Chapter XXVI.

16 Apr

Dey finished eating with the rest of the traveling party in a small dining room near their sleeping quarters. He was about to head back to his room, when one of the lieutenants of Taval Renda approached him. The man in miner’s green bent forward and began to mumble to him.

“You are wanted up in the shaft offices. Follow me, I will show you the way there.”

Though tired, Skull did as he was told, not suspecting what was about to befall him.

The Founder had already finished his meal and returned to his room to rest for the night. Veta watched as the writer followed the miner, exchanging rapid glances with him. I’ll be back soon, Dey told her with his facial expression.

His escort led him toward the front of the mine, saying nothing until they reached a side door that was difficult to find unless one knew where it was.

“Go in there,” pointed the man in green.

Skull did as he was told, entering a small office with a table and two chairs. He sat down and looked about at the dark brown walls of rough mountain rock.

In less than half a minute, the door behind him opened. Dey twisted about to see who it was.

Taval Renda, an obviously forced smile on his face, came toward the table, sitting down opposite the summoned visitor.

The lawyer’s green eyes focused sharply on the gray ones of the latter.

“We must talk between ourselves about the Founder,” began the short, nervous man.

Dey gave him a questioning frown. “What are you getting at?” he demanded with anger in his tone of voice.

The other’s smile disappeared in an instant of time.

“I have been able to find out why you are in our country, Mr. Skull.”

“My aim is not a hidden one,” countered the latter. “I am exploring the Mineral Mountains in order to understand the history and character of the people. My plan is to write a book about what I am able to uncover here about the past. There has been no attempt on my part to conceal my intention of publishing what I learn on my own.”

Renda scowled threateningly. “Let’s you and I get back to Garen Slyn. I have a good idea why he has been the target of your research and investigation since arriving in Landia.”

Dey did not succeed in concealing his genuine surprise at what this statement might imply. It was best to say nothing that might risk the Founder’s safety, he decided. His eyes explored the top of the table between Renda and himself as if he were searching for something there.

The small lawyer suddenly took a new tack.

“Let me give you a historical explanation of a certain problem that has always faced the miners whenever they have attempted to organize in order to better their lot.

“You have certainly heard of the Xartic minority and the great conflict called the Cataclysm that led to their expulsion from Landia a half century ago. What is rarely perceived today is the effect of those events on the miners’ attempts to create their own movement. The ruling elite of our land has always been devilishly clever. Whenever a threat has appeared from the ranks of the lower orders, they have utilized a convenient scapegoat to divert the majority’s wrath. Fifty years ago, it was the Xarti who became the target of this country’s passionate hatred. All criticism of the prevailing system was equated with sympathy for the seditious minority that was being persecuted and driven out beyond our borders.

“So, we have learned from experience the bitter results of being tagged with Xartic labels and sympathies. Even today, five decades after the expulsion of the dreaded group, the same catastrophe could strike and crush the miners’ movement again. Though there may be very few of that minority still left in the Mineral Mountains, the government would be happy to tie our organization to the remnants of the old Xartic strain. Discrediting in the eyes of the general public: that is always the goal of our political enemies. They would not hesitate to use slander to taint all of us, should even one Xart be uncovered in high position within the Miners Organization.

“Is all of this clear to you, my friend?”

Dey made no immediate reply. He warned himself not to reveal one iota of what he knew to this slippery operator. Somehow, he had to compel the lawyer opposite himself to show all his cards. That had to be his goal.

A strategy of patience worked, for Taval Renda had to continue the devious argument he was trying to make.

“The future of our movement means everything to me. Nothing is more valued or precious. I would do nothing to endanger it, nor allow any other person to do so, whoever he might be.

“My entire life is dedicated to the miners of the Mineral Mountains. There is no sacrifice I would be unwilling to make for their cause. That is why your cooperation is going to be so important. I intend to take you before a secret session of the Central Crew tonight. The purpose will be a full investigation and exploration of certain charges concerning Garen Slyn, who has hidden important facts from his comrades.

“Your testimony can save our Founder from shameful humiliation before all of Landia. My hope is that he will resign his post and retire from active leadership with his honor and reputation still intact. That alone can be his salvation.

“Will you tell the truth, thereby preventing great harm to both our movement and Brother Slyn?”

Dey’s anger exploded in a burst of words before he could restrain himself.

“And you aim to become the new president of the organization, replacing him? Is that it?”

The one with the green eyes gave a start of surprise, signifying that a raw nerve had been touched. It took him several seconds to restore his poise and balance.

“I am considered to be a radical force within the Central Crew because my call has always been one for quick, vigorous action.

“The greatest possible enemy of the miners’ movement is not the Landian government of the wealthy mine owners, but our own internal inertia. There lurks the constant danger of missing the moment of final victory through lethargy and inattention. Of not availing ourselves of the opportunity that circumstances offer. I do not wish us to fail through negligence or stupidity. If that makes me a radical, then so be it. I see the need for vigilance at all times. We must never let our guard down against our enemies, or else all is lost.

“This struggle is, at bottom, a political one. Momentum must be maintained, at all costs. Our ranks would be gravely demoralized should the facts that you and I know be spread about at large. It is best that we take care of the matter within the Central Crew and that the basis for acting against Garen Slyn be kept a secret known only to us few. We cannot afford to have our movement sidetracked by personal scandal. There is too much that must be done, if we are to mount an offensive in the battle for the upper hand in Landia.”

For a short while, neither of the two said anything.

“What is it precisely that you want from me?” demanded Dey at last, his gaze fixed on the face of Renda.

The latter pursed his lips with determination.

“It is very simple. You tell the Central Crew why you sought Garen Slyn, what you know about his exact family background.”

“But without the Founder himself being present to hear what I say?”

“That would be wise, I believe,” said Renda with a smirk.

“But it would not be fair to the person whose origins would be discussed,” countered Dey Skull. “There will be no one present to speak directly for him.”

The lawyer gave a sour grimace.

“Bato Mentin is a member of the Central Crew,” he replied. “He is the one closest to the Founder and can act as his defender before the rest of us in the leadership.”

Bato will be there, realized Dey. He will be my ultimate hope for defeating this treacherous maneuver of Taval Renda.

“Very well,” concluded the writer. “I will tell them all I know about the family history of the Founder. But that is a very limited amount of knowledge, you will find out.”

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