Lieutenant Mortimer McMonicle reports what happened to the Regent in Corinth.
|Chapter 31 The Tax Collector
Lieutenant Mortimer McMonicle was a tax collector in the Department of Finance. He received his commission as a political favor after he lost his job as assistant bookkeeper at the Corinth foundry. He was fired because the owner decided to give the job to his son in law.
While he wore the uniform of an Army Officer, he did not fit the profile and made no claim to being a fighting man. He commanded a detail of twenty-five aging men at arms who after thirty years of enlistment were no longer up to the top standards of true military service. He also had a team of six bureaucrats from the Civil Service Accounting Office who were auditors, clerks and collection agents.
His area of responsibility was the Corinth Region. It included four Provinces, each having three districts. One of the districts was the Valley of Men, and Middletown was the seat. Each year they spent a month at each District updating the rolls, assessing property values, collecting taxes and tracking down deadbeats. What was remarkable about the Nirvana District was that there were never any defaults. The tax rolls were maintained meticulously by the Magistrate’s office, and everyone showed up on time and paid their taxes in full. If there was any question, a militia-man would escort the assessor around and make sure everything was documented and accurate.
The Inn was clean and the Lieutenant and his top officials were given the best rooms in the house. In return for the meager Government Travel and Subsitence Allowance they were provided board, room, and a generous tab at the bar. The soldiers were quartered and messed in the Servants Quarters where they were treated well and fussed over. Everyone looked forward to duty in Middletown and when the days work was done, there was the carnival in full swing that provided relaxation and entertainment. The dancing girls were very popular with the soldiers.
This particular year was like any other except for one thing. There was an unfamiliar group of scavengers that accompanied the tax entourage and camped with the Gypsy’s on the High Pasture. It was routine to have the Scavengers along and they did a brisk trade in scrap metals, but this was a group he had never seen before. Even more strange was the fact that he was given a rendering of a woman and told to show it to his staff and report to the Head Scavenger, when she was identified. It turned out the woman was the wife of the village Smith and he reported this in accordance with his instructions. He was shocked to discovered, in providing this intelligence, that the Chief of the Scavengers was none other then Lieutenand Benoite de Ritter, a highly regarded Officer in the King’s Guard Regiment. De Ritter was operating covertly and he swore McMonical to secrecy under threat of death. This he emphasized by tapping his dagger on Mortimer’s throat.
As the time came to complete the collection for the year, Lieutenant McMonigle packed up his train and prepared to depart the following morning. To his dismay there were sounds of battle that raged through the night and into the early hours. As the sun came up the Deputy magistrate burst into the Inn and asked to speak with him.
“What’s going on?” Mortimer asked.
“Brigands,” answered the Deputy, “disguised as Scavengers. They attacked the town last night and the carnage is unbelievable.”
“Brigands?” said the Mortimer, “What could they be after?”
“I don’t know,” answered Dumar, “we’re still trying to get to the bottom of it.”
“Dear god! Orphious dead? He was more than a colleague…He was my friend.”
“Not just him, but over thirty of the townsfolk.”
“I had a premonition,” exclaimed McMonicle slapping his head. “I knew those Scavengers were not the same lot that usually follow us about….but Brigands, I never suspected that…Did they escape?”
“No, we killed them to the last man.”
“I’m relieved to hear that…. Otherwise they might be waiting in ambush…”
“Have no fear Lieutenant…they’re all dead.”
“May I be of Service?”
“Yes, you must report immediately to Corinth, tell them to be vigilant, that Brigands are about…and spread the word for everyone to be on their guard.”
“You can count on me,” said McMonical.
An hour later he halted his caravan on the outskirts of town.
“Wait here,” the tax collector ordered his contingent.
Behind him he saw smoke and smelled the stench of burning flesh. He turned his horse and rode back towards town. He went south on the perimeter road and saw the bodies of the Brigands being thrown into a burn pit. Riding closer he noticed a head on a pike. It was Lieutenant de Ritters.”
Returning to his column they made haste traveling West to Shallow Lake and crossed the District Line. He told his assistant, Mr. Fisk, to take the team to Merry-Water and begin the next collection. Then he spurred his horse North. Two days later, on the verge of collapse, he rode into the Capitol.
“Why is this tax collector, bothering me?” asked Lord Rupert de Villiers.
“He’s the bearer of bad tidings,” answered du Bois, his deputy.
“He has come to report the loss of Lieutenant DeRitter’s team.”
“Dear God! What happened?”
“Better hear it first hand.”
“Yes of course send him in.”
Lieutenant McMonicle entered the General’s office with trepidation.
“Give your report,” ordered de Villiers.
“I’ve ridden hard the past three days, my Lord…and I have terrible tidings from Middletown.”
“As we concluded our tax collection and prepared to leave on the morn, the town was attacked by Brigands.”
“Yes, your Eminence, posing as Scavengers.”
“You don’t say?”
“Over thirty towns people were killed… the deputy Magistrate was in charge and told me to come straight away and report the incident.”
“Were there any survivors?”
“Among the Brigands, man, the Brigands.”
“No my Lord. they were all killed by the Militia…every man.”
“You’re certain of that…?”
“I saw them throwing the bodies into a pit… I counted twenty eight…only…”
“They weren’t Brigands…”
“And what makes you say that…?”
“Because there was a head on a pike…It was the head of De Ritter.”
“You knew the Lieutenant?”
“I reported to him when we identified the woman…the one I was asked to locate.”
“I see… Have you told this to anyone?”
“Absolutely not,” my Lord… “He swore me to secrecy, in no uncertain terms.”
“Throw this man in the dungeon,” said the Regent…
“What have I done my Lord? Tell me what I’ve done wrong.”
“The crime of knowing. Now I must decide whether to kill you or cut your tongue out.”
“Please! Your Emminence, Have mercy.”
“You’re a miserable excuse for a soldier, Lieutenant McMonicle….look at you…you’re a disgrace to that uniform…I have never seen a more slovenly officer in all my years of service.
SILENCE! You’ll plead your case by keeping your mouth shut…now get him out of here.”
After McMonicle had been led away the Regent turned to his Executive officer.
“This is the second mission you’ve botched. Lucky for us the Fools think they were beset by Brigands. If this were to leak out we’d all be kicking the bars of a cell… at best. These are expensive mistakes and I’m looking for a bill payer. Who do you suppose that is going to be?”
“No more than I deserve,” replied his deputy. “I’ll not shirk my responsibility ….but as for the bill payer…, I can tell you someone who can pay the reckoning in full…indeed the very man that started the whole thing in the first place.”
“And who might that be?”
“Cracious, son of the Elven king Edward, of the Listerians.”
“Is he still alive?”
“Beneath our feet…”
“Did we ever find out how he came by the Simian?”
“She was taken alive at Myrocenia.”
“Fancy that…. Now there’s a development we never anticipated…”
“There were six others taken at the same time…and distributed with the spoils.”
“You know that explains what’s been going on around here. How old would they be? That was ten years ago…”
“If they were children… sixteen…eighteen years.”
“That’s how they’ve been avoiding us…that’s how they’ve been able to walk around under our very noses.”
“We’ve learned a lot from Cracious.”
“That the Confederation is reconsolidating… there’s a prophesy now that the four Kings are about to return and restore the Dynasty.”
“Poppycock! Is he still a valuable commodity? “
“Torture is never a pleasant, but he’s young and I expect he’ll recover.”
“And what do you suppose he’s worth?”
The deputy stroked his chin and wrote the sum on an envelope.
“You must be dreaming,” chuckled the Regent, shaking his head. "I’ll tell you what… You’ve just bought yourself two months. If you deliver that ransom, I’ll be persuaded to keep you on for awhile longer.. If you don’t, then it’s time to get packing for the frontier.”
“You won’t regret this, my Lord.”
Two days later Lieutenant McMonical was brought back before the Regent. He had been scrubbed, shaved and given a new tailored uniform. Still he was badly frightened.
“I’ve decided what to do with you, Lieutenant… perhaps I was a bit harsh throwing you in the dungeon…after all you rode hard to bring the news. You must think the worst of me.”
“No my lord… I’d never think that.”
“Well what I’ve decided is that instead of killing you, I’m assigning you a new job.”
“To The Inspector General.”
“I’m honored sir, what have I done to deserve that?”
“It’s not what you’ve done…its what you are going to do…that is if you’re interested.”
“Give me the task and I’ll show you.”
“I’m making you a special assistant and you’ll report directly to me.”
“What do you want me to investigate?”
“Very good, I like someone quick on the uptake…I want you to go back to Middletown and investigate the attack you just reported.”
“I can do that, my Lord…and I promise that my findings will be thorough and complete.”
“You’re not listening. I’ll tell you what your findings will be and you’ll go out and find them.”
“I’m an instrument of your will…What do you anticipate those will be?”
“That the Town was attacked by Brigands…that’s what I anticipate and that’s what I expect your report to show. Then, when you get back, there’s another investigation that needs completing.”
“Yes my lord.”
“You will investigate the ambush in the Tiberian Gorge that resulted in the loss of a Company of Guardsmen… and you know what you‘ll find?”
“I’m listening and await the answer.”
“That they too, were ambushed by Brigands”
“Of course. Now I’m beginning to get the picture.”
“And when you finish with that there’ll be one last matter.”
“A last matter?”
“Yes, the loss of a Special Operating Platoon, under De Ritter.….”
“Lost in the closure and destruction of the Brigand force.”
“I’m amazed at your perceptiveness…first day on the job. Now get to Middletown. I hate loose ends and expect a full report by the end of the month.”