From a tale of love and tragedy, Hope Flies on Broken Wings, allow me to introduce Harlo, one of my most despicable villains, first with a quick, physical glimpse given from Collie's point of view when she first meets the man, followed by a longer scene presented from Dugan's, a scene that subtly reveals a clear look into his father's sinister nature.
His name is Harlo. He's similar to Dugan in the size and weight. His hair is graying on the sides like it was kissed with salt and his skin is weathered from years upon the sea. A grizzled, gray beard and mustache cover a leathery face, a deep scar running from the bridge of his nose to his jaw on the left side. I think at one time he might have been considered handsome . . .
Three weeks ago Stostam fell and fractured his leg bone below the knee. He's been splinted in linen-tied planks and has been unable to work. He now owes my da two sennights rent. I hold great pity for Stostam tonight. He's a good man and a hard worker and through no true fault of his own, has suddenly garnered the disfavor of Harlo.
The shack is quiet on our approach and Da enters without knocking. The henchmen and I follow him inside. Yellow lamplight cheers the interior and I note Stostam's daughters keep a clean home--the floor is swept, the only smell filling the air being their supper. The man and his daughters are sitting at the inglenook table with what appears to be little more than a thin, turnip broth. No biscuits.
"Go to your room, girls," Stostam shouts, and the two blondes, one ten, and one twelve, hurry from their seats, scurrying from the table.
"Stay still, girls," Harlo orders, pulling out his knife. The girls come to a dead stop.
I don't want to be here. I don't want to know what's about to happen to this family in their time of distress, but I can't walk out or I'm likely to receive another dip, or worse.
Edder strides over, grabbing onto the arms of the two girls while Gillan and Draie each attach themselves to Stostam's. He's an ample man and strong, if the size of those arms bespeaks the truth.
Harlo advances on Stostam, his knife held in a threat. I'm not sure why I'm here unless it is merely an instruction in intimidation. The others all have their roles clearly mapped out, but they've done this work before. I've not.
"Leave my girls be, Harlo," Stostam says. There is no fear in the man's voice, but his eyes tell another tale.
"Another sennight has passed us by, Stostam," Harlo says. "And again I've failed to receive any rent. Do ye like living here?"
"Aye. And I'll get you your rent just as soon as I can be back on my feet. I promise you on the faith of my dear departed wife."
"I don't hold much with the sworn pledge on the dead. Dead is dead and gone and powerless. I place my faith in the living. I placed my faith in you, Stostam, and you've let me down."
"I beg of you to just give me a little more time to recuperate, Harlo. A few more days and I can probably start to walk again. I swear, you'll get every penny of your damned rent. As it is, right now, I can barely feed my daughters."
Harlo picks up a half-eaten bowl of broth and sniffs it. "Ye call this feeding your daughters do ye?" He dumps the broth onto the floor. Sickened horror passes over the two girls' faces. That was their supper and probably all they had.
Harlo leans forward, knife still in hand, looking Stostam squarely in the eye. "I'll make it easy on ye. Since it's so hard for ye to feed two girls right now, I'll take one o'them off your hands for a while and call your debt paid."
Stostam's eyes fire and he lurches forth, held back by Gillan and Draie. "The only way you'll ever touch one of my girls, Harlo, is over my cold, dead corpse."
"Heh, hehe, heh," Harlo chuckles, not with mirth. "That can be arranged. And then I'll have two little orphaned girlies to take care of. Twice the fun."
"Just take his bloody finger, Da," I shout. "You'll never see your money if he's dead." I'm sorry Stostam, but I'm trying to protect your daughters. This is the message I try to convey to the man with my eyes.
Da turns a squinted eye in my direction. "Boy." The drawn out word is spoken in not much more than a growl. Then a smile breaks through his whiskers. "Maybe there's hope for ye yet." He turns back to his men. "Hold him tight, boys. Dugie wants to cut off his finger."
No, I don't!
"Come on boy. Let's get on with it now. Make your old da proud."
I want to turn around and walk out. I wish. But I know how futile wishes can be. How futile hope. How futile is decency and kindness and charity for a fellow man. My da's not dependent upon Stostam's bit of rent money, but the dignity of Stostam and his daughters might depend upon me. I wish I could walk away. Instead, I walk to the table. All I have is my fish knife, whalebone cold in my palm as I pull it from the sheath. My da helps Gillan hold Stostam's left arm still. With a belly full of rocks, I grab onto Stostam's pinky. This will take some time.
"He owes me two sennights o'rent," my da says. "Take one finger for each sennight so he doesn't forget how much he owes."