotten, Captain. Really,” Father Nate rose to clasp Captain Fairchild’s hand in both of his.

Captain Fairchild took a knee and bent to kiss Father Nate’s hand.

“Thank you for your understanding, Father,” Fairchild said, keeping to his knee with his eyes downcast.

“All is well. Stron bless you, my son,” Father Nate said, tracing the Wheel over Captain Fairchild’s head before giving him a tap to allow him to rise.

When they were all finally seated again, Captain Fairchild took another moment to compose himself before continuing:

“With all respect to your position, Father, and your offer to help, which is most appreciated, I assure you; I think I would prefer my men handle this alone. As the Baron’s agent, I have the authority to act in this matter, as well as to pass summary judgement as I see fit. I think that your involvement, as right and just as it would be, of course, would possibly confuse things. It is important for the Baron that these men understand that it is his displeasure with their conduct prior to coming to this valley that has led them to this fate. As well, I would hate for the arrested to make some kind of appeal for sanctuary of you.”

“I quite understand, Captain. And you have no fear of that. I have no intention of giving them sanctuary or clemency. In fact, if they don’t leave my church of their own accord, I shall be evicting them personally!” Father Nate said as he thumped his leg.

“Well, if I may say, Father, it pleases me greatly to hear you say that. It is up to you then. If you want to go along with Sergeant Stonehouse to evict them into Lieutenant Archibald’s custody, I would be most grateful,” Fairchild said.

“Yeah, but…” Peep interjected, “that kinda undercuts the whole, they are beneath yar contempt angle you’ve been setting up. Right? If Father Nate comes along and boots them out, that’s official, right? Kinda makes it seem like they deserve to be taken seriously. Sending yar man to hustle them outta there, and then rough em up to dump them likes sacks of fertilizer in the cellar; that’s showing them the level of disrespect that, it seems to me, ye were after in the first place, Captain. Right?”

Captain Fairchild smiled brightly at Peep. “Just so!” he proclaimed. “What think you, Father?”

“Seems right to me,” Father Nate chuckled, giving Peep a sideways look.

“Well there we have it! Marvelous! Sergeant, you may proceed with your original orders,” Captain Fairchild said with a salute.

Sergeant Stonehouse saluted and left. Captain Fairchild smiled pleasantly at his guests and held up a placating hand to beg their indulgence. He tapped his ear and pointed towards the village before holding his finger over his mouth in a shushing gestured. They all sat listening expectantly.

It took only a few minutes for the racket of angry and alarmed shouts to reach them from inside the village. It was soon quiet again. After about ten minutes of light banter, Sergeant Stonehouse returned to report that Alan “the Chisel” Mason and all his men had been arrested outside the church without incident and were now in the church stable’s cellar, as per orders. As well, it seemed likely that none of them had died in their trussed-up descent down the cellar steps, but it was hard to be certain of that sort of thing, given the situation. At very least, Stonehouse was able to report that Mr Mason was last seen alive and well enough upon the cellar floor.

“Yes, well, Mr Mason is a hearty fellow,” Captain Fairchild laughed. “I am quite sure he shall weather it all just fine. Well! I think that’s that, then! It has been a long day for everyone, I am sure. And a busy one scheduled for tomorrow. Shall we retire, then?”

Father Nate and the others stood up and thanked Captain Fairchild for his hospitality. He waved this off and thanked his guests in turn. He then presented his hand to Peep with a deep bow, and kissed the fingers she slipped within his.

“Such an honor to meet you, Miss Otilla of the Holy Fire! What an honor!” he said.

“Yeah. This was… a trip! Thanks Captain!” she said with her usual smirk.

“Think nothing of it. Until tomorrow, then. Goodnight!” Captain Fairchild proclaimed to all.


The next morning was a fine one for a public trial. In an open field near the village, by a tidy little stand of trees, Captain Fairchild had his tent’s furniture packed up and its sides raised to turn it into an open sunshade. He sat at its center, with Father Nate on his right and Peep on his left. Thorn, Choke, Pinch, Knuckle, and Fairchild’s three lieutenants were all arranged further out to either side. Sergeant Stonehouse sat a little behind them all, seated at a little folding writing desk with paper, pen, and ink aplenty.

By the time the proceedings were ready to begin around ten o’clock, peasants from all around had begun to assemble as an audience. Lieutenant Archibald and his veteran squad brought Alan “the Chisel” Mason and eight of his men out to the field where, with their arms still bound tight behind them, they were forced to kneel in the dirt in the hot sun.

“Now, correct me if I am wrong, Lieutenant,” Captain Fairchild said. “But were there not ten prisoners put into custody last night?”

“Indeed. But, unfortunately, it seems one of them hit his head a little hard when he tripped and fell down the stairs. He died at some point last night.”

“Oh, did he now? That’s unfortunate,” Captain Fairchild said lightly as he picked some lint off of his tabard and flicked it away.

“Bullshit!” the Chisel barked, giving Lieutenant Archibald a murderous glare. “In the middle of the night, three soldiers come down, drug him upstairs and beat him to a pulp before they threw him back downstairs. They told him it was payback for some kinda beef from before.”

“Really! How entertaining!” Captain Fairchild exclaimed. “Lieutenant? What say you to this?”

“Well, it’s the first I heard of it. But I wasn’t right there in the stable for most of last night. So it is possible.”

“Do you know about the quarrel that may have led to this?”

“Yeah, I heard that Corporal Donny in second squad had issue with the guy. The man blemished his sister’s honor last year, apparently.”

“Well there we have it. Rough justice served. Still, we can’t have that kind of thing happening to our prisoners, can we? After this trial, I think we should convene a disciplinary hearing for Corporal Donny. Such a shame. I expect he rather enjoyed being a corporal. At any rate, a matter for afterwards,” Captain Fairchild said with finality. Then he called over the Chisel’s way: “Thank you for bringing the matter to our attention, Mr Mason. It shall be investigated. Now, if we may proceed?”

Captain Fairchild stood up and gave Father Nate a bow. Father Nate nodded in return and stood up.

“Our lord Stron, please look down upon this trial as does your Holy Father, Altas, so bright and warm above us. Please allow me to detect any falsehoods that are spoken before me, so that we may have only the truth as evidence. Amen.”

“Amen,” everyone else intoned.

With the trial begun, Captain Fairchild first had Peep relate her story again, this time as a formal witness. Then he called as witness the young couple that Peep had saved from the Chisel’s men. Following their interview, he heard from the hamlet’s headman, who reported how he had cleaned up the three bodies and taken possession of their horses and gear, and how he and his had been threatened by the Chisel when they had refused to open up their hamlet for inspection. Finally, Captain Fairchild heard from another little group of peasants who had been menaced by a different three-man squad of the Chisel’s. This encounter also had not gone beyond threats and intimidation.

“So, to paraphrase,” Captain Fairchild said, when all had been entered into evidence, “the only true crimes here have been answered for, when Miss Otilla of the Holy Flame killed the three rogues that perpetrated them.”

“It seems so, Captain,” Father Nate said.

“And, Father, did you detect any lies in any person’s testimony here today?”

“No I didn’t, Captain,” Father Nate said.

“Excellent! So, Mr Mason, I would hear from you now. These men that accosted our Baron’s good serfs, they did so upon your orders, did they not?”

The Chisel stayed mute, glaring at the dirt in front of him.

“I shall take that as a yes, then. And may I say, Mr Mason, that your fate is far from settled here. Our lord has given me ample room for discretion in this matter. In other words: I can do here as I see fit. So, with the powers of my mandate being such, I have no need to compel your testimony. But I must say that a more gracious attitude would go a long way towards showing me you are a man worthy of clemency,” Captain Fairchild smiled.

“All right then, Captain. What exactly is it we are being charged with here?” the Chisel asked, his voice rough.

“Why, the very worst crime there can be in these lands: displeasing our lord, the Baron Hart.”

“Nothing more specific than that?”

“Need there be? At any road, we shall get there. So, Mr Mason, your men that accosted the peasant couple, clearly bent on pressing them for information at their leisure; they were under your orders. Yes?” Captain Fairchild asked mildly.

“Listen, sir, I’ll talk to ye. But I haven’t had any water since yesterday,” the Chisel rasped.

“That’s okay.”

“Right. Okay, then, sir, I told them to ask anyone they saw about where the Pekot bunch were holed up.”

“Indeed. Ask? Or get the information from?”

“I don’t remember my exact words, sir,” the Chisel said.

Captain Fairchild looked over to Father Nate, who nodded back, indicating that he had detected no lie.

“A careful man you are, then. Layering your dirty deeds behind shrouds of deniability. Clever. I hate clever men such as yourself. So, Mr Mason, may we assume that, whatever your exact words, the underlying assumption was understood that they were to get the information by whatever means necessary?”

The Chisel stayed mute at this, staring at the ground.

“Yes, I see. Very well. Sergeant Stonehouse, which man was it that was the leader of the three men that menaced the other group of peasants?”

“That one there, sir.”

“Thank you. Sergeant Marc!” Captain Fairchild called out to the sergeant overseeing the prisoners with a dozen spearmen.

“Yes, sir!”

“Let’s have that man right here before us. Thank you!”

Sergeant Marc gestured for two of his men to see to it. They picked the man up by his arms tied behind him and dragged him in front of the court.

“You there, man. What is your name?” Captain Fairchild asked.

The man stayed silent, glaring at the Captain with hard eyes.

“Very well. Let me ask you though: when you were ordered by Mr Mason to get whatever information you could from the folk in these parts, it was understood that you were to use whatever means necessary to extract that information. Yes?”

The man continued to glare at the Captain without saying a word.

“You have this one chance to answer the question, man. My patience with all of you is at its end,” Captain Fairchild said sharply.

The man still said nothing.

“Very well. Sergeant!” Captain Fairchild barked at Sergeant Marc. “Hang this man immediately! From that tree there! Pull him up by his neck! No drop for him! His dance may serve to motivate his fellows to improve their attitude.”

The assembled peasants and soldiers cheered as the man was dragged to the tree and hanged. Father Nate went along with them to deliver him his last rights. Even as he did, a number of the local folk pelted the bandit with rocks and sticks as he rasped and wheezed and kicked and struggled on the end of the rope with his face slowly turning purple.

“Now!” Captain Fairchild bellowed when things had settled down enough for him to bring the proceedings back to order. “The two men that were with him. Bring them forward!”

When those men were on their knees before the court, Fairchild addressed them:

“Now, I ask you both once. When ordered by Alan “the Chisel” Mason, your leader, to get information from the folk around here, you understood that you were to use whatever means necessary. By that I mean, torture and rape. That was understood. Yes?”

It only took a few seconds for one of the men to break:

“Yes, sir. That is always understood.”

“Thank you. Sergeant, have that man untied and given some water. Hang the other.”

There were more cheers as the crying and pleading bandit was dragged to the same tree and strung up next to the first, who was still kicking and jerking even after ten minutes.

“Now!” Captain Fairchild shouted to his men above the racket. “Let’s have Bobby Biggs and Sticky Pete pulled out, shall we?”

It turned out that the first bandit hanged was Sticky Pete, so they only had need to drag Bobby Biggs out of line. Once he was brought before him, Fairchild continued:

“Mr Biggs, according to my people, you, it seems, have earned a rather unsavory reputation in these parts. Haven’t you! You’ve been a very naughty boy! So, I am afraid you shall have to go up the tree as well. Off you go!”

The condemned man put up a good fight with much spirited and creative cursing that amused everyone greatly. Of course, it was all to no avail and he was soon hanged by his neck alongside the other two.

With things now an almost complete pandemonium, Captain Fairchild had some wine served for his seated guests while they waited for the executions to run their course. After another half an hour, the last of the men finally died with peasant boys pissing on him, and they could proceed.

Alan “the Chisel” Mason was still kneeling in the dirt. He had four men with him now, with the fifth man who had been untied sitting on the ground a little off to the side.

“Now, Mr Mason, let us see if we can’t clarify some things for you,” Captain Fairchild said. “I do not need you to tell me why you came here. Your reasons are well known. The whole point of your exercise is so that all will know. So that the smallfolk understand their place in the order of things. The men in Strana that you represent would have it known that they will not be disrespected. That they will not be interfered with or assaulted. This is understood.”

Captain Fairchild spoke calmly, like a teacher addressing a classroom. Even so, his voice was loud and carried clearly to his entire audience.

“These three lads from Pekot, they were but smallfolk when they crossed your big men in Strana. They did what they did and so you were sent to make an example of them. And if these grubby doings had remained at the fringe of things, beneath the attention of those that matter, well, then you would have had your way. And it would not have mattered.

“Sad day for you, though, that these three, good, Stronian lads did not remain at the fringe of things. Did they? And like a fool, you pressed on as though their change in fortunes had not elevated them to a place that is beyond your ilk’s reach. A change in fortunes, I might add, brought about entirely by their own merit and mettle with steel. Earned and righteous is the place they find themselves occupying now, at my side. Unlike you and yours, there in the dirt.”

Captain Fairchild was no longer calm. He spoke now with great intention and clipped cadence, as a man who was barely holding back a fearsome rage.

“Now, Mr Mason, it is understood that with your past deeds helping us bring the King’s law to these troubled and wild lands, your scales are set about even. Do not think the Baron forgets your past service. He appreciates it still. Indeed, it is this appreciation that saves you now. We would have you deliver a message.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” the Chisel said.

“You are to leave here and go to Spitzer. And then to Strana. And you will tell all the evil men that you serve what I say to you now. We understand that money needs to be grubbed. This is the world we live in. Freight needs to move and commerce must occur. But the men you represent who facilitate this must understand that simply being necessary does not make them important. Indeed, being necessary without being important makes their replacement certain if they cease to serve their purpose.

“Baron Hart wants it understood that in these troubled times, all we Stronian humans must work together. Everyone has a role to play and we must do our duty within those roles. Parasites that weaken our society with their deleterious nibblings will be dealt with harshly.

“You have a reputation as an intelligent man, Mr Mason. However, your conduct in this whole episode makes me question that. So I shall spell this out for you very clearly. Your employers are to see to it that the freight moves smoothly. That is all. Any more shenanigans, and we shall come to Strana and hang all of you in the street. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Excellent! So, if you give me your word that you shall deliver this message to Strana, I will release you to do so. Will you so swear?” Captain Fairchild asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“Very good. Sergeant Marc, untie this man and give him some water so that he may freely give his oath in good faith. Sergeant Stonehouse, fetch out my Holy Book for him to swear upon.”

When Alan “the Chisel” Mason had been untied and given a drink of water from a skin, Sergeant Stonehouse brought the leatherbound Holy Book over for him to lay his right hand upon.

“Mr Mason, upon this Holy Book, under the eyes of Altas and Stron, do you swear to go to your masters in Strana, and to deliver my message to them to the best of your abilities?”

“I so swear, sir.”

“Then do it, man!”

“I swear upon this Holy Book, under the eyes of Altas and Stron, to go to Strana and deliver your message to my employers to the best of my abilities.”

“And there we have it! Most excellent. Lieutenant Batter, please see to it that Mr Mason’s horse and belongings are all returned to him. Mr Mason, you may go. But before you do, I shall ask you to remember that you should consider yourself on parole when in Baron Hart’s lands in future. You do not want to displease him again, I assure you.”

“I understand, sir,” the Chisel said as he stood up stiffly. “Thank you for your mercy, Captain Fairchild. And please thank the Baron Hart for his.”

“I shall. You may go with Lieutenant Batter. Leave for Spitzer as soon as you are able.”

With this, Alan “the Chisel” Mason gave Captain Fairchild a deep, formal bow. As he moved to join Lieutenant Batter, the light cavalry officer that had first detained him, the Chisel gave Peep a look of deep, seething hatred. She smiled back and gave him the finger.

When the Chisel was gone, Captain Fairchild eased back in his chair and took a leisurely sip of his wine. Then he smiled at the five remaining men kneeling in the dirt before him.

“Well, now, lads! What are we to do with you, then?”

read part 59

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s