The children of Duty & Justice.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
The first few chapters of story i am working on. (work in progress)

Feedback is welcome and wanted :).

Submitted: November 07, 2012

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Submitted: November 07, 2012

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The Children of Duty and Justice.

One.

Osyron Vanlandinghale did not think he had ever seen his mother’s smile beam so wide and bright as it beamed right now, it was pride, joy and sheer bliss. Daniela Vanlandinghale was a woman whose lips where no stranger to smiling but the one she was displaying right now seemed to be declaring itself as direct competition to the sun.

The Letter that arrived by crow messenger that morning confirming his acceptance to train as a Marshal of law was the reason behind his mother’s smile. The week between sitting the cadet of law final examination and receiving the letter of acceptance felt like an age but now that sentence of uncertainty had been served and he was now liberated. During that time his mind was appropriated and used as a stage by a cast of hope, expectancy, fear and doubt .They all played leading roles in a titanic conflict that seemingly had no end, but today with the opening of the acceptance letter the concluding act ended and the curtain came down for the last time. All of the characters took their final bow and left. Fear and doubt where vanquished and hope and expectancy where proven to be triumphant and went on to birth children that they named pride and joy. After the week of tormented uncertainty he had just went through and the truly wonderful effect they were having on his mother Osyron basked in the two extremely complimentary emotions, he could not recall them being more intoxicating and enchanting.

He had not spoken since opening the letter, his own elated smile and wide eyed wonder told his mother everything she needed to know, the news was etched all over him. This was his dream come true, or at least the first tangible step on the way to his dream. He knew that hard work lay ahead of him, he knew the real sacrifice started now. Osyron caught that seed of thought before it took root. It was too early to concern himself with such notions given all the time and dedication he put into passing the acceptance examinations, today will be free from such concerns, he had earned that much.

His thoughts turned to his father "want it? Earn it." He could hear him say. Had his dad still been alive then Osyron had no doubt his smile would have been a match for his mother’s otherwise unparalleled smile. "You are a Marshall now son" said his mother, somehow managing to speak words through her impossible smile. "Just a cadet mum, there is a lot i need to do and achieve before i can call myself a Marshall." replied Osyron although hearing those words spoken aloud did make excitement summersault in his belly. "You will be, of that i have no doubt. If half the people in half of Olbaid had half of your sense of right and wrong this kingdom would not require Marshal's, Olbaid is blessed for having you as one of its sons."

His mother's words made Osyron think of his father again and memory took him. He and his mother had lost him to the eternities soon after Osyron reviled his desire to become a Marshall of law .At that time Osyron had been working alongside his father as a trainee carpenter. He was slightly apprehensive that his father would be disappointed that his son did not want to follow in the family footsteps and become a fully-fledged carpenter like him but Osyron's fear was unfounded. His father had welcomed the news with open arms and an open heart. "That wonderful news son, despite your talent for carpentry i knew deep down that you were destined for something other than being my apprentice" his father said.

"You’re not mad?" asked Osyron a little tentative. Maven smiled at his son for a moment before saying "you have found your heart’s desire and decided to pursue it, that’s a good thing.

Osyron still looked at him expectantly, needing definitive conformation that his father did not disapprove. Maven smiled once more and said "No, i am not mad, quite the contrary" Osyron returned the smile, part relief part joy. His dad acknowledged the pleasure come to life in his sons expression and decided it was time to have a little fun. "From the moment i seen your slacked jawed gaze at that recruitment officer and the tales he told, i knew your future lay with them."

“I am not slacked jawed!” Osyron said in mock offense but wondered if there was some partial truth in it as he did recall being in awe of the recruitment Marshal and the rousing speech he gave that day. "Not usually no, but when something or someone has your undivided interest then you seem to lose control of your jaw muscles, also a little droll comes out the side of your mouth if your head is tilted enough." Maven and his son both looked at each other, Maven tried his best to keep his serious demeanour, Osyron also tried to keep his composure and show he did not believe his father’s words. They both seemed to share a telepathic link to call it a tie and then they both laughed out loud in unison. "Thank you, this means everything to me, not the slack jawed allegation but your understanding and approval i mean." Said Osyron still enjoying the relief his father’s approval brought him.

"Don't tell me son, show me!" With that Maven opened his arms in wide invitation to his son. Osyron gladly accepted the offer as he stepped forward and encompassed his father in his arms . Maven spoke with tenderness in his voice but it was tinged with slight concern "All i ask of you is your promise to be careful son. A war is brewing with the kingdom of Miria, many say it’s already begun and i want....well all i want is for you to be careful." With his arms still holding his father in a tight embrace Osyron replied "i will father, i promise". These would be the last words they ever shared.

Even from the other side of the veil his father’s ever enduring influence was evident, the acceptance letter he now clutched in his hand was testament to that. The recruiting officer's visit to Osyron’s home town of Whitewood was the deciding factor Osyron needed to determine what he was going to do with his life but the man Maven Vanlandinghale was and his sons desire to emulate that man was the catalyst behind Osyron choosing the path of Marshal. His mother read his thoughts from the distance and emotion in his eyes. "He would be so proud of you. His boy becoming a man, becoming a Marshall" she held his gaze, “and a fine man and Marshall at that".

"You are getting ahead of yourself again mother, i am a cadet, the rest is yet to be seen." Osyron somehow managed, the final memory of his father had past but the tide of emotion that followed made a painfully slow sauntering departure. "You will be, time will reveal the truth of it, i could not be prouder of you my son. "Osyron struggled for the right words, for any words, they simply did not come, he was glad in a way as he did not wish to test his voice at that moment given the rapidly growing lump in his throat that was proving challenging to swallow away.

His mother came to his rescue with opened arms and a few simple words of tenderness and understanding "I know son, i know." He wrapped his arms around his mother still clinging to the acceptance letter in his hands and overwhelming emotion in his head. He endeavoured not to dwell on it and turned his attention to his mother and her immediate future. "Will you be okay here on your own? I will have to find a place in the capital to live but i will be out here to visit every time it is possible.” Osyron said, trying to reassure his mother even thou she was giving no sign she needed it.

In turn his mother reassured him trying to dissolve the concern within him "i will be fine, focus on what you need to do and put thoughts of me aside, i have lived in this town all my life and have a many a good friend here who can give anything and everything i need". Osyron knew this was no comforting lie to spare him any guilt over leaving, his mother would indeed be looked after .The town of Whitewood had many a friendly face for the Vanlandinghale's and they would be happy to pitch in if any help was needed but Daniela Vanlandinghale was a capable and independent woman who would need no special care.

Osyron once again tried to take a leaf out of his father’s book and lighten the tone "I will prove you wrong about thing mother" Daniela sounded playfully surprised in her response "oh you will, and what might that be may i ask" Osyron released the hug just enough so he could look his mother in the eyes " "you said you could not be prouder, i am taking that as a personal challenge, you just see if i cant". Daniela Vanlandinghale smiled at her son once again and pulled his arms back around her so she could hold him once more. With her husband having crossed the veil into the eternities and her son leaving to seek his fate in this world this would be one of the last chances of being held by an immediate family member for quite some time. She answered him in a soft motherly voice "i look forward to you proving me wrong my son".

Osyron had no idea that in a little over twelve months he would be facing his first assignment as a Marshall of law, he had even less idea that it would also be his last.

Two.

"How could anyone do such a thing?" Osyron thought to himself. It was the question that kept rising to the surface in an ever churning cauldron of questions. "Gold, it's almost always gold" This was the reply that kept rising to meet it but the answer was not adequate, it was not satisfying him. There are many ways to earn coin by fair means and foul but to play a wilful part in this took something that most people did not possess, this took evil. If there was a more depraved way to make gold then Osyron could not think of it nor did he wish too.

He searched intensely for an aspect of understanding to gain some insight but understanding was to be a stranger this day. He had no context for something of this magnitude or depravity. He recalled the wrong doings of his youth and one misdemeanour stood out not because of its scale or debauchery but because of what transpired from it. Although he was a only a few short years away from beginnings of manhood, this day saw the birth of the marshal Osyron.

Around his thirteenth year of life he recalled stealing a freshly made apple pie from Mrs Elerby who had a legendary status for her talent with baking but her apple pie was the particular jewel in that reputation. The young Osyron’s nose had caught the enchanting aroma of the pie on his way past the esteemed cook’s house. The sweet fragrance begged him to follow and he happily obliged, "Just so my eyes can see what my nose can smell" he fibbed to himself. The window was open wide and he regarded this as a welcome, he tip toed over not wanting the hospitality to seem unappreciated. The apple pie looked every bit as good as the delightful aroma had promised. The bewitching powers of the pie’s perfume now coupled with the captivating sight of it left Osyron defenceless, temptation was beginning to best him. His own salivating mouth and rumbling stomach became part of the conspiracy against his better judgement as he started to consider if there could be anything better in life than letting a piece of this pie part his lips and sit on its tongue, the rightful throne of this sovereign apple pie.

"it looks so good,....no.... it looks too good". He mused to himself, it took him past the point of no return. “If it looks better than it smells i am willing to bet it taste better than it looks" The young Osyron thought to himself His hands now joined the list of collaborators as they started to slowly reach for the pie.

Once it was in his grasp time was his only enemy, he turned ready to make his getaway and to quench the anticipation of taking a bite into sweet, baked rapture. He had taken only a few short careful strides when icy realisation filled him. From the corner of his eye saw the small squat shape of Mrs Elerby, she was sat on a chair on her front porch and was watching him the whole time. A mixture of the fading light, Mrs Elerby’s dark coloured clothing and his own tunnel vision had prevented him from seeing her before snatching the pie, he was caught red handed. He desperately racked his brain in order to explain away his actions, his mouth moved but words would not form. He was caught, he knew he could not convince himself of innocence let alone Mrs Elerby.

She slowly pushed herself out of her chair, Osyron was not sure if the creaking noise that accompanied it was the chair itself or the pie maker’s bones. She walked over and leaned in close to see him face to face and eye to eye. "I think you and i should go pay a visit to your parents young man, she held his gaze for what seemed an eternity before adding "and i don't think they are going to like what you are going to tell them". The word "you" worried him more than any other, he was hoping to stare at the floor with his head hung in shame while the whole damning exchange between his parents and aggrieved baker went on above his head. Now it was on him to explain how let an apple pie become his master and commander which seemed beyond ridiculous to him now its domineering spell was broken.

Once back at his own house Mrs Elerby instructed Osyron to explain to his father why she was with him and what he had done. The young Osyron tried his best to explain how it was the apple pie and its irresistible powers of enchantment was the real criminal here, the fact that the pie had such an effect on him should be taken as a compliment and that no one should be too upset as it was only pie.

"Only pie?" his father said questioningly. Maven crouched down so he was at his sons eye level, Osyron noticed this and tried to hang his head and divert his eyes to the floor to avoid the scrutiny of his father’s eyes. His father’s thumb and forefinger under his chin prevented the escape. "It’s never only pie, it’s never "only anything". You see when you put your hands around that dish and started to make off with it you took more than pie."

Osyron met his father’s intent gaze willingly now, ready to defend himself against any false accusations that were about to be directed his way, his father continued.

"You have taken away any respect Mrs Elerby had for you, where she once seen a decent boy now she sees a thief, it was just a few weeks back she was complimenting me on what a fine job your mother and i have done raising you, i really don’t think she will be reaping herself anytime soon. You have also taken away a lot of pride your mother and i have in you. Respect and pride are not easy to gain and next to impossible to retrieve when lost”. Maven paused for a moment to let his son think over his words before continuing.” You see Osyron, It’s never “only pie”, do you understand what i am saying to you son?"

Osyron did, despite his young age Osyron grasped exactly what his father was saying, shame and the wider connotations of what he has done dawned on him and squeezed a tear from his eye. "Mother, father, Mrs Elerby, i am sorry, i truly am", he had said the word sorry so many times to Mrs Elerby on the way to his parents’ home in the desperate hope she would be somehow satisfied with his disingenuous plea's to repent and send him on his way. This was the first time he said it and truly meant it. "i will make this up to all of you I promise ". In time Osyron showed that he was as good as his word.

Osyron regarded this as one of the best and worst days of his life, he recalled all too well the dawn of realisation of what his father was telling him and the tear of shame it brought to him but it was the first day in his life that he comprehended the importance of doing the right thing. A burning desire to pursue justice was born.

A sudden heavy gust of wind laced with the chill of the sea brought him out of his ponderings and back into his surroundings it was mid-autumn but the winds blew with a chill this time of year after the sun went down especially when at sea.

He stood on the deck of the chartered boat staring out to across the water, He had been traveling a full three days and nights and he would be at his destination of Parkcross with the arrival of the next morning. Wearing civilian clothes on his first official role as marshal was not how he had pictured it, being sent alone was not how he dared imagine it.

Despite things being not quite as he had envisioned Osyron was pleased he had been entrusted with such an important assignment, he always believed that his early life as a marshal would be a lot more routine than it was shaping up to be. He imagined the first few years or so would compose of settling squabbles between bickering farmers over whose animal had eaten who’s crops or escorting the occasional drunk home or to a night in the cells if they were proving to be trouble. The task he was given was on another level entirely.

He noted the position of the moon and gauged the time of night from it and so he decided to go back below deck to his cabin for some sleep. A little after dawn the boat he was on would arrive at his destination of Parkcross and the real work would begin. He walked back to his cabin and lay on his hammock in order to get some sleep. He lay his head down closed his eyes and once again began the fruitless, baron search for understanding before beginning his search for the people who sold children.

Three.

A report was sent from the town of Tollhead which held local law authority over the village of Parkcross and the other villages in the surrounding area. In it there was lots of evidence to suggest foul play and that a child seller was indeed operating in Parkcross

Several couples in and around the village of Parkcross who had previously been childless now had a son, three couples in the village and two in neighbouring villages, all of them claiming the children to be relatives and taken in as orphans of the war. While this was not uncommon the fact that these couples where keen to have children combined with the knowledge that the three families inside the village had recently been selling their most valuable assets suggested that these children had been paid for. These war orphans where all boys and guessed to be around the same age. The odds of them all being the same age, the same gender and showing up at the exact same time where beyond comprehension. There was simply way to much coincidence for this to be coincidence.

The Marshall who sent the report went on to explain that he had questioned the couples and a few of the village’s inhabitants and was met with the same war orphan cover story time after time. He was as a loss as to how to proceed, there was clearly something going on but his own personal ties and genuine affection for the people of Parkcross stopped him trying to force information out of them. He also felt that he would be remiss in his duty if he was to simply ignore the issue and so sent the report to marshal’s hall and the Marshal’s had deemed Osyron the best choice to pick up the investigation from here.

Osyron was unhappy about the nature of the search, he was a Marshall and wanted to present and conduct himself as such. The plain clothes strategy that was concocted at Marshalls hall was deemed a good idea because Osyron would be going alone and he would no doubt meet the same wall of silence from the locals if he was dressed as a Marshal. While he could understand the logic behind this it was far too covert for his tastes and not where his strengths lay at all, in fact he secretly feared it may exploit a few of his weaknesses.

The plan was to assume a false identity and pretend to be looking to settle down in the area and far away from the borders with Miria due to the on-going war with them. He was to subtly mention here and there that his wife will be joining him soon as he had steady work and enough money to send for her. If possible He was to try to befriend one of the families who had acquired a child and see if any intelligence could be gathered by this route. He was to weave the tale that he and his wife had been trying for a baby and that they just did not seem to have the gods favour.

This was more actor than Marshal, more con man than law man and Osyron did not like it. He reminded himself of the end goal and a few white lies to bring those end goals to bear fruit would be well justified. Osyron vowed to himself that If there was a child seller in this village then he would find them and make them answer for their atrocities.

The chartered boat arrived in the docks a few hours after sunrise which was a little later than scheduled but not too late as to ruin Osyron’s plans. He gathered his belongings and gave his thanks to the boat’s captain for getting him there safely if not timely. The young undercover marshal took a deep breath and stepped of the boat and onto the pier and followed the short dirt path into the heart of the village and into his vocation . The village was smaller than Osyron’s mind’s eye had envisioned it and a lot more pleasant looking as well. The buildings were all made of sturdy hard woods and looked to have been originally built many decades past but they were very well cared for and maintained, leaky roofs and cold drafts did not look like they got a chance to take root or be tolerated here. The houses and homes that lined the streets all had gardens with colourful rows of flowers in full bloom defiant of the time of year. This was as far removed from the den of evil he had pictured in his head as it could get, Osyron felt a tad silly for what his mind’s eye had conceived in comparison to what lay before him.

Due to the slightly later than scheduled arrival the village was already bustling, as much as a village containing around one hundred or so small buildings could bustle. The village was made up of a several dozen homes and a couple of general good and fishing supply stores, in the heart of the village was a market place where the locals traded different foods, drinks, clothing and other everyday items. He casually walked around the few streets the village comprised of and around the market square hoping to get a taste of life in the village, seeing if the actual place itself could tell him anything that words could or would not.

He wanted to learn as much about the village and its inhabitants as he could before questioning any of them, Osyron planned to use any information he gainedfrom his observations later. It was a clever trick his father taught him “ ask questions that you already know the answers to, this will help you separate truth tellers from liars” he could hear his father say. In the centre of the ring of market stalls there was a life size statue of a fisherman casting out a magnificent net, it had no plaque or inscription so it seemed to be a tribute to the act of fishing itself rather than any individual fisherman. Around this statue ran a thigh high wall that had a wide enough girth to be sat on as a few of the people of Parkcross did from time to time for brief conversation or just to rest their feet and enjoy the day for a few minutes . Osyron sat down on the wall and observed the surrounding market and the people going about their day bringing the village to life.

After half an hour or so it became apparent that this was not a village cowering in fear under any impending doom, the people of the town seemed happy and friendly, when he made eye contact with anyone he was greeted with a "good morning" or a "hello" both being accompanied by warm genuine smiles. Given the small size of the village everyone would know everyone else and he would clearly be a stranger to them but despite this he was not made to feel like an outsider or unwelcome. Osyron struggled to match the crimes insinuated and what he was witnessing in front of him with his own two eyes.

While sat on the wall In the centre of the market he saw one of the young couples that had recently acquired a son stroll through. There was a description of the couples in the initial report that was sent and this looked to match one of them, he decided to sit and monitor the couple and the villages’ reaction to them. People greeted and gathered around them as they meandered through the market place. The small crowd made cute noises and adoring faces at the small bundle the woman was so proudly carrying. Everyone seemed very accepting of the baby and the story that it was a relative’s orphan that they had taken in, there was no open disapproval or hostility, no awkward questions or suspicious eyes made behind their backs.

Osyron studied everyone as best he could without making it obvious he was doing so, he witnessed market stall holders wandering away from their stalls to chat with other stall holders sometimes right across the square. He seen people browse the wares on these temporarily abandoned stalls and even put down coins for any items they purchased in the stall holders absence. It was like the concept of theft had not even dawned on anyone here, even the coins left for the wandering traders were not taken by any of the other passers-by who instead picked up the occasional item and added the relevant amount of coin to the table themselves.

He witnessed a young girl around the age of three who was holding onto her mother’s hand and with her free hand pick up an apple from a market stall and begin to bite into it. Once the mother had spotted what her child was doing she immediately reached into her pockets for payment. The stall holder seen what was happening and held her hands up in protest to the payment declaring that it was fine, she even bent down and gave the small girl a smile and a playful pinch on the cheek. The mother in turn shook her head in defiance at the offer of a free apple and insisted on providing payment. The stall owner and the child’s mother batted their insistence back and forth several times until the mother of the girl eventually gave up and accepted the free apple and gave her thanks instead.
Once the stall owner turned away to serve another customer the mother gingerly placed a coin down on the table and made her getaway before the payment was noticed and a further protest war was initiated by the fruit seller.

This was not was Osyron was expecting, not what he had been expecting at all.

Four.

“Black rancid souls” High Marshall Riven said each word slowly, deliberately and with a hefty amount of revulsion. His facial expression suggested that the words left an aftertaste in his mouth that matched their meaning; he shook it off and continued to address Osyron.

“This is what I need of you. They must have some base of operations where they carry out these child trading atrocities, locate it and form a report containing names and faces of ringleaders so we don’t end up having manacles on nothing but puppets and pawns. Once you have this information report back by crow messenger and marshal’s hall will take care of it from there. We are dealing with callous filth and they have made it all too clear how low they are prepared to stoop, keep caution as close your next breath. Caution will be your partner on this, listen to him carefully. If they discover who or what you are then I have an extremely difficult conversation with your mother ahead of me.”

This was the crux of the briefing delivered to Osyron by none other than High Marshall Riven himself. Osyron thought that Riven was born for the role of high Marshal, he could not imagine him doing or being anything else and in turn he could not imagine anyone else being the High Marshal. The fact that there were men and women high Marshals before Riven and there would be after he retired stuck Osyron as somehow impossible, somehow wrong. Riven was the high marshal and the high marshal was Riven.

Osyron had known the man for close to a decade but he only gotten to know him on a personal level for a little over a year and in all that time he had never heard the high Marshal’s first name uttered by anyone. On or off duty he was always addressed as high Marshall or sir but in a career with the marshal’s there was no such thing as off duty and this was even more evident during times of war.

High Marshall Riven continued his briefing. "We can’t sent a large infantry as it will most likely cause these callous scumbags to scurry out of arms reach, then when we leave and they will simple crawl back in and pick up from where they left off, Parkcross is just too distant and rural to be marshalled properly right now. “ High Marshal Riven did sound genuinely aggrieved at having to concede this point, he ran a tight ship under normal circumstances but war was preventing him doing his job to his regular incredible high standard. Riven took on a more confidential tone and continued. ” If i am being honest with you lad we simply don’t have the man power for such a tactic even if it was deemed viable, this war and its consequences is asking questions of us that we simply don’t have immediate answers too.” When the initial report of child trading was heard by the marshal’s at the briefing it was met with outrage and disgust but catching those responsible as well as everything else became secondary to winning the war.

War had brought much change to the world as wars tend to do. For the criminal underworld it brought opportunity, with the majority of soldiers deployed in various battlefields in the two kingdoms and many of the law Marshals taking up domestic soldier roles as well as their own Marshal duties, justice and order was stretched beyond its means and there was many a thief who was embracing this with open locks. For Osyron it brought promotion, he was a cadet of law and should have been for a least a few years working under the guidance of a Marshall until he had shown enough understanding and comprehension to be worthy enough to be called a Marshall himself.

"Do you know the most common cause of death for us Marshals?" asked high Marshall riven. "In these times sword would seem to be the most obvious answer high Marshall" replied Osyron. "Correct, but that’s not the complete picture. There are ways to stop half a yard of steel taking refuge in your belly or having a dagger slide across your throat in your sleep.” Osyron thought it best to remain in attentive silence and let the high Marshall say his piece even thou he knew it was not going to be easy to hear. The high Marshall always spoke with sternness in his voice but right now serious was manifest.

"Don’t ever try to be reasonable with unreasonable men, if you let your guard down and trust the untrustworthy then you will find yourself trying to forgive yourself what is unforgivable". High Marshall riven took a pause and held Osyron’s eyes "it will be your last dying thought.”

High Marshal Riven let his words sink in then strenuously emphasised the next part of his statement " I know you are keen to impress but do not be a hero Marshal." Don’t let pride pilot your thoughts, the potential ramifications are way too severe to even comprehend such a notion. Keep in mind your primary objective and acknowledge you will have a far greater chance of achieving that objective while still alive.” This time the high Marshal stopped and waited for a response, Osyron struggled to give one.

"i understand sir, i will try to keep that in mind" he stammered as anxiety took hold of his tongue and restricted any reasonable level of cognitive thought.

"There is no try with this Osyron, it’s do or don't or more to the point do or die". Osyron could manage no more than a "Yes sir” this time around while doing his best to hide the uneasiness settling over him. He knew the high marshal was trying to make sure he was aware of the potential danger rather than panic him but fingers of apprehension started to creep across his mind poised and ready to get a solid grip. He nodded his head in acknowledgement of the high Marshals words and reverted back to stony silence hoping his uneasiness was not obvious, judging by High marshal Riven’s reaction he knew it was.

Riven spoke again but this time there was a just a hint of compassion in his voice. "I know this is not easy to hear lad, truth seldom is and truth is what it is. We do have faith in you, we would not have given you this assignment had we not . I know you are keen to impress this being your first mission and all but be warned, keenness has proven to be a double agent on more than one occasion.”

Helped by the change of tone in the high Marshals voice Osyron had gained enough composure to put words to his thoughts " i wont sir. i have made the promise to be careful to more than one person including myself, you faith in me is well placed High Marshal". High Marshal Riven appraised him with his steel grey eyes, offering him a few words and a slow nod of approval. “good lad”.

Osyron was hoping to end on this positive note so he asked to be excused “If that is everything sir I would like to go make my preparations and say my farewells” “you are free to go lad” confirmed the high Marshal much to Osyron’s relief. He bowed smiled and then headed for the door, High Marshal Riven’s words caught him before he could make it all the way to the exit.

“You won’t ever hear me admitting that the Marshals are struggling. “ Osyron paused in mid stride as Riven’s words boomed and echoed around the room, the high Marshal quietened considerably before adding” but I will admit to not being able to find a better word to describe our situation.” Osyron stood still, not sure on how to reply or react. He was confused by the words, he had no idea if It was an admission or defiance of an admission. He pulled himself together and with as much conviction as he could muster replied “of course high Marshal” before continuing his purposeful strides to the sanctuary of the door.

five.

Osyron decided it was time to interact with the locals beyond saying a quick “hello”. He got up from his seat by the statue and started to introduce himself to the stall holders around the market and ask If there was any work available. After trying a few people without success he was drawn a sweet looking older lady with the most welcoming smile. He strolled over to her stall which was comprised of herbs and spices and various other dried and powdered ingredients. He greeted the old woman with a smile of his own and began to introduce himself. "Good morning m’lady, my name is Alex i have just arrived in the village and i am looking for work, i was wondering if you knew of anyone hiring in town? "Looking for work is it? The old lady replied. "Yes that’s it" responded Osyron and then added "i live relatively close to the border of Miria and i want to put as much distance between myself and the conflict as possible, my wife has moved back to her mother’s house for the time being while i find work and a place to stay".

The old woman responded with a knowing smile, the smile quickly evolved and became a small chuckle. "Oh my dear boy, Has anyone ever told you that you are terrible liar?" she managed in between her escaping chortles of amusement.

Osyron thought he had sounded quite convincing, he had gone over what he was going to say in his head a few times to familiarise himself with his story but he was careful not to go over it so much that it began to sound rehearsed and as a consequence false. He was now wondering if he had done just that.

"Umm....i....sorry?" Osyron said trying to buy some thinking time. He was caught between trying to play innocent and wondering if he had been unmasked almost instantaneously. He had come here expecting to encounter and take advantage of a naive fishing village populous but instead it was his own naivety that was being becoming obvious."i don’t mean to sound cruel child but you’re almost as see through as the air we breathe" Osyron was left struggling for words and feeling exposed. He was a boy again caught red handed stealing apple pie.

The shrewd market stall holder continued speaking but it was more thinking out loud than addressed to Osyron. "So what’s the real story then eh? I guess you’ve been sent about the new babies in the area but you look a little wet behind the ears to be a marshal. On the surface it’s a very severe sounding case so they would not send a mere cadet but if you take the war into account i imagine marshal’s will be dropping like leaves in the fall and the upshot of that would be early promotion for a lot of the cadet's so i recon that makes you a young Marshal of law right enough". Osyron stood staring in wide eyes disbelief at the woman. "That look on your face is telling me i am right on the money” the old herb seller said will more than a little triumph in her voice. Osyron scrambled to regain his composure, he knew it would be foolish to continue to try and bluff his way through this, the game was up. His inexperience was just made so apparent it was all he could focus on.

He had heard so many stories from traveling merchants and soldiers about the naivety of country and rural folk, he felt stupid for taking rumours and tavern tales as irrefutable fact. Clearly none of those story tellers had ever bought herbs from a sweet old lady in the market in Parkcross. He decided it was time to ditch the cover story and begin to play to his strengths.

"That was quite a remarkable piece of detection Mrs.....?" Osyron left the question hanging and made a circling gesture with his hand in an attempt to coax a response. "You may call me Lilly young man” she responded in a naturally pleasant voice. "Lilly it is then" Osyron said giving a small tilt of his head in greeting "You yourself are something more than a herb and spice seller from a rural fishing village aren’t you?. Osyron paused for a second hoping Lilly would confirm his statement or at the very least give him something to work with. Lilly offered nothing other than the same small smile that she adorned when she was not speaking, Osyron thought he detected the slightest hint of a nod but could not be sure. He decided that was all he was going to get and continued, "Granted i can’t quite work out exactly what you are or where you come from but you have spent most of your days away from this sleepy little place. Osyron closed with a compliment “You are way too smart and astute to be just a market trader that much is obvious.”

Lilly raised both eyebrows questioningly and replied. “So charm is your strategy now? “ She lowered her brow, nodded and continued “Yes…. yes I can see why, you have a handsome and honest face, I can see charm being very effective for you” Lilly paused, smiled that same welcoming smile at Osyron before adding “with most people”. Osyron opened his mouth to retort but Lilly held up an open hand to stop him before he could speak. Once it was obvious the young marshal was going to hold his tongue, Lilly continued.

"I have travelled around the kingdom once or twice in my time young man, learned the value of keeping my mouth shut and my ears and eyes open, learned to pay attention to a person’s actions as well as their words.” Lilly held up a finger to emphasize that she was making a point and continued “Lies don’t sit easy on your lips my boy and that suggests an honest character but when you are an undercover law marshal its makes for a traitorous companion.” Osyron let Lilly’s words run round his head for a few seconds. She seemed to have him and his story sussed; she had him completely cornered save for one last route, honesty.

He was not sure why but he felt there was no real danger in telling Lilly the truth, maybe it was because she had detected most of it already. Although she had caught him off guard and made him feel every bit of the rookie he was there was something comforting in the fact that she let him know exactly what she knew. Lilly could have easily played the naïve country dweller he was expecting to encounter but the fact she shared what she knew about him gave Osyron the feeling she was trying to help rather than hinder him.

“Ok you know what i am and why i am here” he confirmed.” My name is Osyron not Alex but you probably somehow worked that out too no doubt” Osyron said jokingly but internally wondering if she knew his name, his date of birth and his favourite bed time story as a child. Lilly remained her calm warm observant self, "no, that’s one area where you have educated me young man". Osyron was glad his choice of honesty was being repaid with honesty. Not that it was any real choice, Lilly gave him this option and no other save for walking away with his tail between his legs which flirted with his thoughts for the briefest of seconds. Osyron pressed on hoping that the conversation would provide something fruitful.

"Considering how astute you are i guess you know exactly how the people i am here to investigate got their new baby boys and you also know where they got them from right? "Yes and yes" was Lilly’s jovial reply. She was still analysing every word he said, every expression his face made, every breath inwards and out. "But you’re not going to tell me are you?” asked Osyron. ”Now who is the astute one” was the chipper reply from Lilly.

Osyron’s face and voice lost its easy going tone and turned a little more serious, "Lilly how can you stay silent on this ? You strike me as a lovely person in fact this whole village is lovely to the point of ridiculousness. People like this would not be party to baby trading without fear of something far worse befalling them, someone must hold something over you and this village and i will find out no matter what or how long it takes”. Osyron paused, ran his fingers back through his hair and took on a more pleading tone. “Lilly please, save me and the village all the hassle of days of investigation and just tell me what is going on. I know i am just one man but i can assure you the hall of marshal’s will be here in tremendous force once I have identified the perpetrators of these crimes but we do need to know who it is we are after first and where to find them. Your silence is gifting these baby traders the freedom they need and don’t deserve, please Lilly for the sake of everyone just a name or a place. Just something i can work with, i will take it from there and see justice done i swear this to you not only as a marshal but also as a human being.”

Lilly’s expression softened, whereas before it was full of light heartedness and playfulness now held the qualities of a grandmother tending to the needs of a grandchild. "Oh my dear boy, it’s not what you think at all, there is no gang of bandits or pirates holding this town silent, its nothing like that, i can’t tell you the details of what is going on as i would be betraying the confidence of more than one friend. I am sorry but you will find everyone here just as set on this as I am, in fact they will not even give you the courtesy of admitting the of war orphans cover story is just that, a cover story.“ Lilly’s smile returned only this time it was sad and tight lipped and had a look of finality about it.

Osyron let out a breath of resignation. He believed Lilly to be sincere, what she said confirmed what he had read in the initial report that brought him here from Marshals hall, but the more he confirmed as true the less he understood and the more confusing the whole situation became.

Lilly’s sincerity had induced total bafflement, if she was indeed being truthful and there was no horrid band of cutthroats at work then just who or what was behind it ? Why on earth where decent people not only willing to protect baby trading with a wall of silence but make up fictitious cover stories to conceal it as well? And stranger still why did everyone seem so at ease with it ?

The conversation had run its course, there was nothing else for it but to move on. He decided to thank Lilly and try someone else. “Well I appreciate your honesty Lilly, I don’t mean to seem ungrateful for at least admitting that the cover story is just that but I think you are wrong to choose not to help me, whatever is going on here a satisfactory explanation is the very least I will be taking back to Marshalls hall with me, I won’t be going anywhere till I have that.”

Lilly’s face went back to her natural expression that was sweetness personified “No offense taking my boy. “ Osyron gave a quick smile and nod as a parting gesture and turned to leave, he was considering his next move when Lilly’s spoke again “Do you know, that we don’t lock our doors here in Parkcross?” “Is that so” Osyron replied a little confused at the sudden change of direction the conversation had taken. “Only in winter, when the winds really start to pick up and can make unlocked doors flap about like …..well…. like a door in the wind” Lilly indulged in a little laugh to herself as this thought.

Osyron asked what he thought was obvious to ask “Doesn’t anyone take advantage of this, do you not have thieves here?” Lilly opened up her arms and answered “No one in the village would steal from each other, and it’s very rare we get outsiders here save those coming in on boat and they tend to be respectable merchants and such. The truth is we really don’t have anything of high value except for the fishing gear but then no one in town would buy fishing gear from a stranger as it would most likely been stolen from a neighbour and as we are the only fishing village for quite a distance the equipment would not be much use to anyone in close by villages and not worth the time and effort it would take to transport further still.”

If Osyron was baffled before then he was out and out perplexed now. Lilly seemed to be just looking for conversation for conversations sake. “That’s …good Lilly. I really must be on my way, it was very nice to meet you.” Osyron was keen to end the conversation, his hopes of learning something useful had evaporated and now he felt as thou Lilly was playing with him.

“Very well, take care young man, I hope we meet again sometime” Replied Lilly offering him her warm smile and a raised hand a little in a gesture of farewell. Osyron returned both the smile and the wave and added a nod while saying “good day Lilly, take care now.” and then he turned and left, where he was headed he was not sure. He considered going into the town of Tollhead and speak with the Marshall there who sent the report but dismissed this notion as he would only be going over what he already knew and that was very little. He decided before going anywhere he should venture into the small tavern in the market square and see about having somewhere to stay for the next few days, it would also be beneficial not to be lumbered with his travel bags as well.

Lilly had confused him on so many issues and levels, who was she and how did she know so much? If the town is not subjected to fear from some group of bandits then what could be going on? He had all of the same unanswered questions from before and a pile of new ones to add to the ever growing collection .Despite his overall confusion he was absolutely resolute on one thing, he would walk into that tavern as looking for work Alex but walk out of it as law Marshal Osyron.


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