Wednesday, April 20, 2016
The Heroes of Fannen-Dar, Chapter 18
Whereas a couple days before, no one had paid attention to Chester, now all eyes turned on him wherever he went. It was the morning after the fiasco at the orphanage, and Chester had to report in for morning duty. Word about last night had clearly spread around the other guards in the barracks. When he got up from his cot, a conversation that had been going on nearby suddenly stopped. While he washed his face, he spotted the faces of others watching him from outside the door. When he put on his uniform and walked towards the training ring for the lineup, heads turned to watch as he passed. He heard a conversation pick up after he turned a corner, and stopped to listen.
“But why would he draw so much attention to it like that, if there was nothing there?” one voice said.
Another responded, and Chester recognized it as one of the senior guardsmen, Louis. “Maybe he wasn't just drawing attention to himself, he was drawing attention away from something else. I don't know, he could be up to something shady.”
“Then he'll get what's coming to him.”
Chester had hoped he would be applauded for saving the children, but it seemed like his fellow guards would rather see him lashed.
Chester took his usual place in the lineup, next to Darrik. He tried to catch Darrik's eye, but even his friend seemed to be avoiding him. Darrik looked straight ahead without acknowledging Chester's presence. Chester restrained a sigh and did likewise, his fists clenched at his sides.
As the bells from across town were starting to toll, Captain Ignatius emerged from the barracks and walked to the front of the assembly. Chester felt his neck grow hot just from seeing the captain. This man, from whom Chester was supposed to be taking orders, had endangered the lives of innocents, children no less. All for, presumably, a pocketfull of gold that the Firemen had bribed him with. Chester wondered how such an easily corruptible person had become the captain in the first place. Maybe he had done some bribing of his own in the past.
Ignatius cleared his throat. "I'm sure there are plenty of rumors going around about last night, isn't that so?" he said. He began pacing up and down the lineup, looking into everyone's eyes as he passed them. He arrived at Chester and stopped. "A young watchman aroused a stir when he was supposed to be off duty, and for what? Apparently nothing."
The heat rose to Chester's cheeks as he felt the sideways glances falling on him. Nothing? he thought. What about the pile of explosives and the extinguished fuse? The evidence that an explosion almost tore apart an entire street of Fannen-Dar? Did that count as nothing? Or had Ignatius arranged a cover-up after Chester had been sent back to the barracks?
"So it seems that I will need to remind everyone of the protocol for situations in which you suspect a crime without hard evidence." Ignatius's moustache wiggled above his lips when he talked, twirling like the tip of a rapier. "It is not your duty to act on every suspicion, but to inform your superior officer and present the evidence you have collected." The evidence was what I had seen you discussing with the Firemen! Chester wanted to scream. It was his word against the captain's, and he knew that if he had tried to do things the official way, he would have been shut down, just like Ignatius had arranged to have the murdered bodies buried ahead of schedule so that nobody would find out about his plan. Had those three been a part of the team that had foiled the explosion? Is that why the Firemen had them murdered?
Chester realized that Ignatius was still talking. "...Due to a disturbance this morning in the trading house, the watch in that area will be doubled tonight..." Chester looked at the smug grin on Ignatius's face. He had seemed upset last night that the plan had been foiled. Was he now disguising his disdain, or had he learned new information that put his mind at ease? The captain was keeping so many secrets from the guards that it wouldn't surprise Chester if he only knew a part of what was going on. What else were the Firemen planning?
"Dismissed," Ignatius said, and Chester followed the line to head back into the barracks. "Except for you, Chester." He stopped, and the other guards marched past him to head on to their duties. Darrik gave a brief glimpse over his shoulder as he walked by, and Chester saw that his eyes were filled with worry. Was he just worried about what would happen to Chester, or was he worried about what Chester had already done? He knew Darrik liked to lay low and play by the rules, but he firmly believed that he was doing the right thing by going against them. Ignatius stepped up to Chester, towering over him.
"You are benched today, guardsman," the captain said. "Your behavior last night was far out of line, and I do not want to have you on duty, since you are likely to either continue your dalliances, or collapse from exhaustion, all right?"
"Sir," Chester sputtered, "with all due respect, you already had me take a day off this week. If I don't work, I won't get paid!"
"Then consider this your punishment, see?" Ignatius said, his mouth staying a taught thin line, but amusement creeping into his voice. "You will think twice about acting rashly in the future, won't you, Channing?"
Chester stared down at the ground and didn't reply. Ignatius bent down so that his face was level with Chester's, and Chester couldn't help but look up into his eyes. The cold, blue gaze was sharper than Chester expected. Did the captain merely think that Chester had discovered the Firemen's plot, or did he know that Chester had discovered the captain's corruption? "Won't you?" Ignatius asked again.
Chester held back a shiver. "Yes, sir," he forced himself to say. The captain straightened up.
"Good, then," he said. "Enjoy yourself, and forget about that business with the orphanage, okay? I expect to see you back here bright and early tomorrow."
Chester let his breath go, feeling deflated. The scattered thoughts and worries that had crowded together in his brain flew away, leaving only the dull ache that comes when you tried your best and still failed. Chester had gone out of his way to do the best thing for his hometown, and had fallen down in the process. He needed to pick himself back up again.