(continued from Part 1)
Crowfeather was almost asleep when he heard a key turn in the lock of his cell. The door opened and an uncovered lantern shone light on the face of his father, the head jailer. The older man stepped aside from the door and motioned him out.
“Come on, son. I volunteered for the first watch tonight; no one else is around. You can leave and no one will stop you.”
Crowfeather stood up but did not approach the door. “Why are you doing this?” he asked. “They will kill you.”
“It is my guilt to bear, son,” the jailer said. “Your crimes are because of me and although I tried to evade them with the name O’Keefe, I will always be Henry Robins: your father and a thief.”
“I have not seen you in many years,” Crowfeather persisted. “You are not to blame for everything I have done since then. You were right when you said that you did not teach me to counterfeit. I am a man now, father. I can stand on my feet, as you see.”
“If you will not go for justice, then go as a last gift to your father,” the jailer said. “Go and reform your ways. It took a ruined knee to teach me honesty, but it will not for you, I hope.” He tossed a small pouch to Crowfeather, which clinked as he caught it.
“Come with me then,” Crowfeather said, moving towards the door at last. “There is no reason why you should stay here to undergo punishment. Let us go together.”
The jailer was already shaking his head, a sad smile on his face. “I would just slow you down, and in any case, the guilt must be paid. Go and sin no more. I will stay.”
* * *
Crandell, the deputy jailer came in to take the second watch of the night and found the head jailer not at his post. He walked the corridors and saw that the last cell door was slightly ajar. Inside he found the head jailer, sitting alone on the stone bench.
“Where is the prisoner?” Crandell asked in alarm.
“He is gone. I let him go. He was my son.”
“You are mad, sir! This is treason. You will be put to death.”
“Even if they transfer his punishment to me, I will take it calmly,” O’Keefe said.
“Do not even say such things,” Crandell said. “I would glad kill you here with my sword before I let you go through something that terrible.”
“Do not do that,” O’Keefe said. “Then the guilt would pass to you, since it would be seen as the murder of an innocent man. No, let me do this: the guilt must be paid.”
* * *
A month later, in a city fifty miles away, a man walked into an inn looking for work.
“What your name?” the innkeeper asked, sizing the man up with a critical look.
“Gabriel Robins,” the man said. “I just came in from the hill country. I can do anything you need me to do. I’m just looking for some good, honest work.”
“Well, there’s plenty of that around here. You can get to work mucking out the stables, if you wish. Hey, if you’ve just come from the hills, you must not have heard the news about the king’s head jailer. They beheaded him a week or so ago after he released one of his prisoners. They say his face shone with joy right before the axe came down. Do you know what his last words were?”
“He said, ‘May God bless him.’ Now what do you think of that?”