Chapter 22: Katrina and the Toboggan
By the next night the company had reached the city of Cremona along the River Po. It had been a hard day. They had to ford many rivers and creeks where there was not always a bridge at hand. The horse, Quest, was leery to cross some of the rivers with a full pack. These provisions had to be divvied up among the travelers. The water spoiled some of it, as the men had difficulty keeping their heads and goods above its deceptive depths. But all and all it was a productive day that saw the company cover a sizable chunk of the Italian map.
Pappy had not spoken much that day. He kept to himself. Over and over in his mind he tried to figure out how Hickory’s body would end up in Lake Garda. The letter Talla received from his Grand Uncle bore no postmark or indication as to where Hickory was living when he decided to pass on his legacy.
Merek, himself, had not seen his Uncle Hick for three years – not since the last time the roving elf had come home to Woodhaven.
He remembered the occasion vividly. Ho was just a tot of two and had been overwhelmingly taken by this ancient elf. Ho and Hickory spent a lot of time with each other. They did many things together and to Ho, Hickory had become a hero.
This troubled mammy because she grew afraid that the wayfarer’s bug that had smitten Hickory would also take a bite into her son. She was pregnant with Hum at the time and had become a nagging ninny as she tried to get Pappy to intervene and prevent Hickory from having so much access to Ho. Pappy knew that it was her brother Egbert, who was always jealous of the Robinbreast side of the family, was prodding her.
The Dawnroses always thought of themselves as the cream of the crop. They preferred to look at others through their nostrils rather than eye-to-eye. They always had it in for Hickory. They saw him as a reckless vagabond that freeloaded upon the goodwill of the elfin community.
There was quite a scandal in their family when their loving daughter Silvie had fallen madly in love with a relative of that wastrel, Hickory Robinbreast. They had caused quite a stink trying to dissuade their daughter from marrying Merek Robinbreast but in the end they came to realize that love is the conquering force in life and that there was nothing that they could do to prevent Silvie’s hands from falling into Merek’s.
They accepted Merek Robinbreast into their family but they tried to change him. They tried to make him into a Dawnrose. They tried to alienate him from the rest of the Robinbreasts and in particular his Grand Uncle Hickory.
With that last visit of Hick’s three years ago, Pappy was under great strain and finally had to give in to his in-laws. Afterall, he had reckoned, he lived with the Dawnroses every day of his life while Hickory was an infrequent visitor that never stuck around long enough to wash his hands.
So with the relentless pestering of his in-laws on his back, Pappy had to tell his Grand Uncle that he could not see Ho too often.
Hickory did not seem too surprised by this although it was obvious that he was hurt. He had said to Pappy that he understood and would not try to corrupt Ho with his tales of far off adventure. He spent three more days with the Robinbreasts after this and he remained true to his word. Although he wasn’t ignoring Ho, his nature was more distant and soon the child sought Pappy’s company rather than Uncle Hick’s.
Then one morning after Pappy, Mammy and Ho rose and eaten breakfast, they became aware that Hickory was not present. Thinking him still sleeping in his room, Pappy went to wake him up. He knocked at the door and then entered. The room was empty. The bed had not been slept in and the window curtains fluttered with the breeze. In the corner of the room was Hickory’s cedar chest. It was filled with all of his belongings, even his corn pipe.
Hickory had left during the night and Pappy felt miserable for having wronged this noble elf. There was a note on the pillow that Pappy read at once. He noticed that the writing was urgent and hastily scribbled. The letter did not say much other than thank you for the hospitality and that he had to leave unannounced because of some pressing business. It was the last time Pappy had any contact with the living Hickory Robinbreast.
He had not mulled over what pressing business Hickory had to attend to. He had assumed that it was Hickory’s polite way of saying that he couldn’t stay here any longer because he was hurt that he could not spend time with Ho.
Perhaps, that was part of the reason but today as he walked across Central Italy, it occurred to Pappy that there might have been some truth in the letter. Perhaps even back then, Hickory was being stalked and he did not wish to have anything ugly happen to his family and for that reason he had stolen away into the night.
Pappy had heard everything exchanged between Enrico and the gypsy leader although he need not have heard it. He could see with his own eyes the blistering indentation in the temple of the skull. Hickory was murdered and Pappy felt that his murderer was quite probably connected with Castelo Branco and this whole affair with the emeralds. Perhaps Hickory had come to Italy thinking that his pursuers would not find him here. But alas they did and they committed their heinous atrocity.
Pappy could not help but wonder if those same murderers were on his trail as they were on Hick’s. One name kept popping in his head – Fender Apple. Could that devious elf be capable of murder? Murder was a rare thing in the elf world. Although they often bicker with each other, elves were not known to commit the supreme act of personal violence.
There had not been a murder in Woodhaven in over a century and a half. That was the time that Thrinkle Cumhudgeon did away with her husband Augbert when she caught him in the clandestine act of romance with a gypsy lady upon the hills that overlook Woodhaven.
It was not the first time that she discovered him doing this. Augbert had a notorious reputation as a lady’s man and was forever making passes at the women in town. Why Thrinkle would marry such a lecher as Augbert still remains a mystery to this day. Perhaps she was enamored by his overwhelming charisma and had to suffer the envious costs of her love? It must have eaten at her to be so often humiliated by her husband’s not so secretive romantic liaisons. She must have been reconciled to it for one day she decided to bury the hatchet – in Augbert’s skull.
For her crime of passion, Thrinkle Cumhudgeon spent the rest of her days in a jail that was built specifically for her for there was no need to have a jailhouse in Woodhaven prior to this.
She lived in that little house attached to Town Hall for fifty years until she died. It was her duty to bake the breads and cakes for any meeting and ceremony at Town Hall during that half century. These baked items were said to be delectable and she developed quite a reputation around town. It was said that back in those days the turnouts for town council was always at capacity.
After Thrinkle died, fewer and fewer people showed up at the meetings until it reached a point where a bylaw had to be passed requiring all able bodied adult elves to attend at least fifty percent of the meetings or they would have to suffer a hefty penalty tax. Attendance was recorded stringently. It was the only way that Town Hall could assure that they would have a quorum for any important business that came their way.
Twenty years after Thrinkle passed away the jailhouse that had been her home had been torn down because of dry rot. It had sat vacant all of that time and was never needed again.
Thrinkle lives on in the memory of Woodhaven not so much for her crime but for her cakes.
There was something amusing in Thrinkle’s tale. Augbert’s murder could almost be looked upon as a comedy but the murder of Hickory Robinbreast could only be thought of as something vile and horrible. It cannot be anecdotal. It could only be a nightmare.
So, at least it seemed now. Pappy wondered if in Woodhaven’s posterity, future elves would make light of the death of his Grand Uncle the way that they had done with Augbert Cumhudgeon. Would there be cakes from Hickory’s murderer that would fade the memory of the gruesome way that Hickory died? Poor Augbert had been ridiculed after his death. He had become a comic figure that deserved the fate that came his way. Would the same happen to Hick?
“No!” Pappy cried out loud, slamming his hand into his fist. This caused some of the others on the road to Cremona to look his way. They must have wondered what was going on his head.”