Rafael stood at the kitchen window until he saw the Marshal and his pose disappear over the hill toward the upper town. Even then, Rafael stood and stared. The lukewarm emotions he had been feeling now were a boiling cauldron of indignation. The unbearable thought that his master and guardian could be wrongfully charged with murder was only inflamed by the notion that the College was likely the guilty party.
Finally turning away from the window, Rafael slumped back down onto the floor, where the albatross sat staring absently at him from between his feet. A thought had struck Rafael which left him weak and sullen. What if Amos had murdered Boethius? Rafael could not pretend there was no evidence against the captain. His frequent evening ventures to Baker’s hill, his fits of drunken rage, his strange behavior over the last few days. Rafael recalled the captain’s grieving attitude before anyone had even learned of Boethius’ death.
Despite all this, Rafael found it impossible to make it real to his mind. Absurdity crowded fear until it was all a vapor in his head. His thoughts turned to his hunger, and the state of his filthy clothes. He resolved he would eat, dress and then go to the College. His head ached from all his thinking.
Picking up the albatross, Rafael began to make his way toward his bedroom. As he walked, he looked again into the bird’s opal eyes. For reasons he could not understand, when he looked into the bird’s foolish face, he could not help but think of Annabel. There was no conceivable correlation, but still his mind snapped back to Annabel’s lovely face. Like all faces in memory, it was essence without form. Perhaps that was why he had perceived it being luminous when he had recalled it earlier. But no, they were two different faces in his mind. One the aetherial Annabel, the other like any other remembered face, attributed significance only by the memories it carried.
Rafael’s head throbbed, and he looked away from the creature.
“Quit staring at me.” He muttered under his breath.
Stepping into his room again, Rafael set the albatross down in the closet again and quickly began changing into fresh clothes. Tossing his ash-covered pants aside, he heard them thud on the wood floor. He remembered immediately Amery’s pocket watch that had been in his pocket. He quickly snatched up the pants and scoured the pockets until his fingers touched the cold, gold surface of the watch. Pulling it out, he replaced it into his own pocket and turned to leave the room. He fully intended to return the watch to Amery. What a laugh they would have.
As he stepped out into the hall again, his habitual mind entirely focused on what scraps might be left in the pantry, he heard the screen door open and saw a shadow lengthen over the entry hall floor. He stopped where he stood.
“Rafael?” Came a familiar voice. A shock of joy ran through Rafael’s heart as he called back.
“I’m here! I’m right here!” He rushed around the corner and felt his entire body light up as he saw Amery standing in the doorway, and behind him all the others with amazed expressions at the sight of Rafael. Amery looked on the edge of tears as he rushed toward his friend and threw his long arms around Rafael. The others all came flocking and chattering around Rafael, who could not help but laugh aloud at their bewilderment, all trying to touch him at once as if they were uncertain that he was really before them.
Finally Amery pulled out of the embrace, and looked at Rafael full in the face, without at all veiling his amazement. He spoke and the others fell silent,
“How…how did you survive. I watched you fall into the fire.”
Rafael grinned and wide and looked at the expectant faces of the others all around him. He laughed and said,
“I don’t know! I’m just as surprised as you are.” The boys all roared their dissatisfaction.
“C’mon Raf! You have to know something we don’t!” Hermon said loudly, giving Rafael and smart slap on the shoulder. Rafael jumped a little and rubbed his shoulder as he said,
“It’s a bit of a complicated story.” Amery gripped Rafael by the forearm and began pushing toward the door again, saying,
“He can tell us all about it on the way to the College. They just arrested Captain Amos and are putting him on trial for the murder of Boethius!”
Emerging again into the blinding light of day, surrounded by the voices and his friends and instilled with a renewed sense of urgency he forgot his hunger and aching limbs and carried on up the hill again. He made another effort to explain his story as they walked, and when he came to the part about the pocket watch, he remembered it was in his pocket. Producing it chain-first, he held it out to Amery, saying,
“I bet you thought you’d lost it for good.” Amery politely held up his hand in refusal, saying,
“It sounds to me like my watch has been a more auspicious totem for you than for me.” He smiled and pushed the watch back toward Rafael. “Keep it, you need some souvenir to remind you of the night of your miracle.”
Rafael gladly returned the watch to his pocket with a smile. As they passed the preliminary houses before the Market Junction, Rafael noted that their little company had been joined by a collection of other towns folk from the wharf. Soon families joined them in the street, stiff-backed fathers with timid mothers and children fussing with starchy collars. As they reached the Market Junction, it was evident that the whole town had heard the news and were all journeying to the College, beyond the west pastures. Everyone was wearing their best, men in white-linen shirts, and women in floral day-wear dresses.
Saturday was the day the town traditionally would go to listen to the morning sermon, but usually most the town would listen on their radios. Never had Rafael seen the whole town leave in one great exodus to the College. Taking the westward road through the town and toward the pastures, Rafael could not see past the throng. The boys together hesitated to continue, drifting to the left side of the road between two empty vegetable stands. Hermon was the first to to climb up on the nearest stand to get a vantage over the crowd. He was followed by Vincent, Wallie, and then the others, until both stands ached under their weight.
Standing tall above the pilgrimage west, Rafael could see lines of horses and buggies, hay waggons and even tractors pulling wagon-loads of children, alongside the hundreds of bobbing black hats and parasols. He could see where the houses ended, and the long, dusty road to the line of trees about two miles away, where a tall spire rose from the College’s steeple. Another rippling toll hummed through the air from the College.
“All this for one hermit.” Rafael breathed.
“All this for a murder.” Amery replied in a lower tone.
“Do you think he did it?” Aldous muttered from behind Amery and Rafael. Amery immediately turned his head and shot Aldous a hard glance, saying in a severe but hushed tone,
“You know what I think.” Aldous dropped his gaze, but turned his head toward Rafael.
“What do you think, Raf?” Amery looked at Rafael, who continued to look west with troubled eyes.
“You think he did…” Amery uttered, as if reading Rafael’s mind. The truth was, Rafael was conflicted and could truthfully not say one or the other. What the captain had said earlier that day played itself over and over in cloudy repetition. Already rational thoughts had began to resume their over his supernatural convictions. Their brief repartee between the captain and he, about the Angel and her words in their visions, had become a starkly separate world from his rational understanding. Although, what Rafael considered irrational was simply where the supernatural and touched his rational understand, which is what troubled his thoughts most.
Rafael knew, though he wished it wasn’t the case, that the question was not simple. It was not whether or not Amos murdered Boethius, but a question of whether or not their visions were real; whether or not the supernatural were at work in Lerga, in the lives of Boethius, Amos, and now himself. If that were not the case, then the captain had gone mad, and now Amery was flirting with madness himself. The evidence ended there for Rafael, and he felt trapped; pinioned between observable fact and the irreconcilable conviction that he owed his own life to something he could not explain.
Rafael finally spoke in reply to Aldous, not heeding Amery’s statement,
“I don’t know.” The two quietly returned their gaze to the exodus, and to the spire in the distance. Just then they caught sight of someone approaching them, going the opposite direction from the crowd and waving his arms. They looked down to see the tall and lanky figure of Martin approaching them, followed closely by the lumbering, disgruntled figure of Codwall.
Amery was the first to call out cheerily,
“Martin, you mangy dog! Where have you been all this time?” Martin had finally pushed through the crowd and was at the edge of the vegetable stand looking up at the others.
“Why, I’ve been spending the whole morning rousing the town and talk’n with the Marshal.”
“Where’s your horse?” Rafael asked.
“I had to loan it to the Marshal’s deputies for the arrest.” Rafael, who was about to speak again, fell silent. He could see in Martin’s face he discerned Rafael’s thoughts and said,
“I’m sorry they had to arrest him, but you must understand they have good reason to suspect him.” There was just the right level of dutiful meekness and humble sympathy in his tone. But as Martin continued, the other’s faces turned cold on him, “I had to tell the Marshal the evidence I had against Amos. It’s nothing personal, honest.”
“What evidence?” Amery snapped. Martin looked surprised at Amery and replied, with a little dignity,
“Well, that he was frequently in the habit of going up to Baker’s in the middle of the night, and his givenness to drink, among other things.” Amery fell silent, though his gaze did not soften. Martin, looked among the faces of the others for some kind of vindication, as he spoke in his defence,
“Look, I had to! It was my duty.”
“I imagine you’ll be testifying against him, won’t you?” Amery grumbled.
“You’d think I’d done something criminal! It’s my duty.” Martin replied, his voice becoming disturbed.
“I understand, Martin.” Rafael affirmed, much to Amery’s disgust. “It is your duty.”
The others, except for Amery, who had been undecided about where to stand on Martin’s confession, all dropped their eyes in agreement with Rafael. Amery gritted his teeth with discontent and shot an impatient glance back toward the College.
“Well, we can’t just stand around here all day. Are we going to the trial or not?” Amery said, irritably.
“Yes, we’d better go now.” Aldous said, being the first to jump down off the stand.
“We’re gonna be up in the balcony at this rate.” Wallie muttered, following Aldous’ lead. The company continued to follow the western road in silence, surrounded by the noisy multitude and rumble and rattle of the tractors and wagons. They day was growing warm beneath the uninterrupted summer sun, though a cool September breeze continuously stirred the air.
They were now among the pastures, where the air was sweet and soft. The cattle had all congregated beneath the sparse oaks to escape the heat and turkey vultures had begun to circle overhead to watch the procession. As they came to the place where Hangman’s Forest began on their left, Rafael’s mind trailed back to the time he’d ventured in to follow Annabel in happier times. He envied the squandered happiness of his childhood, and wished he had had the sense to enjoy every drop of his days then; in the days before Annabel had gone and before Amos had begun to drink. Back when Amos was merely the father of the girl he loved, and not his master.
As chaotic and remote as Amos had become over the last two years, he had still began to leave the impression of a father on Rafael. Rafael could perceive in himself a loyalty to the captain, almost regardless of guilt, which he knew contributed to his cloudy thoughts on the matter.
Soon the pasture on their left narrowed as well, as the road proceeded into a wedge of woods on either side. Before long the procession walked beneath the huge, arching boughs of ancient oak trees, which hung with cobweb-like spanish moss. The sunlight pierced the branches above and glittered among the glossy, fallen evergreen leaves on the forest floor.
Rafael had only traveled down this road a handful of times; it had been years. Nothing ever gave him reason to venture toward the College. He had little interest in the sermons and lectures of the leading professors, though sometimes he had caught Amos listening to the Saturday sermon on the radio; grumbling as he did and often switching it off prematurely. Amery’s vaguely negative disposition toward the College only served to reinforce Rafael’s quiet distrust of it.
Ahead, Rafael could see an old, stone wall crawling with ivy. The road they walked continued through a gateless entry, beyond which Rafael could not see due to the multitude around him. As they passed the open entry, the woods abruptly gave way to an open campus of rolling, dark grass and littled, paved footpaths. The wall could be clearly seen now surrounding the College grounds, which Rafael knew to contain at least two acres. Just within the wall a gravel road encircled the whole campus, giving the wagons and tractors ample space to idle. But what was most striking to the eye was the buildings.
Three, enormous, church-like structures reached with finger-like spires into the sky. The lesser two structures were made up mostly of red-brick and white-washed wood, with gabled windows and tall, white pillars, all appearing clean and with a homely atmosphere. But the chief, foremost building was gaunt and austere; clearly older than the other two. This was the College lecture hall, and was as old as the Hearthbrow family which kept it.
Made up almost exclusively of dark, brown brick, every gabled window, pointed arch, and gothic feature angled upward in a stretched and almost distorted fashion. A long, narrow, and pointed window faced the entry to the campus, directing the eye to the ancient, astronomical clock, whose werks could be heard hoarse and heavy over the whole College grounds. Above this was the belfry, from which every few minutes thundered another toll from the huge, old bell. Finally, above this was the towering, charcoal-black spire, glistening in the noonday sun, and topped with a brass weather vane.
Gazing on this magnificent structure was like looking into a face; that huge clock, like a glowering eye. Rafael was jostled accidentally from behind, which woke him to the fact that the others had gotten ahead of him and were following the crowd toward the foot of the looming lecture hall. Rafael quickly began to push through the crowd to catch up.
By the time he made it up to where they were, they had already reached the threshold steps, where the crowd’s progress ground to a halt as they all had to enter through a narrow, arched doorway. Coming up behind the others, Rafael suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder. Rafael turned to see Martin coming close to speak over the crowd,
“Don’t go through the main doors, the Marshal wants to see you on the side.” Rafael felt a sparking chill run through his gut. His throat turned dry as he replied, already following Martin through the crowd.
“What’s the Marshal want to see me for?” Martin looked back at Rafael with an expression which told Rafael how stupid his question had been, and how stupid he had been to not assume he was a primary witness.
A brick path ran the length of the left side of the lecture hall, toward the inner campus behind the lecture hall and between the other two buildings. The crowd did not extend where Martin lead Rafael, along this path, under the tall, narrow windows of the austere lecture hall. Near the back corner of the building, Rafael could see a kind of side door, near which he could see the Marshal with his broad-brimmed hat and black boots, speaking with another man who wore a long, white cassock.
Rafael felt his knees turn weak and his stomach turn sour as he realized he might be speaking with Professor Richard Rendwick, a College don, and the man who traditionally performed the Saturday sermons. To Rafael’s horror the man turned as Martin and he approached. Rafael would have dropped his eyes immediately if Professor Rendwick’s face had not been so warmly inviting. This impression caught Rafael off guard, who had subconsciously been expecting the professor’s of the College to be as cold and palid as the stonework of their buildings. This man was rosy cheeked and bright eyed, with a clear face and bright, level teeth.
“Ah! Young Mr. Rafael. Thank you for being here.” Rafael wasn’t sure how to reply, and found himself blurting out stupidly,
“Thank you, sir.” The professor’s eyes sparkled at Rafael with something like passive amusement. He then motioned with a wave of his relaxed, fat hand, to the Marshal standing close by,
“I’m sure you know our good Marshal, Mr. Burt Memphis.” The Marshal’s weathered skin wrinkling as he smiled tightly under his billowing mustache. He stepped forward and offered Rafael a strong, calloused hand. Rafael shook it with as much grip as he could manage, as the Marshal said in a low and sincere voice,
“I’m terribly sorry about all this. We recognize you have a lot of history with Captain Amos.” Rafael nodded and swallowed, punishing himself inwardly for his clumsy behavior,
“Yessir.” Rafael said, monosyllabically. Rafael stepped back again and realized Professor Rendwick was fixing him with a keen stare. He was grinning the sort of knowing, paternal grin Rafael had often seen on older men before they began speaking about, ‘when I was your age’. But there was a weight and seriousness in his smile which made Rafael fall completely silent as he waited for him to speak.
“You already understand how serious this is, I hope.” Professor Rendwick began in a very grave tone. “Mr. Amos is being tried for his life, for the murder of an innocent man.” He left a pause here, in which Rafael tried to resist a chill from running through his body, though he failed and his shoulders twitched visibly. The Marshal spoke next, redirecting Rafael’s gaze from the self-possessed face of Professor Rendwick, to the more grim and now unsmiling face of the Marshal.
“We’re almost completely certain he’s guilty of murder, among other, lesser crimes against the people of Lerga, which is why it’s very important that you tell the court the truth; understand?” The Marshal articulated this strongly and ferently, fixing Rafael with a hard stare. Professor Rendwick spoke up next, with an increasingly gentle voice which soothed Rafael a little from the mounting weight of judicial responsibility being handed over to him.
“I have to agree with Mr. Memphis, this is not a matter to be taken lightly. Regardless of your affection for Captain Amos, it is your duty to tell the whole truth about his history and behavior behind closed doors.” Rafael nodded wordlessly, his mind a confused tangle of conflicting thoughts. The Professor smiled again with fatherly compassion and placed his large, hot hand on Rafael’s boney shoulder.
“This is very unfortunate, and it pains the College to have to put you through this, but the laws of Lerga are clear and immutable. I trust your objective thirst for justice will outweigh your subjective endearment to Mr. Amos.”
Keeping his hand on Rafael’s shoulder, Professor Rendwick looked up at Martin and the Marshal, and said,
“Would you mind giving me a moment alone with the boy.” Again the familiar spark of dread ignited Rafael’s chest as the professor said this.
“Of course.” Martin said with a faint bow, the Marshal tipping his hat. As the Marshal and Martin disappeared into the side door of the lecture hall, Rafael saw Martin give him a confidential wink, as if to say, ‘now you’re in it’. As the door shut, and as the crowd had all disappeared into the lecture hall, Rafael and the professor stood alone outside. The professor’s voice became more intimate as he said,
“They college has had it’s eye on you for quite some time, Rafael.” Rafael was sincerely astonished. He had seldom ever given the College any serious thought, and to learn it had been thinking of him was an honestly unwanted surprise. Professor Rendwick continued in a very open-handed fashion, which kept Rafael’s will engaged,
“We realize you haven’t shown any interest in joining but, being candid with you Mr. Rafael, the College knows potential when it sees it. If all that I’ve heard about you is true, you’re a very gifted individual, though you may not know it now.” Rafael was dumbfounded, though consciously flattered. A dozen questions died on his lips as he opened his mouth to reply, but found himself only capable of ingratiating,
“That’s very kind of you, sir. Thank you sir.” Rafael realized as he finished this insipid string of words, that the professor was expecting an answer to his implied offer. Rafael immediately began to speak, though little thought went into his words,
“I have actually thought about coming to the College. I miss learning in the schoolhouse, if I’m honest, and would actually like to continue my learning…maybe by going to your lectures.” A pang of rational reality swept over him as he continued, speaking a little too hastily, “Oh, but I couldn’t join until I had a better way to pay for a membership…the Captain never paid me much.” This last statement was one of many hushed complaints he had about the way Amos treatment him, which had been coming to mind over the last few hours. The professor lifted his chin and laughed a loud but dignified laugh, which made Rafael bite his lip to keep himself from saying anything else.
“No, no, you wouldn’t need to pay. You have potential I said! There’d been no need to fuss with expenses.” This genuinely piqued Rafael’s interest, and set the whole situation in a new light. Rafael couldn’t help but let a smile spread over his face, as he said in astonishment,
“Wow…really? You’re serious.”
“Positively serious. But the decision is yours.” The professor said, his countenance glowing as he continued “There’s a world of good you can do here, Rafael. If you’re in the business of truth, this is where you belong.” These last words struck Rafael oddly, though he retained his smile as not to seem ingracious.
“Well, thank you again. I’ll have to…consider it.”
“There’s no rush, but when you’ve come to your decision, just ring up our directory and we’ll begin your enrolment.” The professor then stepped aside and motioned to the door.
“Now, there’s some business we must attend to.”