The Bancross Mystery: A meeting with the Captain

I dreaded going to the garrison, but it had to be done. As I’m walking down the road, I keep thinking and remembering old battles; not of blood and bone, but of will and mind. My brother-in-law had never been easy to deal with, even as he was young and eager to prove himself, and it did not become easier once he eventually joined Ehris’ company. Our arguments in the past were never forgotten and oh, how I resented his rash decisions and humorless searches for danger at times. Where his sister - my now departed wife - was always thoughtful, compassionate and put others first, he was the complete opposite. He sought battles and to protect the Mark, with little regard to anything else. Admirable in a way, I admit - if he had only cared more for those around him, and not rushing headless into any battle. 

That I had known Eda and nearly been a part of their family from the time he was a young boy did not matter much. To him I was just the outsider who did not belong in the family; he often called out loud that she had chosen the wrong man and so on, and he never changed his mind. It was never easy dealing with Denholm, and now would be no different. By mere chance - or fate perhaps - he had been assigned to Bancross, when they called for reinforcements from Snowbourn. Had he known that I was here, he’d never have taken the mission, of that I’m positive. But he does love Ethel, of course. I’m sure he sees Eda in her, just as much as I do at times. 

I’ve only met his woman and the twins a couple of times, but they seem a much more reliable sort. Ysle was a strong and sturdy woman and probably one of few who could keep him in check, and for that I’m glad. It was just what he needed, to grow a family of his own and not keep living his life as a dog of war. He had changed over the years indeed, but I’m not sure if it was enough. Our first meeting here left a sour taste for both of us, even as we tried to converse and be civil. Yllfa did not care much for him either, and I fear she’d only bring further conflict if she would follow this time. No, this time I’d do it on my own. 

Sergeant Thilwend was by her office, and we conversed for a little while. Apparently she wasn’t that happy with Denholm either, though I knew that she would also be one of few who could handle him well enough. As I entered the main garrison, there were surly looking off-duty guards all around. Some played dice, others lay half-drunk, some were polishing their weapons and armors. Town guards… they will never change, indeed. I was sent up to his office, and there he sat, my brother-in-law, and he seemed much the same as I always remembered him, even as a boy. His brownish hair and beard was still thick as a young man’s, though he had also started to grow a few grey hairs. Family life, age, responsibility - all that will affect a man. I ran a hand through my own, much thinner, hair and sat down across the table as he waved a hand at me and said not a word as he kept signing papers. 

- “Have you become a paper-pusher now, Denholm?”, I asked rather sarcastically but also in an attempt to bring just a little humour to this otherwise stale encounter. He looked at me for a second, turned the page over and then signed another with a sigh. 

- “You would know, Waelden. I heard you now wanted to join the trading business in your old age. That’s a lot of papers to sign in there. Though I’m sure you did much of that when working for Ehris already.”, he answered with an equally nosy remark to counter me. Already I knew this would be a rough day. 

- “I still work for him, you know.” I replied. 

- “Get to the point, Waelden. I’m a busy man. What do you want?”
He put down the pencil and looked at me with an intense gaze in his eyes.

I sighed and drew a deep breath, and scratched my beard. There were not many men I had trouble conversing with, but he was definitely one of them.

- “I’m here to ask of the Thane. It was said he used to organise boar hunts to keep the town’s stock full for the winter. Do you know why he hasn’t done so this year? People will soon be starving. This winter has been the worst for many years.”

He picked up the pen again and started to gnaw on the end of it, which already seemed to have plenty of teeth-marks and would soon fall to pieces. 

- “I met with the Thane some time ago. He has his reasons, and whatever those are, is none of your business.” 

- “What do you mean, not my business? His people - YOUR people - will go without food soon! There’s not enough to go around! And what about all the strange men that’s been seen riding through here lately? Surely you must know something!”
Already I felt my anger rise, and that was not a good sign.

- “Our Thane has bigger things to worry about, Waelden. Things out of your control, and of mine. Keep your nose out, or I will be forced to take action. Just leave it.” 

I noticed that Denholm looked almost apologetically for a second, and there was something in his eyes that I had not known before… he seemed almost afraid, nervous or unsure for once. I couldn’t tell, but something felt wrong with all this. I leaned back in my chair and folded my arms, nearly steaming with hidden anger now. 

- “You dare threaten me, Denholm?”

- “I do as I please. This is MY town now, and I WILL do what I must, should any of you start to meddle with things you don’t understand. I will only say this once more: Leave. It. Alone!” 

With that, he was back to his usual, boasty self… there was the man I had known for so long indeed. I took another deep breath to keep myself from banging my hands to his table, or worse.

- “... Fine. If you will not tell, then by all means, don’t. I would agree that the Lord’s business is his to keep, even if he should put the town first. But something must be done, before we will all starve. Ethel will starve too, if you hadn’t realised that.”

- “I know. It is unfortunate, but we all have our own problems.”

- “Unfortunate?! You are the captain of the guard! You have power here, and you will not use it to help your people? So what are you going to do, Captain of Bancross? Will you let your people starve? Did you not make your oath to Ehris all those years ago, sworn on the Tiubar family sword?”

- “I did, and you know well he also relieved me of the oath later, when he deemed I had done enough.” He shot a glance towards the tall broadsword that leaned comfortably towards the wall, and something snapped in me… 

- “You were never worthy of that blade, Denholm! It should never have come to you.” 

I couldn’t hold in my disappointment any further, knowing well what kind of man he was, what he had done, and that he’d never truly change to become better, or grow in my eyes. As I sat comfortably and stern, he rose up from his own chair, put his hands on the table and clenched his fists until his knuckles whitened, and he seemed to get ready for a fight. 

- “... I could have you thrown in jail for that insult alone! Keep that well in mind and remember who you’re talking to!”

For a few seconds he looked at me with nearly burning hatred, before he settled down and continued.

- “But I do understand the problem of food. We are checking inventory and rationing as we speak. What do you want? I have nothing to spare that I don’t need myself.”

I rose up as well, and planted my hands upon the table in the same manner. He was bull-headed, sometimes downright stupid, but I also knew that there -was- reason in there, somewhere. 

- “Since the Thane won’t do anything, and the next shipment won’t be here for some time, there has been talk amongst the villagers of going for a longer hunt to feed our village, and I would want a few of your men to aid us. I have hunters, fishermen, and other people ready to do so in the next few days. If successful, we can have enough to feed everyone, including the garrison, for the next month or two. What say you?”

Denholm sat down, his anger calmed, and his eyes void of fire once again.

- “I have already started making plans for a similar hunt. I have not told her yet, but the Sergeant will be going out in two weeks time to replenish our own stock, once some other business has been cleared. Fine… you can have a couple of men to help haul the game back, providing I get a share of the meat to feed my banner. That way I won’t have to force myself onto the town’s stock.”

- “You really would have done that, then. I was wondering what you’d do once you ran out of food. But very well. A fair share of our spoils you will have, if you lend me some men.”

- “Good. Once you’re ready to go, talk to the Sergeant and she’ll assign the men to you. Now get out of my office. I have work to do.”

With that, I simply nodded and turned to leave, and he went back to his own interests. As always, our meetings had turned into petty insults and civil war. Family can truly be a blessing and your worst enemy… But some things kept gnawing on me… the Thane and his “business”. What could be so important as to completely ignore the needs of his town and the folk that lived there? Surely he had his reasons, and perhaps we’d never know.