Caradoc opened his mouth to speak, but quickly clamped his mouth shut when Halse gestured sharply with a gloved hand for silence as they reached the fence bordering a field of grain behind the large garage that the Gavin family used to store machinery. Halse leaned forward onto the fence posts, folding his hands together in front of him, and resting his head on top. Caradoc noticed that Halse was breathing heavily and quickly as he stood just behind the Second Commandeur. Caradoc shifted nervously from one foot to the other behind him, his own heart racing. For the several years this young soldier had been the subordinate commander for the Romlan garrison, Halse had earned a great deal of respect in Caradoc’s eyes. Halse’s even keel and level head balanced well with the fiery and impulsive nature of First Commandeur Syscer. Today, however, Halse was angry, and because of this Caradoc found that he too was subject to an unfamiliar and uncharacteristic emotion. Caradoc was scared.
The two remained like this for several minutes, Halse seething in his anger, Caradoc fidgeting with anxiety, before Halse suddenly slammed his fist onto the wooden fence post and swore loudly, whirling suddenly on Caradoc, eyes flashing with anger and frustration. The muscularly built farmer, a bigger and possibly stronger figure than Halse, reacted in a fashion no one in Romlan would probably even consider as a possibility. Caradoc flinched.
“Who in the name of the Four Regents do you think you are, Caradoc Gavin?” Halse practically spat in the face of the elder man, “Do you think you’re untouchable? Do you think yourself a king, Caradoc? Do you? Is this” Halse swept an arm to indicate the vast valley the Gavin home rested within, “your realm Caradoc, where you may do as you please? Do you think you hold all authority here, merely because of the respect your name carries with the people of these parts? Your family name, does that put you above the law?” Halse’s veins practically bulged on his neck as he raged, roaring in an explosion of anger that Caradoc could hardly even fathom. Finished with his brief tirade, Halse paused for a moment, his eyes burning with passion, panting heavily to recapture both his breath and composure. Caradoc stared blankly at the Commandeur, shocked at the wrath unseen before in Halse. He stammered, glancing at the ground briefly before he could muster a response.
“But, what have I done, sir?”
To this, Halse crossed his arms and stared at Caradoc in a quizzical, bemused fashion. On another day, Caradoc would have thought him amused. He knew, however, that Halse was anything but.
“What have you done? What have you done?” Halse snorted condescendingly, “They were right about you. They were right…” shaking his head in apparent dismay, Halse sighed, “you think yourself invincible. Untouchable.” Halse’s choice of words suddenly keyed Caradoc in to what Halse was so infuriated about, and now it was Caradoc’s blood that boiled.
“With all due respect, sir,” Caradoc asked, regaining his confidence slightly with his rising ire, “who is ‘they’? And if you are referring to the trespassing incident three weeks ago…” At this, Halse’s head snapped up and he glared at Caradoc.
“Incident?” the Commandeur cut Caradoc off, his voice measured and controlled again, his steel gaze measuring up eye to eye with the now boiling emotions opposite. “A mere incident you call it?”
“The man was trespassing…”
“He was watching my family…”
“Yes! With ill-intent, undoubtedly!” Caradoc fought to keep his voice under control, but he felt frustration begin to break through, rising to the surface.
“Did you report this to the garrison?” Halse asked, maintaining a steady tone, as if genuinely asking for answers. They both knew that Halse’s questions were purely rhetorical.
“No, I didn’t feel it necessary. As the man of the house, defender of my family, protector of my children, I had every right to…”
“To what? Kill him?”
Caradoc stopped, his mouth frozen in mid-sentence. A prickly sensation began to travel through his body, originating deep within his chest. He glanced downward quickly, and he felt raw passion and anger begin to take over. A combination of fear, anxiety, anger and frustration rose within, along with a sense of righteous indignation towards this arrogant young officer that stood so casually in front of him, staring not at him, but through him. This Solician thought he could interfere in his solemn duty as guardian of his family. This Solician was wrong.
“I had… I had good reason.” Caradoc finally spat out. “These are dangerous times, as you of all people should know, Commandeur. Wars and rumors of wars, thieves, bandits…with my children, you know this sir, I have reason to fret and worry!” Caradoc began warming to his defense. He knew he was right. He knew he had not acted wrongly. “My family is young, and vulnerable. My oldest is hardly nineteen.”
“Jestine, correct?” Halse asked, listening, yet seeming to do something more at the same time.
“Yes, Jes…” Caradoc looked down, now laboring to breathe evenly, his face burning, “ever since their Mother died I…I worry.”
“She is beautiful, isn’t she?” Halse’s expression now looked to be one genuine understanding, or at least, a masterful attempt to feign it. Caradoc would not be fooled.
“It’s freaks like him that give me reason to worry about her! She was alone a few days before that and she saw him around. I can’t stand for that, Commandeur, don’t you of all people understand that?” Caradoc was frustrated. What had he done to deserve this besides defend his family? “A man must defend his own.” He stated this with utter confidence. Halse simply looked disappointed.
“Is defense not my job, Caradoc?” The young officer waited for an answer. His arms had remained crossed.
“Defense of the Romlan area, yes! But my family is my responsibility.” Caradoc retorted.
“Could you not have merely detained this trespasser and reported to me?”
“I was justified!”
“I am justice.”
Caradoc puzzled over Halse’s statement for a moment before understanding his meaning, and the implications, and his blood began to boil again. He opened his mouth to protest, but Halse quickly pre-empted him, now leaning back against the wooden fence, looking offensively nonchalant, if it were not for an intense disturbance evident in his eyes betraying an otherwise utterly controlled military officer.
“Let me remind you, Caradoc, what it is the Romlan garrison is here for. The garrison is here to unite through order. That is what the Solician Union stands for: peace and stability through order. Why do you think I am out here, Caradoc? Do you think I don’t know what it’s like to be a father? No, I do Caradoc Gavin, I do. I know what it’s like to be an absent father. I leave my wife and girl in Solicia so I can come here and keep the peace. I do it for them. I do it for the people of Romlan. I come here” Halse waved an arm to encompass the entire valley, “to keep peace. Peace needs law to protect it. Law needs enforcement.” Halse now looked Caradoc in the eye, “I am that enforcement.”
Halse paused for a second, as if to gather his thoughts before continuing. “Caradoc, I like you. I respect you. Everyone does. But because everyone respects you, you’ve begun to think you are above the law, that you are good enough to not be held down by the limits that hold down other men within the Union.” Caradoc began to protest but Halse held up a hand and continued. “I believe that, as an emotional, passionate man, a man of high standards and morals yourself, that you have forgotten that law exists not simply for the punishment of the bad men, but for the protection of the good men.”
“This is absurd.” Caradoc growled, “I will not be lectured like some schoolboy…”
“I am speaking to you man to man, which is more than you deserve.”
“More than I deserve?” Caradoc bellowed. His rage now was evident. This foolish young upstart had no idea what it was like to live a true life, independent of the Union and its oppressive hand, and could only spout idealistic platitudes about law and order.
“You killed a man.” Halse hissed.
“It was an act of protection!”
“It was murder!” Halse’s eyes flashed as he spoke, but he never lost control of his temper. Caradoc seemed on the verge of exploding in a truly violent rage. Halse remained stoic, however, which seemed to frustrate Caradoc all the more. “Caradoc… please… listen to me.” The officer removed his beret for the first time and ran a hand through his hair, sighing heavily. “I understand how the situation frightened you. It was not your concern that was wrong. Had I been in your position, I would have fretted as well. But simple suspicion does not give the right to take action.”
“I had good reason…” Caradoc rumbled. Halse’s head shot up once more.
“You listen to me, Caradoc.” Halse now stood straight and marched forward until he was toe-to-toe with the farmer. “You have no idea what a position you have placed yourself, your family, your town, and me in. Your ‘good reason’ cost a man his life, and may very well cost you yours.”
“What are you talking about?” Caradoc glowered, rising to meet Halse’s confrontation with obstinate pride.
“The man you killed was an agent of the Solician Intelligence Force. A man gathering intelligence, albeit poorly, on supposed rebellious cells within the Romlan area. After you killed him, and with the well-known and widespread connections you have within the town, you have become a marked man.” Caradoc’s anger suddenly gave way to fear, and fear gave way to panic as he processed exactly what the Second Commandeur was telling him. Ice seemed to course through his veins. Halse backed away from Caradoc, the edge suddenly gone from his demeanor, and replaced by a suppressed sadness as he looked out to the fields of the Gavin farm.
“They want you dead, Caradoc.” Halse looked back over his shoulder at the man now frozen in shock behind him. “And I don’t know if I can save you.”