Outside the land of the Treeps, in the forested section of the Millnucks, the Tour of the Ward headed north along the base of the Meta Mountains. “We could use a hunt” Said Hector “We were not able to restock our supplies among the Treeps.” Hector had become the Tours lead tracker which gave him some freedom from the required etiquette practiced by the swooning dignitaries. “Perhaps Warden Franklin would like to accompany the hunt?”
“That sounds like a great idea I have not yet hunted the forest.”
“Good we will send hunting parties in 3 different directions, if one is not successful the others are sure to be. There are no roads between here and the city of Krystal Flats for miles. The traveling will be slow at first, but, at the base of the Meta Mountains the view should be one of the finest in the Ward.”
“There have been many fine views to this point” said Earnest. By using inclusive language Earnest hoped the dignitaries within ear shot would not be offended. Choosing a favorite at this point he felt would have been a political mistake. One that would have little consequence but he knew he had much to learn in the in the realm of political etiquette but was learning and taking note of capitalizing on opportunities or at least avoiding unnecessary mistakes.
“I should like to come as well,’ said Jasper, surprising many. “Some distance from the other dignitaries would allow me some reflection time. I have not been to my homeland in some time and I am wanting some time away from the distractions of the tour. I understand the Warden has become quite skilled with the bow.”
“Charles, grab the gear were going hunting!” Shouted Hector
“Yes sir!” Said the young foot soldier of the Donsey.
The hunting party of 4 set out to the east looking for game. The forests here were not like the forests of Treepland. The Treepland forest while old was well groomed. There was very little in the way of underbrush and tree crowding. Outside the borders of Treepland, the forests were coniferous with pine like evergreens covering the landscape. There were areas where the trees and undergrowth were so thick that one could not pass through them. An inexperienced person in the forest could loose their sense of direction under the thick canopy and get lost. Hectors skill would keep the party from getting lost. Most of the obstacles were reasonably well skirted. The hunting was not as it was in the plains. The thick canopy of trees made much of the small game and fowl well hidden. An errant shot would not have its arrow easily retrieved. So, the hunt progressed slowly. Because the hunting was slow the hunters and guest engaged in light conversation as they made their way.
“So Jasper, how long has it been since you have been in the Treepland forest?”
“It has been 52 years since I have last wondered among the Trees.”
“Sounds like you miss it. Do you have family there?”
“ I do miss my homeland, but my family visits often. I get so involved in my studies of the histories that I cannot bear at times to leave them behind. Because we currently have so few copies of our available histories the Council does not allow some of them out of the Central City Library.”
“How long have you been Regent?”
“how did you become regent?”
“I was appointed by the previous regent. Who has since passed on. He chose me because my studies had lead to the next available opportunity for a choosing. A daunting task since so much of our history has been lost. The longer we go without a Warden the more difficult it is to determine a time of choosing. The last reagent was an administrating politician our greatest need at the time nut, now as we are stable as a nation and we need new leadership to expand, That means a Warden. As my studies have focused on the histories of Wardens and as part of that their callings I was thought the best choice to bring a new Warden into the Ward. We have known of this opportunity for 13 years”
“So the choosing of a new warden has kind of been your quest”
“It has been the quest of many” Earnest rolled his eyes and tipped his head towards Jasper. “Yes, Warden Earnest you can say that I have a special drive for the task”
“So now that it is complete what will you do now.”
“My task is far from complete. My major concern is imparting the wisdom of the histories to the Warden. In order to do this there needs to be a Warden to impart that wisdom to.”
“So I’m your quest?”
“It is the development of your wisdom that is my quest. It is more than the imparting of knowledge that I desire to provide you but the ability to use that knowledge in a wise manner. Knowledge alone does not make one wise.’
“I thought your primary concern would be to help develop the Ward.”
“The Ward will develop regardless, you can however, become a victim of that development. I hope to protect you from that by giving you the most useful thing anyone can have… wisdom”
“Do you ever have any fun? Or or you always working. I have seen you smile but I can’t remember if I have ever seen you laugh.” As if almost on cue Jasper began to giggle at Earnests comment.
“Of course I laugh, perhaps when we return from the tour and are not constantly surrounded by the highest offices in the land you will see more of it.” Without warning one of Jasper’s long arms swooped just above Earnest’s head to a low lying branch, snatched something and stuck it in his mouth. “Hah! Eggs for a Treep don’t come any fresher than that!” A boisterous comment that Earnest hardly expected.
“Do your duties wear on your sense of fun?”
“Yes, but I love to study and research history and knowledge of all kinds, my administrative responsibilities are a means to an end. I am not unfulfilled. I have access to any documented information in the Ward. What remains of our written histories are not accessible to just anyone, the older and more sensitive it is the fewer that have access to it. While the people of the Ward are loyal they can be proud and arrogant. Put someone like that in power and access to too much information and you will have problems. That is why I am so glad that the new Warden is a man with who I feel like I can share such things with without the same concerns. “Earnest” said Jasper placing a hand on his shoulder and looking at him. His long fingers went ¾ down earnests back and without using any reference to his title and within earshot of both Hector and Charlie “Beware that the power of your position does not lead you to arrogance. Arrogance is a deceitful notion that has ruined many.”
“Its good to know that in a strange land with a strange people and new customs that I can have a friend.”
Jasper nodded in acknowledgment and replied “ I am not the only one”
“Yes, you are right about that,”
‘I do believe I am having fun!’ At this point everyone laughed.
After 2 hours of winding through the forest and no sign of anything to make the hunt a success Hector whipped around facing the Warden and the Regent and sternly said, “Wait here and don’t move!”, and quickly disappeared into the forest at a full sprint leaving the others alone. The sudden departure left tension in the remaining 3. None were adept enough trackers to find their way back to camp in thick over grown forest. What could have sent Hector off so urgently? Wasn’t the protection of the Warden paramount? Not to mention the Head Regent as well. What could be so important as to leave the Warden and the Head Regent exposed? The the remaining three remained silent while they waited for Hector’s return. Earnest notched an arrow and Charles unsheathed his sword and readied his shield. A long 5 minutes later the snapping of twigs in a steady pattern let it be known that someone was approaching. Charles positioned himself between the approaching noise and the Wards leaders. Earnest notched an arrow and drew it back, prepared if necessary to let it loose. He wasn’t just protecting the unarmed head Regent of the Ward, he was protecting his friend. The whistling of Hectors favorite traveling tune made it apparent that such precautions were not necessary and the 3 relaxed as they waited for him to become visible.
“Warden Franklin” said Hector an unusual show of protocol for him. Then lowering to one knee and bowing his head he spoke again. “My humblest apologies Warden Franklin, I beg your liberty, there is something that you must see, it grieves me and the sight will not be pleasant.”
“My liberty is granted Hector” retuning the infrequent protocol between them. “Show us” Earnest continued. A short walk in the direction from which Hector returned revealed a shocking sight. There before them was a man strung to a tree. His ankles were tied behind him, one on either side of the tree, his hands were bound together and tied to a low hanging branch above his head. He was obviously being prepared for some kind of torture. His assailant was lying limp at his knees in a heap.
“Warden Franklin” announced Hector “this is the way of the Skree. I wanted to show you the brutality of their methods before dispatching this one.” Hector motioned to the man still bound. “I examined the limp one. His plans were apparently interrupted.” Pulling back the assailants tunic Hector reviled a red mark just behind the shoulder blade. “The pine asp is nocturnal and not normally aggressive. It appears that this one was shaken from his perch in the tree and down our unfriend’s shirt. A very suitable death for a Skree if you ask me.”
“A Skree?” asked Earnest.
“Yes, they both are. This is the betrayal torture of one Skree to another.”
“What exactly are the Skree? Are they part of the Ward?”
“Allow me Warden Earnest..” said Jasper “ I believe the best way to describe the Skree is”
“Blackmailers! Thieves and spies! That is what they are!” interrupted an angry Hector.
“Blackmailers?” asked Earnest. The captive Skree remained motionless with his head down.
“Shall I kill him now Warden?”
“Kill him? What for?”
“Standing orders. The menace are to be killed immediately upon discovery.”
“No Hector! ” shouted Earnest then turning to the head regent “Jasper? Whats going on here? How long has this been going on?”
“The last Warden Serge Dolanski gave orders to kill them upon discovery. As we have not had a Warden for nearly 2000 years we have been unable to change the law. Only a Warden can change the law.”
Are there a lot of Skree? And just how many have died with out my knowledge. Who are the Skree?”
“The Skree are a highly secretive group. Evasive when questioned. Not much is known about them. They are usually involved in some sort of mischief when discovered.”
“What kind of mischief? What would warrant killing them on sight?” then in a sarcastic voice continued “Can’t change the laws well this one is about to change!” Then turning to the bound man. “Well Skree, if indeed you are a Skree, I have heard from them, what do you say? Are you a Skree”? The man did not move there was only silence from the man still bound to the tree. “What is your name?” More silence as he continued to hang his head and ignore the others. “I am the Warden of the Ward. I make the law here. Answer a few questions and you will be free to go.” The man turned his head to meet Earnests gaze. Earnest was hopeful of getting some answers. After meeting his gaze for a moment the man turned his head down again to stare at the ground. “I have no wish to kill you but if you do not answer some questions I will take you captive.” Earnest waited while the others remained silent as well. “Your protecting something… or someone. A selfish self serving person would have spoken, given the opportunity to free himself even if it were a lie. This man is loyal to something. Loyalty is a admirable thing and should be honored.” Then turning to the Skree again “Who or what are you loyal to?”
Jasper answered trying to help the situation “It is said that Skree are in the business of controlling secrets. They gather them by any means possible, both legal and subversive. Skree are most commonly discovered either gathering information or selling it.”
“is this true?”
“Was this man trying to get information from you? Jasper says that your information could be bought. I am the Warden I can meet any price.”
“Not… for… sale…” were the first bitter words out of the hanging mans mouth. Encouraged by some response Earnest continued.
“What is your name?” The man remained silent. “Surely your name is not a secret.”
“His life is forfeit” said Hector in a calmer demeanor than before “ he will not share anything with you”
“No life is forfeit Hector, just what crime has this man committed?”
“He is a Skree.”
“And what exactly has this Skree, if in fact he is a Skree, done? Have you any evidence against him?”
“The Skree betrayal torture!”
“Your only evidence against this man is that he was being tortured? It is not a crime to be tortured, I would think that the crime might be the other way around. God has spared this man lets find out what he was spared for. We have no right to condemn him for crimes we don’t know of and for evidence we don not have.”
“Your not going to just let him go?”
“No, I suppose that would not be a good idea. It is obvious he is hiding or at least protecting something. His life will be spared, his freedom will be based on what he will share. But we will not detain him forever. He will be detained for now, so he can clear himself . We will give him every opportunity to do so. Timing is not good for this ones sake for I cannot leave the tour of the Ward to give him that opportunity. Maybe some to time to think will help him. Being tortured may not have left his mind clear.” Then turning around to face the skree Earnest exclaimed., “? what kind of madness is this?” then Earnest turned to Jasper. “I want to learn everything I can of the Skree. In the mean time Skree, if discovered, are not to be killed only detained and then only if they are accused of an actual crime. I am the Warden and I make the law” Earnest paused realizing what he had said and thought to himself.‘I really said that?’ confident that he was right he continued “Jasper from this moment on, the Skree are not to be killed when discovered, even if they are guilty of the worst of crimes. For now they are only to be detained. This will remain in effect until I learn more of the Skree.” ‘Wow that sounded authoritative’ earnest thought to himself “There is more to this and in the end I shall have knowledge of it.” ‘ don’t let it go to your head,but you cant allow this to continue’ Then turning to the Skree “”While some things may need to be secret others need to be shared. I will gain knowledge of the Skree one way or another. Your fate and the fate of many Skree are in my hands, and in yours as well.”
“Detain? Detain! There is not a lockup in all the Ward that given enough time any Skree will eventually be rid of” protested Hector
Jasper suggested “I think maximum detention at the palace dungeon with the honor guard on duty will keep him long enough for us to complete the tour. We’ll be less than a week in returning”
”Agreed” said Earnest he then leered at Hector
“I don’t like it Warden and I can’t serve you and pretend to be in agreement.”
“Once in detention he is to have no physical or visual contact with anyone until I return. Hector, are you and Charles able to take him there or will you need help?”
“If he so much as blinks and eye the wrong way at me I will make this effort of yours all for not!” Threatened Hector obviously back to his usual ways in dealing with dignitaries. And the Skree
“Then swear me an oath. No harm comes to him until I finish the tour and I see him again.”
“I so swear but only because you are the warden and bid me so and only until you return from the tour.”
“Skree, if that is what your are, I will also require an oath of you. You have shown loyalty to something and I will give you the time as to how to best honor that. I could have allowed you to be killed now, you owe me your life. I only require that you will go with Hector and Charles and wait until I return to the Central City of Governing. You will temporarily be in secure lockup but only until I return. If my situation were different I would travel with you. For now I will use the time to consider what I might say. It is my hope you will consider what you would say as well. “ Then Earnest stepped back a bit. “On your life… do you swear to await my return?”
“No other choice… you call upon the life debt.”
“Cut him loose and get him some water and food we’ll wait here a minuet to let him regain some of his strength before we return to camp.”
Hector said” What are we to say when we return to camp?”
“We are not all returning to camp. You and Charles will escort this man to detention once you get us close enough to camp to get us close enough that we can make our own way back. As Warden there is always much for me to do… I’ll just say I’ve sent you on a personal errand that will limit any questions as to your whereabouts.”
“Jasper … we have much to discuss”