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Demon stench, blackened circle, and body pieces litter one of the minor city squares.
“You would think they would learn,” I complain to the priest following me. He just sighs and lights incense to begin his spiritual cleaning. His order espouses extreme unworldliness to the point of giving up individual names, which makes it difficult when there is more than one of them to deal with, but for this, one is sufficient, and I watch as he removes the residual evil that would otherwise fuel arguments, dishonest dealings, and just plain bitchiness.
I continue watching as the more mundane cleaners take care of the remaining body parts and blood with a pyre.
I’m not needed for either, but it makes the bystanders watching feel safer, so I stand in the sunlight for the Sword’s enjoyment and gossip with the priest once his job is done. My guards stand in loose semi-circle behind me, also not doing anything other than providing reassurance. Since the death of the Enchanter, they seem more confident in my abilities, more willing to act as my backup, rather than my guards. Which is slightly illogical, since her death was completely unplanned and a total surprise, but I am enjoying the results, so I don’t mention it. We stand watching until the square is clean, and commerce resumes.
I find mother and father in one of the inner gardens of the castle. “Demon, already gone, dead sorcerer,” I report. My parents just shake their heads. Sorcerers will keep trying, each one thinking he will be different.
The next morning, father’s weekly court is sparsely attended, the end of summer and harvesting taking most peoples’ attention. Even the merchants seem to have decided that a minor demon was enough excitement for the week. Or perhaps the priest’s blessing was particularly potent.
One contingent seems to be both reluctant to speak and reluctant to leave. Finally they push one of their number forward. He stands before father, clearly not wanting to speak.
“What is your problem,” father finally asks.
“A ghost,” he whispers. He seems to gain some courage when no one laughs. “We have been beset by a ghost haunting Cliffside lane. It materializes at dusk and attacks.”
“Attacks?” questions father. I am wondering myself what a ghost could do other than frighten.
“Well, chases,” he amends.
That seems more likely. I step forward. “Perhaps I should investigate this,” I suggest to father. I am bored. The supplicants look hopeful.
At father’s nod, I take them aside along with a clerk to take notes, but after a lot of talk the only ‘fact’ that emerges is that something white and ghostly had chased three or four or seven merchants just after dusk. The number wavered between those who admitted to being chased (two) and those who admitted to being chased only to good friends who were suppose to keep it secret, but didn’t (five).
“Dusk?” Mynar asks me later. “I thought ghosts liked midnight.”
“But the good burgers would be in bed, asleep,” I point out. “There would be no one to note its appearance, much less be frightened.” My skeptical brother is not convinced. I go to the vault to retrieve the Sword, before I go to Cliffside to chase rumors.
There is no chasing needed, all I have to do is walk down the street. Everyone is eager to share their version of the truth with me. It is a nice street, a substantial stone wall to the left, warding the steep drop of the hillside to the alleys below. A few sturdy trees grow on the steep hillside to shade the path. To the right are homes of wealthy merchants. The guild hall for the gold and silver workers is at the top of the street.
I stop to listen to a journeyman bard entertaining in the street. He sings a stirring song of crossed lovers leaping to their death rather than being parted, and repentant fathers building the wall for protection, but too late. Nice story, except the drop isn’t that steep, with a couple of broken bones more likely than death, and the wall was built by one of my great-great-grandfathers as defense, in the days when the city stopped at the hillside path. I give him a coin anyway, in appreciation of his imagination, if not his grasp of history.
Since there are houses only on one side of the street, the door torches normally lighted at full dark will only light one side. I go home with the beginning of a plan, and to my surprise, my guards agree without much argument.
I go to my rooms, intending to nap, but first I have to admire the vest that my ladies have created—it reverses from red with black braid around the edges to grey with black braid. I’m pleased, even my training master will likely be pleased. A large part of his training is how to not be noticed.
We are back at Cliffside a little after dusk, strategically hidden along the street in shadowed doorways. The fall mist rises from the river and softens the glow of the door torches. Men move through the mist, going home, their work dome for the day. We see no ghosts. When the foot traffic ends and all of the doors are locked for the night, I give the signal and we silently straggle home. The men are in a good mood despite our lack of results. They have enjoyed ghost hunting.
“We will try it again.” I promise.
Isle, the youngest of my ladies, is waiting up for me, just in case I have forgotten where my nightgowns are. I’ve given up telling them not to.