Chapter Thirty-four

Seth tried to make it to his tent unseen, but unfortunately ran into Preston sooner than he hoped. Deep down, he was ashamed of the trouble he had caused but he valiantly tried to hide his anxiety.

“What’s the matter with you, Seth? You seem upset.” Preston’s voice held an uneven mixture of concern, mild curiosity and a great deal of foreboding.

After hearing Seth’s version of events which did not include him kicking a fellow student, Preston’s lack of sympathy was apparent when he sternly commented. “Seems to me you brought it upon yourself.”

Seth wisely decided to keep his mouth shut. ‘No point in digging myself in deeper,’ he thought.

Gille sought out his partner in the infirmary and found the doctor reading. He briefly explained what had occurred during the excursion and was relieved at Lakota’s response. 

“This is not acceptable to me. There are many other methods for Troy to keep discipline within the class, up to and including expelling a student whose behaviour is seriously detrimental. I will bring this up at council if it is not decided on beforehand.”

Upon his return to camp, Galen made his way as quickly as possible to his tent. He refused Kelby’s offer to accompany him. He tearfully removed his only article of clothing and donned his nightshirt. It was slightly more comfortable than his wet overalls which rubbed against his stinging bottom. Leaving his muddy garment in a heap on the ground, he crawled onto his pallet and curled up with his head buried under his pillow to cry in private.

This was where Thomas found his young friend. Sitting on the ground next to Galen, he gently laid a hand on Galen’s back before he lifted the nightshirt to check out the damage. Three red lines marred the ivory skin and though he was relieved to see they were not severely welted, they still appeared to be painful and hot.

Thomas carefully pulled the young man out from under his pillow and gently gathered him onto his lap, mindful of the sore backside. “Galen, do you feel up to talking about this? Can you tell me what happened?”

“I don’t know w-what happened, Thomas. I don’t know w-what I did to get p-punished!” Galen sobbed as he clung to the bigger man.

“Perhaps you can tell me what happened prior to that,” Thomas calmly suggested.

“I w-was trying to find the frog that got away from me,” Galen hitched out and rubbed wet eyes on his shirt sleeve.

“Was Troy teaching class while you were trying to catch this frog?”

“No, the class was over and we w-were heading home. Troy gave us p-permission to go ahead as long as we stayed on the p-path and didn’t w-wander off.” Galen expelled a deep sigh. “I kinda got w-wet and muddy,” he added as an afterthought.

“I heard that Seth booted you into the puddle.”

“Really?” Galen looked up in surprise. “Who told you that?”

“I was there when Jordan came into the mess hall to tell Walker the story,” the older man responded.

“Are you going to tattle to P-preston?” Galen asked uncertainly.

“Galen, I do not tattle!” Thomas retorted with a weak attempt at humour. “I am sure that the full story will come out and Preston will become aware of the details,” he explained.

“Sorry,” Galen quietly apologised for having sounded so accusing. He unconsciously chewed on his lip only to start it bleeding again.

Thomas was surprised to see the fresh blood on the younger man’s face. He gently reached for the damaged lip and pulled it away from the offending teeth. “Galen, your bleeding. What happened?”

Galen tentatively touched his mouth. “I didn’t w-want to cry w-when Troy w-was switching me. I didn’t w-want him to know it w-was hurting me.”

Thomas felt his stomach clench and he was forced to swallow back his angry response for fear of scaring Galen further. “Oh Galen, I’m so sorry this happened. I promise you it will never happen again.” He hugged the curly head close to his chest.

Galen relaxed into the safety of the strong arms holding him. He trusted Thomas to take care of things and watch over him.

Thomas held the young man he felt had been entrusted to him for several minutes while trying to compose his emotions before dealing with this. Finally feeling calm enough, he asked, “if you’re feeling up to it, how about we go and get some dinner?”

“Do I have to get dressed again?” Galen glanced down at the nightshirt he was wearing.

“No, you’re fine just the way you are. Are you feeling comfortable enough to sit through dinner?”

“I guess.” Galen wasn’t too sure, but he was willing to chance it in order to spend time with his protector and best friend.

Thomas pulled himself and Galen up to their feet. “Let’s go then; I think we could both use a good meal.”

Galen winced as the movement reminded him of his discomfort.

Thomas saw the wet mud-encrusted overalls lying beside Galen’s pallet. “I think we need to get those hung up,” he suggested as he scooped up the soggy mess. “Where are your boots?” he asked when he noticed them missing.

“I dropped them near a p-puddle of w-water. Can I go get them later?”

“We’ll go and collect them together after supper, okay?” Thomas smiled at the expression of happiness spreading across Galen’s beautiful face.

“Okay,” Galen enthusiastically agreed and beamed up at the older man. He followed Thomas out of the tent and watched as Thomas draped the wet clothing over a nearby clothesline before walking hand-in-hand with him towards the mess hall.

Kevin was expecting Dallas back from the wilderness trek. He had been a bit worried as it had only been at his insistence that Dallas had accompanied the class.

His expression when he first caught sight of his partner was incredulous. His partner’s pants were filthy with dried mud and he was limping slightly. Kevin’s eyes narrowed. He recognised that limp as he’d seen it often enough after he’d physically punished Dallas.

“What happened?” Kevin asked as Dallas pushed passed him.

“I slipped in the damn mud,” Dallas said, his voice slightly hoarse. “And that bastard, Troy, switched me for standing up for Seth.”

Kevin swiftly swatted Dallas hard, twice.

Dallas jumped. “Ow! What the hell was that for?” he demanded as the fire on his rear-end reignited.

“I’m sick of your swearing and your apparent disrespect,” Kevin crossly replied. “It was one of the areas that needed attention and it’s obvious we need to work on it more intensively.”

Dallas just looked at his lover. “Didn’t you hear what I said?” he asked. “Troy switched me.”

“So what,” Kevin coolly responded. “You act up in school, you get punished.” Kevin didn’t see what the big deal was. He’d been caned at school and regarded it as part and parcel of the education system. “Was it only you?”

“No,” Dallas answered with vivid memories of the cries and grunts of pain from the others. He hadn’t been silent at all during his turn. Galen had been the only one who’d stubbornly refused to utter a sound.

“Then Troy obviously isn’t exactly picking on you,” Kevin said dryly. “And if you’re using the kind of language I just heard, I’m not surprised he lost patience with you.”

“He didn’t switch me for swearing,” Dallas protested and immediately realised he’d made a tactical error.

“Well then, I can deal with that myself,” Kevin stated. “I think in this case lines would be appropriate.”

“Kevin,” Dallas whined. “I don’t write too good.” He would do almost anything to avoid writing lines.

“Whining is not going to get you anywhere. I’ll write the line out first and you can copy it ten times.”

Dallas looked appalled. That would take more than an hour to complete, sitting on an aching butt to boot.

“Get changed out of those muddy clothes and wash up because it’s almost time for supper. We’ll sort out your lines after that, so you can forget about attending the fireside this evening.”

Kevin walked away and Dallas, with a thunderous glare at his partner’s back, went to do as he was told.

Thomas and Galen had almost made it to the mess hall when they ran into Aiden and his partners. One look was sufficient to confirm Thomas’ suspicion that the big Scotsman had already heard the news. Both men shared startlingly similar principles and ideals. Now the same concern over the possible aftermath of what had taken place, weighed heavily upon them. What might have been a tolerable schoolroom occurrence back home may not be so readily accepted by this group under their present circumstances. Already numerous partnerships had been formed and the men were fiercely possessive and protective of their own. That had been integral to their survival; one could not expect them to relinquish these sentiments easily.

Meanwhile, unaware of the turmoil set in motion, Troy and Levi had finished washing up and were also heading towards the big shared tent along with the majority of the men in the community.

All were totally unprepared for a six-foot, four-inch, half-naked, incensed goliath emerging from the forest and stomping heavily across the encampment.

“YOU!” Brock’s enraged voice boomed across the compound as he pointed at Troy. “I’ve got something to say to you, Schoolmaster!”

Several of the younger men stood transfixed with mouths open and eyes popping. Some were frightened and immediately edged closer to their lovers and mentors. The older men glanced uncertainly at one another, wondering who would be brave or foolish enough to head off the imminent confrontation.

Another giant stepped into Brock’s path. Aiden, only by use of his slightly superior height and strength, was able to physically redirect the furious mountain man away from his intended target.

“Ye best be getting yerself under control, my friend. ’Tis upsetting everyone, ye are. We are too shorthanded to be having one of us kill off another,” Aiden’s unruffled and droll approach reached through Brock’s rage and although the fury was far from diffused, at least the savage beast within was slightly mollified.

“Do you have any idea of the damage that man has caused this afternoon, Aiden? More than two months of trying to instil a sense of security in a very distrustful and cynical young man,” Brock spat through clenched teeth, too irate to be totally coherent.

Troy listened calmly; his face impassive. He was too experienced a schoolmaster to react or take umbrage at anyone’s infuriated opposition to his handling of classroom affairs. He made to speak but a look from the big Scot silenced him.

Aiden didn’t feel he should be taking sides. “I know there may have been a wee bit of a misunderstanding, but…”

“A wee bit?” Brock blustered. “You are defending that misfit of a schoolmaster?” he demanded in disbelief. 

“Until we meet to discuss the matter further, ‘tis best not to make accusations or assumptions. Enough for now, Brock, ’tis not the time or place for this discussion, I assure ye.” Aiden spoke in a soft but firm tone.

“By the hell, it better not be irreparable!” Brock threatened. His body was rigid and his breathing still laboured, but he was slowly beginning to calm down.

“Aye, but that laddie standing behind ye is in need of support and assurances. He doesna need to be further traumatised in this way. The entire matter will be debated after the evening meal. Can ye no wait ‘til then to have yer say?”

Brock expelled a long sigh in a monumental effort to get his spiralling emotions under control. “Alright, I can wait. You are right; my place is with Raythe. But I am giving you fair warning, Aiden, this better never happen again or I promise you, heads will roll!” With that final statement, Brock turned on his heel and returned to Raythe’s side where he embraced the overly-alarmed young man and began the long process of making him feel safe again.

Aiden walked over and laid a comforting hand on Troy’s shoulder. Although his eyes were somber, Troy maintained his composure. He nodded at Aiden easily, took Levi’s hand and continued towards the large communal tent.

Relieved that a temporary truce had been reached, the rest of the community filed into the mess hall. Supper was not its usual boisterous happy affair. Conversation was stilted and mundane as the men deliberately avoided bringing up the topic currently on everyone’s mind.

Levi sat at the table pushing his food around the plate but eating very little. This of course did not go unnoticed by his lover. 

“Do you want to talk about it, love?” Troy asked the young blond.

Levi looked up, keeping his voice low. “I can’t stand it that they are thinking bad things about you. You’re always so fair and kind.”

“Levi, whenever people come together, especially in a new and trying circumstance such as we find ourselves here; there are bound to be some differences of opinion. I have every faith we shall work this one out as well as many more similar situations that will arise over time. We are reasonable men who can talk and come to the deductions needed to benefit the entire community.”

A fierce pride burned in Levi’s breast. He had seen the confrontation outside the tent, and he knew how difficult it must be for Troy to remain objective. “I suppose you’re right. I just don’t like conflicts like this,” the younger man replied.

“No one does, love. Now eat your dinner or you’ll have more to think about than school room disagreements,” Troy gently admonished.

Shortly after the evening meal, a gravely anticipated meeting was brought to order.

“Could I have your attention, please?” Walker stood and calmly addressed the men still seated about the mess hall. He waited patiently for several privately held conversations to conclude. “Thank you,” he said once his appeal had been responded to. “As this is not a council meeting, I am conducting the assembly at Thomas’ request.”

As the meal had ended minutes ago, many of the younger men had chosen to leave the tent. Each one was aware of the topic to be discussed and had unanimously left any decision-making up to their more experienced partners, trusting the older men to take care of things.

With all eyes on him, Walker introduced the subject most prevalent on each man’s mind. “Gentlemen, today was the commencement of our community’s regular school schedule and because of an incident that occurred this afternoon, it has become necessary for us to resolve a major conflict of opinions with regards to how discipline should be handled in the classroom.”

“First and foremost, I want to point out that my role here is not to pass judgement. We are all knowledgeable of how misbehaviour in the class is generally dealt with. Many of us may have experienced or administered such correction at one time or another, and this is in no way meant to be a censure of Troy’s actions. However, that being said, our situation here is rather unique, or so I would be inclined to think. The student body in our school is made up of adult men, most of whom are partnered to one of us here.”

Glancing around at the group of men in front of him, Walker was pleased to note the serious nods of understanding. “I think therefore, it is important for us to discuss this issue as a group and to hopefully come to a consensus. Do any of you wish to comment or voice an opinion?”

Troy stood up to address the group. “I have been a teacher and tutor all of my adult life. It has been my practice to use corporal punishment by use of a switch, or in the past a cane, whenever the behaviour of a student warrants it. I have not nor would I ever beat a student or cause them any harm. The switch is used strictly as a device of correction. However, I do understand that some of you have concerns or objections to this and I am willing to hear them out and see what sort of compromise we can reach.” He spoke calmly and when finished sat down in his seat.

“As long as the teacher is fair in his treatment of the students and the discipline is justified, I feel we should let the teacher handle the classroom in the way he chooses. How else will he be able to enforce order and get his lessons across?” Samuel inquired, looking around expectantly at the others.

“These may be grown men attending the class, but we know many of them are apt to be mischievous and capable of a bit of devilry. I’m not saying that’s bad. God knows we need a bit of liveliness around here to keep us going, but some form of discipline is required in book learning; actually, in any kind of learning,” Mitchell paused before softly adding, “But then again, I don’t have a partner attending school and my point of view may be subject to change if I did.”

“I’m inclined to agree with Samuel and Mitchell.” Preston spoke next. “My Pa always said a lick or two never hurt anyone. If students act up, they deserve to be punished. Then when they get home, they should be punished again for having misbehaved in the first place. We are not talking about serious whipping or caning here, gentlemen; just a reminder to be courteous and respectful in class and to pay attention so no one’s time and efforts are wasted.”

“Well I, for one, cannot endorse it!” Brock firmly expressed his opposition. “But then you are all aware of my thoughts on the subject. No one is going to physically chastise my boy and I am adamant in this. As much as Raythe needs to learn, I will pull him out of school before allowing anyone to use corporal punishment to curtail his actions.”

“Aye, I too will have to side with Brock. ’Tis fully conscious I am of me youngest partner being a wee bit outrageous by times, and if I’m enlightened as to any unruliness on his part, the lad ’twill be none too happy about it,” Aiden made clear his stand. He would assume full responsibility for setting Spyke straight should the need arise.

“Wes is not a participant in any of the classes but if he was, I would not want him physically disciplined,” Nathan made know his feelings. “There are a number of options available without resorting to that.”

“Nathan has a point there,” Quentin offered his support. “Extra assignments or lines can be handed out. If worse comes to worse, a student may even be suspended for a few days and his partner requested to impress upon him the inappropriateness of his actions.”

“Brodie is teaching a couple of courses,” Yancey reminded everyone. “I would encourage him to approach the senior partner or mentor of any student disrupting his class as I cannot see him employing corporal means to maintain order.”

“I am in agreement with Troy’s methods,” Kevin commented. “I was caned at school and it ensured I didn’t repeat the infraction any time soon. I’m sure it would be more effective than a suspension of any sort on Dallas.” Kevin grinned slightly. “It was hard enough convincing him he should attend in the first place so a suspension would not be a deterrent to him. Of course, I’ll be happy to go with any majority decision. I can deal with any misbehaviour my partner indulges in if I’m informed of it.” Kevin looked directly at Troy who nodded.

Lakota spoke next. “I am also against the use of corporal punishments within the classroom when the students are grown men. This is something very personal and private that some may choose to do within a partnership, but not something for a teacher to use in a classroom of adults.”

“I have to admit that I personally would prefer not to have my partners disciplined in such a manner by anyone other than myself. While I am unopposed to a spur-of-the-moment, well-deserved swat on the seat of the pants as an attention-getter, I do find anything more goes against the grain, so to speak,” Walker informed the group.

“As you all can see then; we have varying views on the matter,” Walker continued after allowing a few moments for the murmurings to cease. “A vote will determine how order will be maintained during class time from this day forward. Thomas, as head of the council and for reasons of his own, chooses not to publicly announce his preference. Nevertheless, he is willing to cast the deciding vote should there be a tie.”

Although this revelation may have raised some speculation among the men, no one commented on it. After each of the twelve remaining men had verbally cast his vote, Walker officially announced the results. 

“There will be no need for a tie-breaking vote as we have five in favour of granting Troy permission to use physical means of discipline at his discretion and seven against.”

All eyes turned to Troy, who had not uttered a word since the beginning of the debate. He slowly got to his feet for a second time, looking thoughtful but calm. “Very well, gentlemen, I will abide by your decision. If needed I will employ other means of discipline in the classroom and I trust I will have your support if and when employing such with your partners,” he stated.

A series of ‘aye’ and ‘yes’ were accompanied by firm nods and the sound of shuffling feet. 

“Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am definitely in favour of bringing this meeting to a close. I have a feeling there are a number of young men anxious to learn the outcome.” Walker chuckled along with a number of the others as they got up to leave the mess hall.

Aiden walked up to Brock, placing a large hand on the other man’s shoulder. “’Tis pleased ye are with the result of the vote, my friend?” he asked, his gentle burr a balm to the other man.

“Yes I am, as it will enable my boy to continue his education secure in the knowledge he will not be harmed or frightened again,” Brock quietly responded. “I have no doubt Troy is a man of his word and will honour the resolution arrived at this evening.”

Meanwhile, the early part of the evening found the younger men gathered around the campfire, four of whom were understandably lying on their stomachs with one wearing only his nightshirt. None of them looked very happy. Naturally, the topic of conversation centred primarily on ‘the switching’, as it was rapidly being referred to by most of them. 

One face in particular appeared especially glum. Poor Levi was not sure if he should even be here as the group discussed the actions of his husband and mentor. He kept very still and quiet, trying not to draw any attention to himself.

“I say he had no right to switch any one of us!” Seth declared hotly. “And Preston damn well should have taken my side!” He tossed a small stick towards the trees for Joker to fetch.

Raythe’s eyes gleamed. “Brock says he will kill him if he ever lays his hands on me again!” he exaggerated slightly. He was lying on one side, idly scratching behind his puppy’s ears.

All eyes turned to the handsome lad stretched out languidly beside the fire. Raythe cut a dashing figure with his long black hair spilling over his face and dark exotic features. Several of the young men glanced furtively at him, secretly envious of how alluring he looked when he got angry. No wonder Brock was so protective of him. 

“I should have known I’d get no sympathy from Kevin!” Dallas muttered darkly. “Kevin even believes in caning!”

A chorus of moans went up at that remark while Thad patted Dallas on the back by way of offering sympathy. Walker had told his two partners in confidence that he didn’t support Troy’s action and the two younger men had been relieved by his promise to vote against the practice. 

“How do you live with him, Levi?” Spyke asked suddenly, causing Levi to turn red with embarrassment. “Does he switch you often?”

Levi felt his face heating up. He looked around for help but found none. The faces that stared back were not accusatory or cynical; most were just curious as everyone waited for his reply. 

“Um, Troy is or can be strict. I guess you know that by now.” Levi laughed nervously then sobered. “But he is never unkind!”

Larry, who had opted not to attend the other meeting in the mess hall, saw Levi’s discomfort and spoke up softly, “I don’t see Troy as unkind at all, Levi.”

“Thanks,” Levi whispered gratefully, dropping his eyes to the ground.

“Say, why aren’t you at the council meeting, Larry?” Spyke asked.

Larry shrugged. “It is not actually a council meeting. You will notice a lot of the other men in there as well the other council members. Besides, I trust Aiden to handle things on our behalf, Spyke. I thought I’d rather be here with you guys.”

Seth looked a bit suspicious. “You aren’t spying on us, are you?” He yelped as several hands cuffed him. “What?” he demanded indignantly and then stilled as the movement reminded him of the stripes on his backside. “Shit! That switch hurts like the devil! Did anyone get more than three?”

“I got three,” mumbled Dallas. “Galen too, I think.” Galen nodded his head solemnly. 

Raythe looked incredulous. “You mean I’m the only one who got more? If Brock ever finds out ...”

“What can he do? Troy’s on the council!” Brodie remarked. 

“But that don’t make him special!” Jordan pointed out. 

Kelby added with a shudder. “Brock can be pretty intimidating when he’s breathing fire. We all saw him!”

Irrepressibly, Spyke chipped in. “Man, if I had been Troy and seen someone Brock’s size out for blood and figured it was mine, I would have shit my fuckin’ drawers!”

That sent the group into giggles straight away. Even Levi broke into a grin.

When the laughter subsided, Gille murmured dreamily, “it’s actually kinda romantic, don’t you think?”

“What is?” Thad asked.

“The way Brock stands up for Raythe,” Gille said, glancing around. “Which of our partners would do that, you reckon?”
“Kill for us, you mean?” Jordan whispered, sidling closer to Thad.

“Uh-huh,” Gille uttered, nodding his head meaningfully.

Raythe looked around, his face smug, while some turned pensive and others shrugged nonchalantly.

“I wouldn’t bet on Samuel,” Wayne mumbled disconsolately. “And I wouldn’t bet on Kevin either, if I were you, Dallas.”

Dallas snorted insolently. “Don’t I know it!”

“Well, not killing someone over it does not mean your partners don’t care about you!” Larry said, pulling Spyke closer. “You know that, don’t you?” He turned to ruffle Sypke’s hair lovingly. Spyke nuzzled against him as Larry added, “Aiden wouldn’t fuss unnecessarily over this incident, but I know he won’t hold to using a switch on any one of us in the future.”

“That’s what Walker said as well,” Thad added, leaning hard into Jordan and petting the puppy sleeping on the younger man’s lap. 

“What Larry says is true,” Brodie readily agreed. “We can’t use Brock’s reaction as everyone’s standard.  Yancey would not agree to the switch, but I can’t see him reacting like Brock either.”

“Hey, I never meant to imply that Kevin didn’t care about me,” Dallas strove to clarify his earlier comments. “It’s just he wouldn’t kill for me. I sort of knew what his reaction to the switching would be. I made a rotten beginning here and he’s helping to keep me on the straight and narrow.”

“Well, it’s not as if Troy didn’t give us plenty of warning,” Gille reminded them.

“That’s right,” Jordan spoke up in agreement. “He clearly told us to behave like the adults we were or be treated as naughty schoolboys. The choice was ours.” 

“Heck, even accepting his invitation to accompany him and Levi on the outing was our choice.” Kelby’s comment succeeded in jogging everyone’s memory.

“I didn’t have a choice,” Dallas griped. “Kevin made me go.”

“How come you chose to go, Seth?” Spyke asked. “You obviously hated the idea from the very start. Bet you figured it would get you outta doing more chores, huh?”

Seth just shrugged. He was unsure himself why he’d gone along with Preston’s persuasive suggestion to make the trek with the other students. “Just a wrong choice on my part, I guess,” he mumbled, silently admitting to himself that it was probably the first of one of many made that afternoon.

“So, it seems that Troy might have had some justification in his actions,” Larry quietly commented.

Levi glanced up to see several of the others showing signs of accord, reluctant as they were, and for the first time since the incident in the woods, he felt a small sense of relief. 

“Not really,” Spyke disagreed. “He had no fuckin’ right to punish Galen who’d not done a damn thing wrong.”

Several murmurs of concurrence followed that outburst, and then all were quiet for several moments.
Kelby and Galen quietly agreed by nodding their heads. Both were very subdued and still mulling over the day’s events.

“I’m going for a walk,” Kelby whispered to Galen. “I’ve got a lot of things to think over.” With that he pushed himself up, whistled for his pet and headed towards the beach area.

Hendrik sat back, silently taking it all in and now thinking it was time he offered his two cent’s worth. “Well,” he drawled, “I don’t believe for one minute, Brock would have killed anyone, but he sure could have caused a hell of a lot of hurt.” Although he didn’t have a partner, he did have opinions of his own about the use of a switch. He just wasn’t really interested in voicing them, which was why he, like Larry, chose not to attend the meeting in the mess hall.   

Wes glumly watched the circle of faces as the crackling firelight danced across them and for once had no idea what Nathan would do. The older man hadn’t said much over the incident and had so far refused to be drawn into a discussion on the subject when Wes had needled him, hoping for a reaction. Feeling piqued, Wes stared into the flames, hoping no one would notice his silence. He sighed with relief as deeper voices drifted over and dark shadows began to move towards them. 

Dallas!” Kevin’s voice rang out in the semi-darkness.

Dallas groaned. “Damn the lines!” he cursed under his breath as he scrambled up carefully. “Coming,” he called out.

When the other men had filed out of the tent with plans to join their partners and inform the younger men of the outcome of the meeting, Troy quietly requested a few moments of Thomas’ time.

The two men sat down facing each other and Troy bluntly asked, “had it ended in a tie, Thomas, how would you have voted?”

“The result would have been the same, Troy,” was Thomas’ calmly spoken and straightforward response.

“In other words, you too are not in favour of my use of corporal punishment to maintain order in the classroom,” Troy clarified.

“No, I am not. Tell me, Troy, exactly why you punished Galen. Are you aware that he has no idea of how he misbehaved enough to earn that switching?”

“He was involved in disrupting the class and in the argument that took place.”

“No, he wasn’t! Someone pushed him into the puddle of water moments before you showed up and he did not take part in either the bickering or the attempt to explain the situation. You do recall that Galen is hard of hearing, don’t you? Did you even take the time to talk to him directly to ensure he heard you? Did you give him the opportunity to defend himself against your accusations?”

Troy sat back and mentally reviewed the afternoon’s events. He blanched when he realised the implications behind Thomas’ questions. He was an honourable man who prided himself on always being fair; strict yes, but also just.

Thomas watched as an expression of horror passed over the other man’s face. He acknowledged with a sigh of relief that Troy had not, either consciously or unconsciously, punished Galen because of minor disagreements the two councilmen had encountered in the past over certain matters; the school being one of them. It had been an honest mistake.

Troy got to his feet. “Oh my God, I must go to Galen at once, offer my humble apologies and entreat his forgiveness.”

Thomas rose and followed the teacher to the fire pit where the majority of the other men were still gathered.


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