“So why am I here, exactly?” queried my nineteen-year-old niece as she sat next to me. The lantern I had placed beside us cast flickering light throughout the abandoned tannery’s darkened interior. Eerie, dust-laden cobwebs clung to every wooden beam, workbench and table, causing her to shudder.
I glanced at her innocent face untouched by grief, and wished yet again that I had been born in her day rather than mine. “For emotional support.”
“Then I’m not in any danger, Aunt Margryte?” she asked unsurely.
“Of course not, Geruscha,” I said while smoothing down a ruffle in my threadbare black mourning dress.
“Do you know who owns this place?”
“I used to. Well, I guess I still do.” Memories of better days from decades past superimposed themselves over broken chairs and dilapidated benches. I bit my lip to keep deep inner pain at bay.
“So why don’t you sell it? Seems structurally intact; surely there’s a tanner who would buy it from you?”
“You ask a lot of questions, Geruscha,” I protested.
“You did ask me to come tonight,” she pouted.
“So I did. I keep this place because it suits my purposes on the odd occasion, such as tonight,” I answered after a moment.
Geruscha’s next question died on her lips when the front door swept open to admit a badly scarred man dressed in the garb of a common mercenary. I laid a hand on her forearm to reassure her.
Aged wooden floorboards groaned under unaccustomed weight as the man approached us. Cold eyes met mine, and then studied my niece as though she was a horse for sale. “Who’s this?” he grunted.
“This is Geruscha, my niece,” I replied in an icy tone that matched his expression.
“Why is she here?” he snapped.
“Well, let me see,” I said dramatically, “perhaps to add some light to these enchanting clandestine meetings we have.”
Returning his attention to me, the man slapped a cloth purse on the run-down table before us. I refused to give him the satisfaction of acknowledging the money.
Anger flashed briefly in his eyes. “Will you not even inquire as to my progress?”
“Oh, why not, since it obviously means so much to you. Tell me, what you have achieved of late?”
He held up three fingers. “It took me nigh on three years to comb every inch of Stühlingen, but thirteen more of our enemies have been brought to justice.”
I leaned forward slightly, careful not to overbalance the rickety chair. “Do you feel better now? Did you find this gratifying?”
He was not impressed. “It is not about satisfaction. It is about justice.”
“You mean revenge,” I clarified.
“Whatever,” he snarled. “You know this has to be done, Margryte. Those men must be brought to justice for the magnitude of their crimes. I will not permit those murdering vermin to do such heinous deeds and then simply melt back into society by assuming new identities.”
A cloud of dust swirled upward into twinkling lantern light as I plucked the purse from the table. “That was twenty-five years ago. When will you tire of this quest?”
“When I’ve found them all, Margryte, and not before,” he said before quitting the tannery without a backward glance. He vanished into the midnight air.
My niece found her voice. “Who was that man, Margryte?”
“My husband, Geruscha,” I admitted.
“Walther Sighard? I thought he perished in the Peasants’ War of 1525,” she exclaimed.
“That’s what he wants them to think, Geruscha.”
“Them, Aunt Margryte? You mean the leaders of the revolt?” she pressed.
“Not just the leaders, Geruscha, all of the insurgents who perpetrated the massacre of Weinsberg. In the past twenty-five years he has hunted down and slain over ninety of them,” I answered from a great distance.
“But, Lady Margryte, you sound as though you disapprove. Did not those rebels kill your parents and two of your sisters, as well as thousands of our people?”
I nodded. “Yes, they did. But you know? I had thought us lucky when we survived. We still had each other, two darling little boys, and this tannery. I wanted to get on with our lives, but not Walther. He became obsessed with revenge--an obsession that cost him not only a loving family that needed him--but also his dreams and future. Tonight was the fifth time I have seen him in twenty-five years.”
“I don’t know what to say, Aunt Margryte.”
“Just walk me home, Geruscha.”
Romans 12:19 (NIV) Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.
Leviticus 19:18 (NIV) 'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.’
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