His gaze was harder than before.
“I just found it in the snow!” If it came to it, I would tell them about my midnight stroll, but I wasn’t volunteering any more details than were strictly necessary. Punishments for disobedient Underlings were harsh – and wandering away at night was most certainly not encouraged.
“I am telling the truth! Why do you think it’s a piece of the Auriye?”
The Head Foreman ignored my question. “I’m waiting.”
“I found it in the snow!” I felt like a fly, hurling itself against the window again and again.
“Did you, now. You didn’t take it by force?”
“We do not deal lightly with those who seek to harm the Auriye. Even less so if they lie to us.”
“Well, you’ll have to deal lightly with me, then, because I haven’t done either,” I said, clenching my fists.
Harris drew a dagger from his pocket and smacked my arm with the dudgeon, more of a warning than real discipline.
“You should have no trouble telling us the truth,” the Head Foreman said, his voice suddenly smooth, “since your kind value it so highly.”
“What do you mean ‘my kind’?” My mind was only half on the question. I was beginning to wonder whether the scab was, in fact, a piece of the Auriye. The old man had said that he had killed them, hadn’t he?
“The kind that would defile something so great and innocent as the Auriye,” he said, his voice no longer smooth. “The kind that places the truth above human decency.”
“I do value the truth,” I said, aware as I said so that this only incriminated me. Wasn’t that exactly the kind of person who hunted the Auriye – those who wanted the truth from them? “But that doesn’t mean I’m not decent.”
The Head Foreman barked a laugh. “Then explain the piece of the Auriye. We both know that the only way to get it is to harm the Auriye.”
“I didn’t harm the Auriye!” I cried. “It was someone else!”
“Who?” The word was not so much a question as a challenge.
“I don’t know!” I cried. There was no use in keeping it a secret now. “An old man!”
“And old man. Pray tell, if this anonymous old man committed the crime, then how did you end up with evidence?”
“He gave it to me,” I spat. “I didn’t know what it was!”
“And who is this anonymous old man? When did he give it to you?” Though the questions were reasonable enough, his derisive tone belay them.
“Last night,” I said. “I – I went for a walk and he was lying there and he gave it to me and now he’s dead!”
The Head Foreman’s eyebrows rose once more, wrinkling his brow. “He’s dead?”
“And where was this, pray tell?”
“I don’t know. Maybe two, three hundred metres up the mountain from here? Go look, you’ll see that I’m telling the truth!” I added petulantly.
The Head Foreman said nothing, though I noted with satisfaction that he wrote something down at my words. He set his pipe down and gazed at me for a few long seconds, rubbing his chin.
“Take her to the cellar,” he said at last.
Harris complied, grabbing my arm and steering me back out the office door, down a hallway and eventually down into a dark, cool cellar. A few shelves of food sat in the open, but most shelves were locked up, closed without a hope of even glimpsing their contents.
“Stay here,” Harris ordered. “And don’t touch any of the food. We keep careful inventory.”
And with that, the door slammed shut.