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Barudok Kastakov

Barudok Kastakov

The Code of the Justicars

A Justicar defends the Law.
His shield protects the innocent.

His actions reveal honor.
His word is sure and true.
By his hand, justice be done.

And above all, Truth.

* * *

Though I have been a Justicar for a short time, I have lived my life by their Code. The first time I can remember hearing the Code, I was perhaps only four or five years old. My mother, Ophelia, cradled me and gently rocked me. Tears caressed her face, though I did not know why. Numbness had enveloped my small body and my throat felt as if I had swallowed a ripe apple, though I did not know why. I was so lost in her rocking and tears, that I barely noticed my father, Stavon, enter the cold, dank room.

He went to the fire which had died down, mother had not tended to it, and began to stoke and rekindle it. Never taking his gaze from the fireplace, Stavon said solemnly, “It is done.” The apple in my throat tried to move as my mother stopped our rocking. Her bosom heaved as her tears fell onto my face.

“Baru, don’t ever leave us,” Ophelia said, still weeping.

“I won’t, Matka. I promise.”

* * *

Over the next few days, several people that knew Stavon and Ophelia came to visit us, some bringing gifts of food and clothing. Many were patrons of father’s woodcraft business, including Plugastov who was an avid admirer of father’s cabinetry designs. Plugastov liked Stavon’s craft so well that he sent several new clients to my father, some were even from south of the Krakov river. Plugastov looked nothing like my father. He was shorter than average and a little portly, while Stavon towered over most men in the neighborhood. I later found out that father had Rhonick blood, which explained his height and fair-hair.

When Plugastov arrived, he took father outside. I tried to hear what they were saying and I was able to make out just enough of their conversation to know what they were talking about – Szerec. I had not seen Szerec for sometime and began missing my older brother of eight years.

The memories began to well up inside. Szerec was dead. His body was found three days ago in an alley near the north-shore docks, beaten and half-naked. Though there were signs of a struggle, the city guards found no clues and no suspects. We lived in the northwest district, and they did not seem to care that Stavon’s firstborn child had been murdered.

The frozen ground made it difficult for him to dig a hole of sufficient size to bury Szerec, but my father endured the cold and worked for hours to half-bury half-cover the body. My mother and I sat together in the great room waiting for him to return; we both hoped and prayed for Szerec to return as well. The fire slowly dwindled to nothing more than a few embers. This is when mother recited the Code, as if trying to summon a Justicar.

For several years, we went about our lives trying to forget Szerec. Plugastov spread the word of Stavon’s superior cabinetry which eventually reached the southeast district and even the citadel. Within a few years, father was commissioned by a concierge of the King, crowning his achievement of success. We soon were able to move south of the river to the southern shore district.

The southern shore district had numerous benefits for the entire family. While mother was able to hire help (actually a friend of hers from the old neighborhood) for the large house and father was able to expand his business, I received a private tutor and a small library. After Szerec died, mother and father began teaching me how to read, just as they had with Szerec. Now, I spent most of my day with the tutor and read various books. I grew quite fond of the histories, especially those talking about valiant warriors and noble knights doing the service of their lords. But my love of these paled next to my insatiable hunger for books on law and religion. Law and religion had significance in our home. Both of my parents were followers of the Giver of Justice, but they strayed after Szerec’s death. In fact, several months had passed before they could find it in their hearts to worship Darrius after their son was so brutally stolen from them. Now, they taught me that Darrius’ Law was absolute. While they carried on after his death, seemingly to have put it behind them, I yearned for justice for my brother. I knew that someday, I would carry out the will of Darrius. I hoped that his will would bring justice for our family.

Not all of my childhood was spent turning pages. I also apprenticed with my father, but I did not take to it as quickly as he would have liked. I think he knew this and instead had me tend to the horses (we had a couple of them with wagons, too, for making deliveries). Horses were simpler than people to deal with and soon I had them eating out of my hand, quite literally.

Observation was one of the things that my tutor, Guwerner, stressed. He said, “No matter how smart or quick or strong you are, if you can’t see your enemy, you will never face him. And victory will be his.” He helped me to open my eyes and my mind to the environment and to people. To his surprise and mine, I soon mastered the art of reading body language. Even the twitch of an eyebrow can reveal a story. I practiced this art in the streets, in the marketplace, and even in the home. I was able to tell when people were lying or otherwise trying to manipulate the conversation, so, unfortunately for the hawkers, they rarely gouged my coin purse as deep as they did others.

Plugastov continued visiting Stavon on occasion for several years after Szerec’s death, usually bringing new clients with him. When I was about sixteen years old, I began noticing something peculiar about Plugastov. He was rarely seen without the company of a small boy. Each time he came to our house, he brought a different boy with him. When our ages were close, we would play or read or tend to my chores. There were so many that I was not able to remember their names, except one – Malec.

Malec was a couple years younger than I, probably thirteen or fourteen. We were in the stable brushing the horses when I noticed that he winced as he lifted his arm to the horse’s back.

“Are you alright?”

“I… I’m fine. I just fell out of the carriage yesterday, that’s all.”

Something about Malec seemed odd; he began looking over his shoulder to the stable doors, as if expecting someone. I walked up behind him and patted him on the shoulder, “That’s good to hear.”

Malec let out a low cry and dropped to his knees. He began crying, though probably not from my touch. It took almost an hour of conversation to convince Malec to tell me the truth. I could barely contain my anger when he told me how his shoulder was hurt. He was hired to travel with Plugastov making deliveries of various sorts in Ostrala. Malec wanted to help his family by at least supporting himself. On the way to Ostrala, Plugastov began making advances to Malec. He threatened to kill Malec if the boy didn’t go along with his desires.

“I will tell your family that you got scared and ran away. No one will ever know the truth. And no one will ever miss you,” Plugastov told Malec.

Malec was scared and wanted to see his family again. He decided to do what Plugastov said, at least until he got closer to home. Last night, Plugastov and Malec camped a few hours outside of Krakov and Malec thought it would be his chance for freedom. Plugastov must have heard Malec stumbling around in the dark and before Malec could run, Plugastov struck him in the back knocking him to the ground. Malec just laid there, hoping that Plugastov would leave him for dead, but that didn’t happen. He was beat several more times before the fat man had his way with him. Lucky for Malec, he lost consciousness before it started.

I held Malec in my arms as he wept like a babe and it seemed too familiar. We were both startled when the stable doors slammed open and then we saw Plugastov standing in the doorway.

“What’s all the commotion about, eh? Oh, I see. The little bastard told you about our secret, did he?”

While Malec cringed and scampered to get behind the horse, I stood up and looked Plugastov in the eyes, “Yes, he did. And by Darrius, justice will be his.”

“My dear Baru, you have a lot to learn, just like your whelp of a brother did.”

I fought to keep a tear inside, “What did you say, Plugastov? What did you say about Szerec!?”

“I said, ‘You have a lot to learn just as Szerec’.” Plugastov said as he slowly walked toward me. I kept some distance between us and started making my way around the horse. When I could see Malec, I motioned for him to run. Malec struggled to his feet and, despite the weakness from terror, managed to slip pass Plugastov and out of the stables.

“Malec, I know where you live. I’ll find you and you’ll regret ever telling your friend our little secret.”

“You should stop calling it that.”

“What? What do you mean, Baru?”

“I mean that your ‘little secret’ is out and that you are finished molesting children.”

“You may be tutored and living a lavish lifestyle, but you can never outfox the fox. Yes, in fact, I think you should owe me thanks,” Plugastov said, nodding his head as if to look more convincing.

I had made it to the other side of the horse and Plugastov still followed. “And, my father’s expertise would have still been in demand from the aristocrats. I knew what you were implying, Fat Man.”

At first, Plugastov was shaken by my rhetoric, but it quickly turned to anger. “I am NOT fat, you little liar!” With that, he lunged toward me as I knew he would. Two quick slaps on the hind quarter of the horse startled it and it responded with a massive kick. Plugastov landed ten feet away in a crumpled mass. I could see some blood, but he was still breathing. I went over to his body and did my best to ensure that he would live. Before I was done, Malec had returned with my father.

My father and I carried Plugastov to the sheriff and told him of the charges. Malec had gone to find a physician and brought the first one he found. The physician cared for the gashes on Plugastov and told us that he would live, but be in severe pain for a couple weeks from the cracked ribs. Malec’s smile almost hid his eyes, he was so happy to hear that Plugastov would be in pain. I did not smile, in fact, I cried. My dream of bringing Szerec’s killer to justice had come to pass.

After interrogating Plugastov, the sheriff told us all about his exploits of taking children from families, either in the guise of philanthropy or in no guise at all. One night near the docks, Plugastov was pursing another child but found Szerec. Even twelve years old, Szerec knew that Plugastov was an evil man and spurned his advances. Szerec promised to tell Stavon which angered Plugastov. In a rage, he hit Szerec again and again, ripping clothes and flesh as if a wild animal. When Plugastov came to his senses, he was aghast at what he had done. He spent many years trying to forget Szerec, never really succeeding. Szerec still haunted his mind and made him overreact many times. The sheriff learned of three other boys that Plugastov murdered trying to escape.

After found guilty, Plugastov was hanged near the very spot where Szerec was killed. Clergy from the church of Darrius directed the proceedings. Throughout the next week, each of them came to me one by one asking various questions. I sensed they were assessing me, but for why I didn’t know…

© 2002 David Carroll. All Rights Reserved.

Originally Posted: Feb 9, 2010