(Let's see how far I get this time.)
Barnicus arrived back at his home just before sunrise. He went straight to his sons bed to awaken them. Annabella woke upon hearing her father return. As Barnicus shook his sons, Annabella lit a lamp to illuminate their cabin. The father turned to Annabella and said, "Good morning, little one, are you ready to start the day?"
Annabella looked out a window and saw the beginning trace of morning sun erasing the starry sky. "Father, we were not expecting you so early. Did your business go well?"
"Yes, I'll talk about it in a while. How about getting a fire going and fix some food for us?"
The brothers greet their father and go outside to relieve themselves. Annabella added fresh tinder and wood to the cold hearth, struck a spark and watched as a tiny ember grew into a flame. Soon a healthy fire warmed the room. When the brothers came back in, Annabella excused herself and went out for her morning constitution.
When Annabella reentered the cabin, she found her father and brothers pulling their old fishing net from the wall. Not used in nearly two years, since the days they lived on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, the huge net was now merely a decorative wall fixture. They examined the net for rips and defects as they folded it in the middle of the room. "Looks good," Barnicus said.
Annabella had cut a big slab of venison from the smokehouse next their cabin. She put the meat on a spit and hung it over the fire. As she tended the meat, her father stood aside her.
"I have some bad news," he said. Annabella turned and looked up to his face. "Your friend downstream has deceived you. He is not an innocent. His is wanted for the murder of two Roman Officers. I had heard a variation of the story he told you, and I wanted to know the factual account of the tale. That was the purpose of my outing. I traveled to where the closest representative of Rome is posted. I checked his story and found that he was unprovoked in his attack. No cruelty had been done to his family. There was no rapes. No butchering. His family is well and still resides on the same farm where the boy committed the murders."
"But that does not make sense. Why would he kill anyone?"
"There are two possible explanations. The first would be that the boy had honed his archery skills to such perfection that mere targets and small game no longer satisfied him. He wanted to see how it was to hunt humans."
Annabella shook her head. "Are you saying he just decided to hunt down Romans? That his appetite for the hunt so consumed him that he sought out Officers of Rome?"
"No, the Roman Officers were at his farm. They merely stopped there to water their horses and stretch their legs. The Officers posed no threat, but the boy responded as if they did."
"An spur of the moment killing just for the sport of it?" Annabella said. "That does not sound like something the boy I talked to would do."
"Well, that is one theory anyways. The second is that he thought the Officers were there to repossess his home, leave him and his family homeless. The family did owe back taxes. Not enough to warrent seizure of their property. Maybe the boy did not know this. Things can be blown out of proportion in a young boy's mind. He may have attacked believing that disaster would befall his family if he did not strike first."
"But why would he tell his family was slaughtered?"
"Perhaps that is the only way he can justify what he did. If he tells the same lie enough times, he could end up believing it to be true."
"You going after him, aren't you?"
"Yes. Your brothers and I going to bring the boy in for trial." Barnicus took Annabella by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. "I promise you the boy will be treated fairly."
"He'll be executed!" Annabella cried.
"No, he won't. He may be enslaved for several years. He will pay a price for his crimes. But because of his youth, they will not execute him. The worse that would happen is ten or twelve years as a galley slave or mine worker."
"Ten or twelve years?!!"
"It's not as long as it sounds. It only seems long to you because of your youth. Trust me, he will be free by the time he turns thirty. And that is totally free. No longer will he be pursued by the law. He can start his life anew."
Annabella hated to see anything happen to the boy. She felt sorry for what woud soon befall him. Then she thought about the dragon. "And what will happen to his Dragon?"
"We'll take care of the beast if you like. Bring it back here where you can feed and tend it."
Barnicus knew the thought of having the dragon would ease Annabella's concerns for the boy. But the truth of the matter was that Barnicus could care less if they capture the boy. The dragon was the prize. He would offer the boy his freedom in exchange for the dragon. If the boy did not agree, then he would have to kill the outlaw boy and claim the dragon as reward. In either case, his daughter would only hear that the boy got away.