Ardith looked for the source of the voice, and saw nothing. She looked for anything at all, and saw nothing. She looked for darkness, and could not find even that. Ardith screamed and woke up.
The butcher's skin had taken on a color normal for a corpse by the time it was moved to the watching room for the night. By morning, the watching apprentice had nothing to say about it. As was the tradition in Dunweig, the body was buried early in the morning, before no one but an apprentice healer and the butcher's immediate family.
Ardith, still shaky from her dream, said her morning prayer, cleaned up as well as she could with the cold water, and dressed. She then went down to the healing chamber to look over those who had been carried in through the night. She spent some time with the Healer's apprentices, who now trusted her judgement as much as the Healer's.
Ardith suspected some jealousy on the part of the aged Healer. He would not show anything, of course, but he could have considered his long-held power in jeopardy. Then again, Ardith could have been reading too deeply into things. Regardless, she thought, it was time to wake up Kay.
Kay yawned, and rose. “Ardith,” she said after she dressed, “I wonder if it's wise to invite this guy into our company. He's a complete unknown. He might be a spy for some faction or other in this weird situation. How could you just ask him in?”
“I don't quite know why myself,” Ardith answered slowly. “It seemed like a good idea. And, after all, how better to keep an eye on him and what he does than to have him with us. Somehow, however, I think – I feel – that he is a good man.
“Beats me what he does, though… He is obviously not poor, yet not rich. He doesn't seem to be a merchant, yet he claims not to be a noble.
“Well, let's have some breakfast. I'm hungry. Some of Ranes' eggs and bacon, and some hot coffee would do wonders for my aching head, I think.”
“True,” Kay laughed. “Sometimes you just floor me, Ardith.”
“Ha, ha. Is that an invitation to practice hand to hand combat? I learned a little of that in school, but haven't used it forever. Might do us both some good, but not just now, if you please.”
Johannes rose early and was first in the common room. He ordered a simple breakfast, and was still eating when Kreemon left with Bork for a walk. When Kreemon returned, he joined Johannes and ordered breakfast. Kree did not have a lot to say, but he was thoughtful, trying figure out what in blazes they could do to find out exactly what had happened to Moren, when they had absolutely nothing to go on.
As the two men ate, something seemed to be nagging at the back of Johannes' mind. He stared at nothing and muttered to himself. Finally, Johannes snapped back to reality. “Hm… did you ever look into that ruinous building by Moren's shop? I admit that this is the most feeble of attempts to gather evidence about his sad fate, but given what we have so far observed, I am at a loss as to what else we can attempt. I know there is not even evidence to link his death with that building in any manner, but something about the close proximity of something else unusual to this very strange death bothers me.” Johannes sighed slowly. “We probably shan't uncover any evidence, but this is all that occurs to me.”
“Actually, no. I do remember that I didn't much think to venture into it, though, felt a bit dark and foreboding I suppose you would say. I didn't give it any thought in relation to Moren, and I never asked him what the building was. I don't suppose it could hurt to go and have a look though. Mayhaps we should ask the others to come with us.”
“Indeed, that would be prudent. The more of us there to check over the grounds, the more likely we shall find any hidden clues that may be there.” Johannes fell silent for a moment. “If indeed there _is_ any connection between that building and whoever caused Moren's death, perhaps it would be wise to delay that investigation until I have purchased the crossbows for myself and Ardith. If a threat is presented to us in that place, it would be to our advantage if _all_ the members of our group are armed so as to defend themselves, no?”
“I suppose we should just wait on the others to come down then.”
Ardith and Kay entered the inn, looked around, and found their friends in the common room. Ardith paused only long enough to order breakfast from Ranes' morning serving wench; eggs, scrambled loose, with strips of meat, and a half loaf of bread with butter. Kay ordered the same.
When the past discourse was disclosed, Ardith responded. “I see no other clues, so given the tenuous circumstances we have before us, yes. Let us investigate that ruin and any other place that comes to mind. However, it does not require our entire company to rummage about in that building.
“I suggest, therefore, that Johannes and Kreemon, with the aid of his dog's keen nose, investigate the building you have identified, and any other place near the butcher's that strikes your fancy – or that of Bork.
Hearing his name from a friend, the dog snapped to attention.
“Yes, Bork. Good dog. How about a piece of my meat? Yes?” Ardith gave Bork a little slice.
“Kree, your four-legged friend's senses may be our best investigative resource. Heed to his cues. He's a good dog.”
She bent to pet Bork, and was rewarded with a sniff and a lick.
“Good dog,” she said.
“Meanwhile, Kay and I will mosey about the town: the market areas, the salteries, any place we can lend an ear to what may be afoot.
“Let us meet again here when the sun is nearest the zenith – noon, as some say – and share what we have learned. We can plan our afternoon actions after we know what there is to know.
“Does anyone have an idea to add or change to my plan?”
“One final idea that comes to mind is that it might be worthwhile to locate and question the family of the deceased,” Johannes said. “If they have observed any suspicious events in the weeks prior to the murder, their knowledge may prove invaluable in providing us with a direction in which to focus our investigations. Further, I believe that it would be you, Ardith, most suited to this task, for your connections with the church should prove useful in finding the family, and the respect accorded you as a priestess should prove useful in gaining enough trust from the family for them to provide what information they may have. If this is agreeable with everyone?” Johannes waited a moment, and no one objected. Johannes stood up. “I believe we have some work to do. Kreemon. Perhaps we should leave to purchase arms for the lady and myself?”
“I heard what his body looked like yesterday. It was horrible. People tell me that he always spoke of death as something close and familiar, but he never said anything to me. From what some people have told me since yesterday, you'd think it wasn't murder at all. I wish I could believe them, but when I saw his face this morning, I knew he would not simply have given in unless it was truly hopeless.”
As per Andrithan custom, Moren's young daughter wore a dull red sash, and let her hair fall down uncombed in mourning. She had put no care into her physical appearance, and would not for a further four days.
“What would anyone have against a butcher? He never hurt anyone. Even his animals he made sure to slaughter painlessly.”
“Aila,” Ardith said, “a friend of mine became a friend of your father's. He told me that your dad was always thinking his time was short, but could never get him to say why.
“I believe you. From what my friend told me of him, he was a fighter, not one to give in. And the circumstances around his death are most unusual.
“Let us pray to Andritha, my child.”
Ardith thought it odd to be addressing a woman of the world, and in the process of becoming a mother herself no less, as “my child,” but so she had been taught, in her station as Priestess, to address believers.
The two women prayed together, and Ardith offered what little solace she could under the circumstances, promising to do what she could to find out what happened. Then, as she was about to go, she asked, “May I speak with your husband? If so, where is his smithy?”
“Half way between the temple and lake, on the main road. It's the only smithy on that arm of the town.”
Ardith thanked the girl, and followed her directions. Long before she reached Trouvadar's shop, Ardith heard the repetitive resonant clank of metal against hot metal that gave away his presence. Aila's husband was shaping an anchor out of a huge slab of iron, beads of sweat falling periodically from his arms and forehead onto the metal, and sizzling away. He did not notice Ardith's arrival for some time.
“Oh, hello priestess. Does the temple need more work done?”
Ardith smiled and lifted her hand in the gesture of blessing. “That is not why I have come to visit, good sir. The Temple may or may not have further business, but it not my mission to relate that information.
“I come to inquire about the mysterious death of your father-in-law, the butcher named Moren. Did you know him well? It would seem to many of us that his death was not of natural cause, nor in Andritha's good time, but perhaps due to foul play. Can we speak of this matter now, or is your work urgent – that the steel you hold will be spoiled by delay?”
“Oh, not at all. It could use a cooling anyway.” Trouvadar was in his thirties, almost twice the age of his wife. He was nearly bald, and had an old scar stretching from the top of his head to the top of his nose. His arms were of the most common type in Dunweig – heavy and muscular, just like those of the fishermen, but Ardith guessed the temple healers would have been able to point out subtle differences in the structure of the muscles. Trouvadar laid the anchor down near the fire.
“Horrible thing. My wife can't think of anything else. I'm afraid she might spend more time in mourning than the five days. She just left his house a year ago, and she's only eighteen now. Just a child when it comes to something like this.
“I'll help any way I can, but I have to say I don't know much. We spoke from time to time, but we didn't say much. You must already know about his obsession with death.”
“He talked like death was some sort of mystical thing which was coming for him. That could've been it, but my wife doesn't think so.
“Oh, I don't mean to lighten this subject, but do you know if they found any keys on him? He always carried them in his pocket. He left his house and everything in it to Aila – my wife – and we'd rather not have to break in. Not that Aila would think of such things right now anyway.”
Ardith was momentarily taken aback at the question. Kreemon and Johannes had conducted a fairly thorough search of Moren's body, and of the shop, part of it in her presence, and there was no mention of keys or other personal effects. And if they had missed them, surely the Temple priests and priestesses would have returned any personal effects they found to the next of kin. Therefore, Ardith concluded that there were no keys.
'This is astounding,' she thought. 'A man does not leave his home and not take his keys!'
Seeing Trouvadar staring at her, she said aloud, “No, dear sir. There were no keys. And, I find this very curious. Unless a man is seriously distracted, which may have been the case for Moren, with his preoccupation with death, he does not leave his home unlocked in these times. And, having locked it, he would have the keys on his person, or at least within reach, so that he could go home. That there were no keys is very suspicious. Perhaps the person or persons who killed him – and I am sure he was killed, not a victim of a freak accident, despite the strange circumstances – took the keys in order to ransack his home for some item or items.
“Have you been to the deceased's since the murder? Does the house seem undisturbed? Perhaps we should go there posthaste and investigate.”
“I've looked at the house, but I admit I didn't try the door. It seems strange to invade a person's house so soon after their death.” Trouvadar looked down at his unfinished anchor. “I have some work to finish up for Townsman Leinom, but I can show you to the house this evening, if that's not too late.”
Ardith smiled, then said seriously, “No, this evening would not be too late. If anyone wished to ransack Moren's house, I am sure the deed were done long before now.”
“I don't want to be rude, but why is a priestess like yourself concerned with common law? Shouldn't the local magistrates take care of this? Does Moren's death have some religious implications?”
“No, no religious implications that I know of – at least, not yet. Nor a matter of law. Rather it is that a friend of mine befriended your late father-in-law, was disturbed at his morbid mood, and then shocked at the manner of his death. My friend drew me into the matter, and, I must admit, I find the matter curious and disturbing. So I have promised my friend a few days to look into the matter before we must press on with our journey.
“Until this evening, then.”
They agreed to meet at the temple at sundown, and Trouvadar continued his work.
It took Johannes and Kreemon some time to find a place where weapons were sold. They were stored in a small room in the house of a townsman. He had piles of daggers and knives, but little else. “I keep stocked up on a few things here on the off chance that one of the baron's knights stops by – or someone like you,” he had said. Apparently, weapons were not used much in Dunweig, other than for spearing fish. The crossbows were expensive.
The town was a noisy place at that time of day, as the early catches were being pulled in. There were few people near Moren's house, however, at the edge of town.
Sharp stones jutted ten feet or more out of the ground. Some had been reshaped by rain and ice, and looked almost as if they belonged there, like they had been placed intentionally in their current form. Each fragment of the ruined structure scattered shadows below it, some so dark that there could have been holes as easily as shadows. The shadows overlapped in a wide, shimmering network that made the ground difficult to look at.
As Johannes and Kreemon approached the ruins, they each had a feeling that they were doing the wrong thing, but neither spoke his feeling to the other. They found themselves increasingly nervous, fearing what trouble might come, fearing the stones, fearing the shadows, fearing the mice and spiders that no doubt made their homes in the shade. When they had almost reached the closest fragment, they stopped, together, and turned back without a word. Each knew what the other was feeling, and neither was inclined to risk staying.
As Johannes and Kreemon left the ruins, they forgot that they had ever wanted to explore them.
Bork stepped around nervously, then ran to the stone fragments and barked at them. “Let him play,” Kreemon thought. “He won't do any harm.”
Johannes blinked and shook his head, then sighed and spoke hesitantly. “What are we doing standing around like this? Come on, let's check over the shop once more. Maybe there's a piece of evidence we missed the first time.”
“Yeah … the shop, there surely is something there that we missed before.” Kree headed on into the shop and looked around.
All: This should be fun. :)
Your Bill, Sir:
- Ardith: 1.7ag (breakfast)
- Kay: 1.7ag (breakfast)
- Kreemon: .5ag (breakfast)