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Authors: Terry Goodkind

Tags: #Fiction, #Epic, #Fantasy

Soul of the Fire (63 page)

BOOK: Soul of the Fire
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But a part of him was sickened by what was happening. A part of him wanted to run crying from what was happening. A part of him wished they had never found her coming out of that building.

But a part of him was wildly excited by it, excited to be part of it, excited to be one of the men.

He didn’t know how long it went on. It seemed forever.

The thick smell of blood filled his nostrils and seemed to coat his tongue. Blood saturated their clothes. It gloved their fists. It was splattered across their faces.

The heady experience filled Fitch with a profound sense of camaraderie. They laughed with the exhilaration of brotherhood.

When they heard the sound of the carriage, they all froze. Sharing the same wild look in their eyes, they stood panting as they listened.

The carriage stopped.

Before they had a chance to find out why, or anyone came over the hill, they all, as one, ran for it, ran for a dunk in a distant pond to wash off the blood.

CHAPTER 39

Dalton glanced up from the report when he heard the knock.


Yes?”

The door opened and Rowley’s head of red hair poked in.


Master Campbell, there’s someone out here wants to see you. Says his name is Inger. Says he’s a butcher.”

Dalton was busy and wasn’t in the mood to handle kitchen troubles. There were already enough troubles he needed to handle. There were any number of problems, running the gamut from the trifling to the serious, needing his attention.

The murder of Claudine Winthrop had created a sensation. She was well known and widely liked. She was important. The city was in an uproar. But, if a person knew how to properly handle such things, confusion created opportunity. Dalton was in his element.

He had made sure Stein was addressing the Directors of Cultural Amity at the time of the murder so no one would be able to raise any suspicion of him. A man with a cape of human scalps, even if they were taken in war, tended to raise suspicion.

The city guard had reported seeing Claudine Winthrop leaving Fairfield to walk back to the estate—commonly done, even at night; it was a heavily traveled road and previously believed perfectly safe. The guard reported, too, young Haken men gathered that night drinking before the murder. People naturally surmised she had been attacked by Hakens and loudly decried the incident as yet more proof of Haken hatred of Anders.

Guards now escorted people who walked at night.

There was a chorus of demands that the Minister do something. Edwin Winthrop, taken by the shock of his wife’s murder, was bedridden. From his bed he, too, sent demands for justice.

Several young men had later been arrested, but were released when it was proven they had been working at a farm the night of the murder. Men in a tavern the next night, emboldened by rum, went searching for the “Haken killers.” They found several Haken boys they were sure were guilty and beat them to death in front of cheering onlookers.

Dalton had written several speeches for the Minister and had issued orders in his name for a number of crisis measures. The murder gave the Minister an excuse to allude, in his fiery speeches, to those who opposed him for Sovereign as being responsible for stirring up contempt for the law and thus violence. He called for more stringent laws regulating “rancorous language.” His addresses to the Office of Cultural Amity, if not the new laws, weakened the knees of Directors suspicious of the Minister.

Before the crowds who gathered to hear his words, the Minister had called for new measures—unspecified—to deal with violence. Such measures were always unspecified and only rarely was any real action taken. The mere impassioned plea was all that was required to convince the people the Minister was decisive and effective. Perception was the goal and all that really mattered. Perception was easily accomplished, required little effort, and it never had to stand the test of reality.

Of course, taxes would have to be raised in readiness to fund these measures. It was a perfect formula: opposition was seen as fostering violence and equated to the brutality of Haken overlords and murderers. The Minister and Dalton thus gained control over a larger portion of the economy. Control was power.

Bertrand relished being at the center of it all, issuing orders, denouncing evil, convening various groups of concerned citizens, reassuring people. The whole thing most likely would soon die out as people went on to other things and forgot about the murder.

Hildemara was happy; that was all that mattered to Dalton.

Rowley stood with his head in the door, waiting.


Tell Inger to take his problem to Mr. Drummond,” Dalton said as he picked up another of his messages. “Drummond is the kitchen master and is responsible for the feast. I gave him a list of instructions. The man ought to know how to order meat.”


Yes, sir.”

The door closed and the room fell silent except for the gentle sound of spring rain. Gentle steady rain would be good for the crops. A good harvest would help annul grievances about the burden of new taxes. Dalton relaxed back in his chair and resumed his reading.

It seemed the person writing the message had seen healers going to the Sovereign’s residence. He wasn’t able to talk to the healers, but said they were in the Sovereign’s residence the whole night.

It could be someone other than the Sovereign needing help. The Sovereign had a huge household, after all—nearly the size of the Minister’s estate, except it was exclusively for the use of the Sovereign. Business, what there was of it for the Sovereign, was conducted in a separate building. There, too, he took audiences.

It wasn’t uncommon for a healer or two to spend the night with a sick person at the Minister of Culture’s estate, either, but that didn’t mean the Minister himself was in need of healing. The greatest danger to the Minister was from a jealous husband, and that was highly unlikely; husbands tended to earn favor through their wives trysts with high officials. Raising objections was unhealthy.

Once Bertrand was Sovereign, the possibility of injured feelings would no longer be a concern. It was a great honor for a woman to be with the Sovereign—it approached being a holy experience. Such divine couplings were widely believed to be blessed by the Creator Himself.

Any husband would push his wife into the Sovereign’s bed, were she solicited. The prestige of this privilege conveyed along with the holiness a peripheral effect; the husband was the principal beneficiary of this collateral sanctity. Where the holy recipient of the Sovereign’s carnal notice was young enough, the blessings embraced her parents.

Dalton returned to the previous message and read it again. The Sovereign’s wife hadn’t been seen in days. She failed to show up for an official visit to an orphanage. Perhaps she was the one who was sick.

Or, she might be at her husband’s bedside.

Waiting for the old Sovereign to die was like walking a tightrope. The wait brought sweat to the brow, and quickened the pulse. The expectation was delicious, all the more so because the Sovereign’s death was the one event Dalton couldn’t control. The man was too heavily guarded to risk helping him to the afterlife, especially when he only hung to life by a thread anyway.

All he could do was wait. But everything had to be carefully managed in the meantime. They had to be ready when the opportunity came.

Dalton went to the next message, but it concerned nothing more than a man who had a complaint against a woman for supposedly casting spells to afflict him with gout. The man had been—publicly—trying to enlist Hildemara Chanboor’s help, since she was universally recognized for her purity and good deeds, by having sex with him in order to drive out the evil spell.

Dalton let out a brief chuckle at his mental image of the coupling; the man was obviously deranged, besides having no taste in women. Dalton wrote down the man’s name to give to the guards and then sighed at the nonsense that took up his time.

The knock came again. “Yes?”

Rowley again stuck in his head. “Master Campbell, I told the butcher, Inger, as you said. He says it isn’t about kitchen matters.” Rowley lowered his voice to a whisper. “Says it’s about trouble at the estate, and he wants to talk to you about it, but if you won’t see him, he says, he’ll have to go to the Directors’ office, instead.”

Dalton opened a drawer and swept the messages into it. He turned over several reports that sat on his desk before he rose.


Send the man in.”

Inger, a muscular Ander, perhaps a decade older than Dalton, entered with a bob of his head.


Thank you for seeing me, Master Campbell.”


Of course. Please come in.”

The man dry-washed his hands as he bobbed his head again. He looked surprisingly clean, compared with what Dalton expected of a butcher. He looked more like a merchant. Dalton realized that to supply the estate the man probably had a sizable operation, and so would be more like a merchant than a laborer.

Dalton held out a hand in invitation. “Please, have a seat, Master Inger.”

Inger’s eyes darted about the room, taking it all in. He did everything but let out a low whistle. A small merchant, Dalton amended to himself.


Thank you, Master Campbell.” The burly man clamped a meaty hand on the chair back and flicked it closer to the desk. “Just plain Inger is fine. Used to it being Inger.” His lips twitched with a smile. “Only my old teacher used to call me Master Inger, and that was just before I’d get my knuckles rapped. Usually when I neglected a reading lesson. I never got my knuckles rapped for numbers lessons. I liked numbers. Good thing, as it turns out. Numbers help with my business.”


Yes, I can see where they would,” Dalton said.

Inger looked off at the battle flags and lances as he went on. “I have a good business, now. The Minister’s estate is my biggest customer. Numbers are necessary for a business. Got to know numbers. I have a lot of good people working for me. I make them all learn numbers so I don’t get shorted when they deliver.”


Well, the estate is quite pleased with your services, I can assure you. The feasts wouldn’t be the success they are without your valuable help. Your pride in your business is obvious in your fine meats and fowl.”

The man grinned as if he’d just been kissed by a pretty girl in a booth at a fair. “Thank you, Master Campbell. That’s very kind of you. You’re right about me taking pride in my work. Most people aren’t as kind as you to notice. You are as good a man as folks say.”


I try my best to help people. I am but their humble servant.” Dalton smiled agreeably. “Is there some way I can help you, Inger? Something I could smooth out at the estate to make your job easier?”

Inger scooted his chair closer. He placed an elbow on the desk and leaned in. His arm was as big as a small rum cask. His timid mannerisms seemed to evaporate as his thick brow drew down.


The thing is, Master Campbell, I don’t take any guff from the people who work for me. I spend time teaching them my ways with cutting and preparing meat, and teaching them numbers and such. I don’t put up with people who don’t do their work and take pride in it. Cornerstone of a successful business, I always say, is the customer being satisfied. Those who work for me who don’t toe the line my way see the back of my hand or the door. Some say I’m harsh about it, but that’s just the way I am. Can’t change at this age.”


Sounds a fair enough attitude to me.”


But on the other hand,” Inger went on, “I value those who work for me. They do good by me, and I do good by them. I know how some people treat their workers, especially their Haken workers, but I don’t go in for that. People treat me right, I treat them right. It’s only fair.


That being the way things are, you come to be friends with people who live and work with you. Know what I mean? Over the years they come to be almost like family. You care about them. It’s only natural—if you have any sense.”


I can see how—”


Some of them that work for me are the children of people who went before them and helped me become the respected butcher I am.” The man leaned in some more. “I got two sons and they’re good enough lads, but I sometimes think I care about some of those who live and work with me more than I care about those two boys.


One of them who works for me is a nice Haken girl named Beata.”

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