It was truly a wonderful time to be alive. There were no weapons of mass destruction, no terrorism, no war in the Middle East, and zero problems with immigration. There were no oil spills, air pollution, endangered forests, and no nuclear threats. Inflation, depression, unemployment, drug cartels, and world hunger had disappeared from the face of the planet.
Some good things were also lost, but a thinking person could argue that with the good, came the bad, and humanity originally survived and prospered for fifteen thousand years without the technology it engendered in the last two centuries.
The planet now was regenerating, rising up like the mythical phoenix to unfold its majestic wings, to show its myriad lovely colors as it basked in the light of a morning sun. It was ridding itself of the poisons that once seeped into its earthly skin and suffused its fragile atmosphere. It was regrowing its great forests and jungles and repopulating its vast oceans. It was devouring the old cities in its Godly show of supremacy, and it was breathing new vigor into a humanity so recently on the verge of extinction.
There were lords ruling the North American lands now, men of strength and daring. As the great pandemic swept the land and left it almost empty of people, there was little use or need for democracy. Strong men willing to take on the care of the few were welcome by the exhausted stragglers searching out other survivors.
It was trekker Alicia Jenkins, one of Daniel Montero’s original companions, who first called him “lord” in affectionate exasperation. She had been a teacher and a lover of old, historical romances. The title stuck. It fitted perfectly at a time when lords were needed. The lord became the savior, the teacher, the warrior, the law giver, the answer. He became all.
William Evers, absolute lord of Daniel’s Fork and all the vast lands it included, stepped out of his comfortable house, and took a deep breath of the cool morning air. Directly before him, across the cobbled street, was Daniel’s Square, the center of social and cultural life in the village. Empty this early in the morning, it was a lovely courtyard surrounded by small trees and benches and flowering plantings. It was especially fetching in the late, cool evenings under the light of torches and the awakening stars.
The town was waking, stretching its limbs, opening its mouth wide for its first breath, tumbling out of bed to make itself ready for the day. The pony-pulled milk cart made its way slowly through the cobbled street as a young man placed the daily jug in front of each door and ran back to the creeping cart to get the next one.
“Good morning, my lord,” the young man called out brightly, and Lord Evers responded with a wave of his hand. Down the street, the baker’s two sons were stopping door to door, leaving the freshly-baked loaves of bread, their precious bounty carried in large baskets strapped to their backs. The Daniel’s Fork people were an enterprising lot. There was no room for lazy, unproductive individuals.
As Lord Evers turned left towards Daniel’s Pub, he was greeted by the familiar signs that signaled the beginning of another day: a baby’s wailing for the tit, pots banging as breakfast was started, the cackling of hens, the smell of cooking fires, the sounds of windows opening wide to the morning sun.
“Good morning, my lord,” called the butcher’s wife from across the street as she swept the shop’s frontage in preparation for the day’s business.
“Good morning, Emma. Is all well?”
“All is well, sir. Have a good day.” A little farther down, he came to Daniel’s Pub, and stopped momentarily to think. Daniel’s Pub would normally be open and getting ready for business. A boy would be sweeping the front, and one of the serving girls would be setting down the chairs, wiping tables. Another would be setting up mugs and tableware for the day.
Charlie, the owner, would be moving about full of energy and giving orders. A few days ago, that would have been the familiar routine, but Charlie was now dead, murdered. The world changed, but humanity did not. Love, lust, greed, and hate were still the great motivators, and murder was the means.
It had been an exhausting two weeks, both physically and emotionally. The monster who, for the last seven years, stalked and murdered any man who came near Susanna Roe, was dead. Still, before he died, he murdered the girl’s father and almost succeeded in killing William Evers himself.
Another sad part about the whole affair was that another man, Alex Neville, was suspected of the killings for years. He was ostracized, feared, and almost executed for the killings. All this was the result of one man’s obsession with the love and fortune of the lovely, luscious Susanna, only heir to the owner of the best pub in town. William still had to notify the girl and her mother of the events which led to the unmasking and death of the killer, and he was now about to do so.
Lord Evers walked up the stairs to the second floor where Susanna and her mother were getting resettled. Susanna opened the door and invited him in. He did not bother with the courtesies. She had waited long enough for justice. “Are you ready to sit down and hear the whole story?” he asked.
“Let me get my mother,” she answered. “She wants to hear this too. My uncle came when he saw us arrive, but he refused to say anything. He said it was better to hear it from the horse’s mouth.” Two minutes later, both women sat in rapt attention.
“Susanna, Alex Neville never killed anyone,” the lord announced.
“That cannot be true,” she said emphatically. “He told me himself. He bragged about it. He confessed it to me. I’m not insane or making it up.”
“Susanna, try to recall exactly what he said back then, so many years ago.”
“He said they would keep on dying, and he could wait forever.”
“Were those his exact words?”
“Yes. I wrote them down and gave the paper to Lord Strongheart.”
“They will keep on dying, and I can wait forever,” William repeated.
“Yes, that was it. I could never forget.”
“Susanna, he was humiliated and angry. He wanted to hurt you, to make you sorry for not wanting him. He did not realize the tragic effect those words would have on everyone.”
“And you believed him?” She looked incredulous, shocked.
“No. Not at first. I was strongly influenced by what all of you believed. I accepted Lord Strongheart’s assumptions. That was my error.”
“If Alex Neville never killed anyone, then who did?”
“Sebastian. The man who offered to kill your enemy for you, in trade for your hand in marriage.”
Susanna turned shocked, unbelieving eyes on him. “No, not Sebastian. Of all people, not him. He never, ever, until the day after the burial, showed any interest in me. He was a good, devoted friend to my father. He would never have harmed him.”
“Of course not. He could not show interest. That would have been a grave error. He would have continued to live because he was the killer, and that would have raised flags. No, he had a plan, and the plan was working beautifully. He also had all the time in the world. Eventually, you would grow desperate to marry. He would offer, and you would jump at the chance, which is exactly what happened.
“He would kill Alex for you, and everyone would call him a hero. He might have allowed your father to live a few more years or maybe not. You see, he wanted you and your fortune. But you need not worry anymore. Your tormentor is truly dead. Sebastian came very close to murdering me and the healer, but he is finally dead, and you are truly free.”
Susanna’s eyes filled with tears and a sob broke out. Sylvia Roe reached out to hold and comfort her daughter, and for long minutes, the girl sobbed as if her heart were breaking.
“How did he die?” asked the mother.
“When he realized I knew his secret, he tried to shoot me with his cross bow. I fought him, and he pulled out a dagger to stab me. I managed to wrest it from him, but he knocked me unconscious. When I came to, he was lying dead, stabbed many times, and the healer was over him with the dagger in her hands.”
“The healer killed him?”
“I think she picked up the dagger I wrestled from him, and she killed him as he was about to kill me. She was hysterical, exhausted, and she fell into a very deep sleep and has not awakened yet.”
“It was the horror,” said Susanna’s mother. “Horror can break the strongest mind. We must go and see if we can help. Whatever we can do.”
“If you wish. I think you should also give a thought to Alex Neville and his mother. Their lives became hell because of this. They were pariahs in the village. Everyone shunned them. Alex could have married someone else, if not Susanna, but even that became impossible.”
“Yes, he was a victim as much as my daughter was. We need time to come to terms with all you have told us, but be assured, we will do the right thing, my lord. Althea Neville and I went to school together,” she said as Susanna began to quiet down and wipe her tears. “We married just months apart, but she had Alex right away, and I was years unable to conceive.
“My husband worked our first pub with his father. It was in another location, and it was just a small place, but it was in the village proper. The Nevilles lived out of town, and Althea and I saw each other only at feasts and burials, but we always got along well. It will be good to be friends again. I will go see her soon, I promise.”
“Yes, that is the right thing to do,” said the girl, finally calm and composed. “We will both go, Momma.” Susanna smiled tearfully at her mother and then at Will.
“Now, my lord, are you sure I cannot convince you to marry my daughter? All this could be yours.”
William almost choked. “No, dear lady. I’m afraid not. I truly am a whore and a rogue, and I would make a wife very unhappy. There would not be a safe maid in the house. Your daughter deserves much better, and now there will be suitors from every corner of Daniel’s Fork vying for her hand. You will not have long to wait.” Will smiled his devastating smile and bowing to the ladies, made a quick exit.
What a shame, he thought. He would have to forgo the delicious ride he had been planning to take on Susanna’s scrumptious ass. Any interest shown at this point, could be misconstrued. William left the building and started for the compound. He made it there without interruptions, a miracle indeed.