Chapter 37: The Weight of Poverty
Percy stepped down from his carriage and nodded to the ten mercenaries who dismounted behind him. “Just follow my lead,” he ordered as he led the way up the steps of Turnbell Manor.
The thud of footsteps behind him muffled the faint but distinct sound that whispered through the cracks of the front door. Percy held up his hand sharply and listened.
‘A whip? Had Lord Josiah’s hand recovered that quickly?’
He pounded on the door as his men stood in formation on either side, ready to force their way in should the occupants attempt to deny him entry.
The lash of the whip continued as Percy battered the door again. With an irritated sigh, he turned to the mercenary captain beside him and muttered, “Break it down.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
The mercenary snapped his fingers and two men with axes stepped forward to dismantle the lock. A couple hefty kicks from the strongest among them soon shattered the door’s resistance. The mercenary captain entered first, followed by four of his men who warily circled the foyer with hands on the hilt of their swords.
Percy followed them. The interior remained untouched from his last visit, and yet somehow, the manor already felt darker and less welcoming.
The crack of a whip pulled Percy down the hall in its direction. The captain snapped his fingers, and the group of mercenaries followed behind the Earl silently.
A spectacle of pale servants, trampled rose bushes, and a young male slave being whipped at the post awaited Percy as he entered the garden. The spectators of this vicious sport, Josiah and Sophya, sat comfortably a short distance away.
The captain glanced at Percy, who gave a single curt nod. The mercenary drew his pistol, glanced at the glass ceiling above, and aimed at the foot of the servant holding the whip.
The gunshot ricocheted against the glass walls as the servants screamed and cowered. Sophya shrieked, and almost toppled from her chair as she clung to Josiah. They both turned, wide-eyed with shock, to face Percy and his men as the servant holding the whip collapsed with a sharp cry of pain and clutched his leg.
“Oops,” the captain observed with a rueful chuckle. “Not my best shot.”
“What is the meaning of this!” Josiah demanded as he struggled to rise to his feet.
“Lord Josiah!” Percy greeted the man with a cold smile. “I’m afraid I come bearing unfortunate news.”
“News?” Josiah sputtered. “You broke my hand! You just shot my slave! You had better buy me a new one.”
“Actually, he’s my slave,” Percy corrected as he approached the cowering father and daughter. “In fact, as of this morning, I own everything: this house, your estate, and even the Turnbell Trading Company.”
The blood drained from Josiah’s face. His jowls quivered as he sank into the chair.
“What?” Sophya stood abruptly. “W-what do you mean?”
“I mean that I’ve bought your father’s debt,” Percy said as he held up the official document, the ink still damp and fresh, before her.
“His debt?” Sophya repeated dumbly, staring at the parchment of names and amounts that meant nothing to her.
“Yes, your father owed the Merchant’s Guild 20,000 crescents. He also owed the Capital Casino another 6,000 crescents. Both parties were more than happy to sell that debt to me since he hasn’t made a payment on either in six months.”
“F-father!” Sophya said with a shriek of terror as she turned to face Josiah. “We—are we bankrupt?”
Behind Percy, the butler sprinted towards the collapsed slave tied to the post. Several of the other servants followed him. Only one maid rushed towards the lad with the shattered leg, who writhed in pain against the crushed roses.
Percy flicked the mercenary captain an annoyed glance.
“Ah, yes, Lord Percy, I’ll take a look,” the captain muttered as he stepped away.
“I don’t understand,” Sophya whispered as she clutched her throat and swallowed. “W-what does this mean? You—you own our house?”
“I own all of it, Lady Sophya—no, Miss Sophya. After all, without land, your father can no longer hold a title, which means neither can you.”
The blood drained further from her face as Sophya gawked at him, her green eyes unable to focus. “No—but Mother—Mother is still a Lady! Her father is a Viscount!”
“The Viscount disowned Helena years ago,” Percy reminded her bluntly. “You could try appealing to him to take you in, of course. Whatever accommodations you choose to make are none of my business. Per Title 87 of the Lafeara’s Debt and Collection laws, you have three days to vacate the premises. Or these fine gentlemen—” he gestured to the mercenaries behind him, “—will return to drag you from my property.”
Sophya sank slowly to her knees. The harshness of this new reality drained her confidence and made her appear more like the sheltered child she was, not that Percy cared to pity her.
“Oh, and by the way,” Percy added as he turned to leave. “I’ll be taking the slaves with me. Wouldn’t want you diminishing their value any more than you already have—unless you’re looking to sell off a family member to cover the remaining balance of your debt, Mr. Turnbell.”
“Wait—wait!” Sophya shrieked as she ran after him and grasped his jacket. “You can’t leave us without a servant. You wouldn’t be that—cruel? M-mother is unwell. Father’s hand is—How are we to pack or move our things?”
Percy looked down at her chipped fingernails digging into his coat and shook her hand away with disgust. “You have two arms and two legs. You’re not a noble anymore, Miss Sophya, not that you were much of one to begin with. If you had half of Maura’s intellect—”
“Maura?” Sophya voice cracked with hysteria as she dragged trembling fingers along her pale cheeks up into her red hair. “Maura? Maura!”
Percy eyed her with wary distaste.
“Yes, this is all her doing, isn’t it,” Sophya whispered as she staggered and stared around the garden with wild eyes. “She’s poisoned you all against us. She has you twisted around her little witch finger. You’re all so pathetic—you can’t even see past her clever little mask—”
Percy’s hand clamped around her throat, silencing Sophya as she crumbled to her knees. She clutched at his arms with gargled protest. Terror filled her enlarged vivid green-pupils as his grip tightened.
“Know your place,” Percy hissed as he knelt beside her. “Call her a witch again, and I’ll have your throat cut.”
“My Lord!” The mercenary captain placed a cautionary hand on Percy’s shoulder. “Please, my Lord, no violence.”
Percy sighed and shoved Sophya away from him as he rose. “Your brother should thank his lucky stars he’s already gone from this world, or I’d have flogged him to death on that post.”
Sophya laughed brokenly as she clutched her throat and rolled on her side to stare back at him. “Who—do you think—killed him?”
“My lord!” the mercenary captain hissed as he held Percy back. “What do we do with the slaves?”
“Collect their contracts and distribute them between my estates,” Percy replied with an annoyed glance at the captain’s hand. “And comb through the house for anything of value while you’re at it.”
“You would strip us of everything!” Josiah gasped as he struggled from his seat. “Do you mean to leave us penniless?”
“You should have focused on your business more and your other pleasures less,” Percy remarked with a sneer. “Be thankful I paid off your debts to the Capital Casino before they came to collect their pound of flesh.”
“Save your words, Father,” Sophya said bitterly. “He is here at that half-blood’s request.”
Percy fixed his winter-gray eyes on Sophya, who glared back at him over quivering but defiant lips. He pushed aside the captain’s restraining grip as he knelt beside her once more with a sinister smile.
“If you find the circumstances of your new life so unfair, Miss Sophya, perhaps your father can negotiate a better offer from Lord Lennox. I’m sure the old man would pay a much higher price for a young woman of your quality.”
“Y-you’re disgusting!” Sophya spat as she squirmed away from him. “I am engaged to Lord Asher!”
“Oh? Are you sure?” He rose and examined her disheveled appearance with a sneer. “Then perhaps you can appeal to Lord Asher to cover your family’s debts.”
He didn’t add that Baron Winslet would more than likely reject the engagement due to the public scandal of the Turnbell’s bankruptcy. He didn’t have too.
Realization and despair flooded Sophya’s face as tears fell down her cheek. Josiah sank to his knees beside Sophya as Percy turned his back to them both and cast a glance over the unsightly garden.
“My Lord.” The butler appeared beside him and bowed. “Please, my lord, the boy—he needs medical attention.”
“I have no need for broken slaves,” Percy replied curtly. “Assist the Captain with organizing those well enough to travel. The rest will be disposed of later.”
“Please, my Lord.” The butler flung himself on his hands and knees. “I know you are here for the sake of Lady Maura. This boy—he was whipped because of her.”
“What?” Percy narrowed his gaze and glanced to where the housemaids wept over the bleeding slave boy’s body. “Why?”
“That maid, Judith.” The butler pointed to where the pale girl sat beside the slave who had been shot. “She and Mistress Sophya accused him of—tarnishing Lady Maura’s virtue.”
Every muscle in Percy’s face twitched as his bottled-up rage threatened to break free.
“My Lord, it is but a vicious lie,” the butler explained hastily. “The boy, Gus, only ever offered his loyalty and service to Lady Maura on behalf of her maid, Ivy.”
“Ivy,” Percy repeated and recalled the blonde maid who always accompanied Maura. “I see.”
He stared down into the butler’s hopeful gaze and, despite his better instinct, was reminded of Russell.
“Fine, fine,” Percy relented with a sigh. “Have him carried to my carriage outside. Let us see if he can be saved.”
“And the other two?” the captain asked.
“That is Judith and her brother John,” the butler replied as he rose to his feet. “They were both a part of Miss Sophya’s attempt to tarnish Lady Maura’s reputation.”
Percy cast the siblings an ominous glance. “Have your men send them to the slave market. Sell the girl to a brothel for whatever price they ask. As for the boy, see if the pagans will take him.”
“W-what?” Judith whispered as the captain nodded to three of his men, who stepped forward to separate brother and sister. “No! No, please, my Lord! Please, I am pregnant!”
The mercenaries restrained her without mercy as Percy followed the butler and the other servants who carried Gus gently from the garden.
“Please, my Lord! It is my master’s child! Please!”