I paused just long enough to let the latest lawbreaker think his punishment was at an end.
"Just in case I miscounted." I commented. Letting the whip fall to my side, I turned away and allowed the guards to haul the man off to his new accommodations in the Hamish jail.
I noted the darkening of the sky for the first time. As always, the coming of night surprised me with its suddenness. The days did fly by, even more so, now that I was preoccupied with getting acquainted with my new land, and the scum that lived in it.
It was no small fault of my own, my lack of time. I lived by the one principle that my father had ever seen fit to instill in me.
"The man that passes the sentence should wield the blade."
That was just before he had killed my mother in one of his drunken stupors. He claimed his "sources" had told him of numerous affairs that my mother was involved in. He called her a whore, and saw fit to punish her as one.
He might have been right, but the only source I had ever seen my father give any care to was the bottle from which his liquor flowed.
However, principles aside, Hamish manor and its outlying lands needed quite a bit of attention. The citizens were untamed, the laws ambiguous and unenforced, and the forest all but neglected. It was no surprise that supplies were vanishing, men were dying, and a rogue group called The Night Hawks roamed unchecked and unchallenged through the forest and making a mockery of the Law.
And seeing as how I was the law, I took that mockery personally.
My plan was to focus on one problem at a time, and not move on to a new problem, until the previous one had been dealt with. Impressive was the juggler who could manage several torches at once, but it was that same juggler who would eventually get burned.
The first step was to deal with the rogue band in the forest. If the Sheriff's information was correct, our stolen supplies went from this group to the populace. With The Night Hawks gone, the demoralized and de-supplied mob would fall much more easily. However this was where the Sheriff's information began to run dry. No one knew where the phantoms of the forest were, only where they'd been.
And no one was willing to talk, not when they were still benefiting from the Night Hawk's raids. But I had a solution for that:
Whip them, and put them in jail.
There were numerous charges that I could level against any one of them, and by putting them in jail I was, in theory, cutting them off from their suppliers. For all the contempt that I had against these people, I half-admired their stubborn refusal to answer my questions. I hadn't made any significant amount of progress yet, and that was only to be expected.
But the question facing each prisoner was simple: Which would run out first? Their loyalty or their blood?
I made for the Manor house that had become my new home. It was the unofficial center of the estate as far as I could tell, and, as had been my routine the last few nights, I took a new route home. I memorized the features along the new roads, committed the names to memory as I walked along.
Busy as I was, I used the walk as a time to lay out my plans for the next few days. Lost in thought, I turned a corner and knocked down one of the townsfolk. Though it was close to curfew, I ordinarily wouldn't have paid the woman any mind except for the parcel that had been knocked from her hands.
Its contents had been splayed across the ground, and though the lady hurried to gather everything up, I managed to catch a glance of a golden deer with an arrow stuck in its throat.
The seal of Hamish. Usually reserved for high quality goods. Goods that would be far too pricey for a peasant.
"Where did you get this?" I demanded, snatching an emblazoned bottle from her hand.
"I... I... please my lord., my children-"
"Cease your sniveling and answer me! How did you come by this? Did you buy it?"
"I... Y-yes... My Lord Marshall."
"And how much do you make, peasant? Certainly not enough to spend on drink of this quality! So where. Did. You. Get. It?"
"The merchant my lord... sh-she was very generous."
"Generous indeed. The merchant with the mute brother?"
"I-I... I do not know Lord Twynam."
Pathetic. The woman, the blubbering, the lies. Absolutely pathetic. I lost control and let my hand fly, backhanding the woman across the cheek and knocking her back to the ground.
"Get out of my sight" I growled. ""And pray we do not meet again."
I stormed off, my thoughts now turned to devising new questions and the answers that I hoped they would bring.