The murderer’s room is disappointingly normal, maybe just a little too neat and orderly, but no stench of Sorcery, no grimoires, no arcane symbols drawn in blood.
“There is no sign he was a user of any power,” Jes decides and Alan agrees.
“But he was definitely the murderer,” Alan points to the three garrotes found at the bottom of one of the boxes. “Unused,” he adds unnecessarily. If they had been used, they would be buried in some illicit grave yet unfound.
“The killer my first Wielder hunted kept trophies,” my Sword adds helpfully. “Ears,” it uncharacteristically continues with more information. I manage to keep my responding ‘ewwwww’ silent.
I look around the room, searching for something we might have missed. Sometimes I am almost ready to just start talking to the Sword before all and sundry and just let everyone think I am crazy. Then I consider the probably reaction to a crazy Wielder and decide I don’t really need panic in the streets.
“This is too normal for a man who has killed seven people.” No, I don’t know what I am talking about. Wielders fight demons and armies, they don’t solve murders, but I need some justification for what I am about to demand. “I think we should measure the room to be sure there are no hidden spaces.”
So Captain Cabl sends for a couple of sergeants to do the actual work, and we start measuring. And find nothing. No missing spaces, no loose floorboards, absolutely nothing. With me watching the Captain wants to be thorough, so he orders the bed moved to check the floorboards underneath, despite the unlikelihood of anyone crafting a secret space which can only be reached by moving a bed. And the murderer hadn’t. But in the process of putting the mattress back on the frame, I notice something.
“This part of the seam has been resewn, the thread doesn’t match, nor do the stitches.” Of course, the innkeeper could just have repaired the mattress, but we had gone this far, so the Captain orders one of the sergeants to slit the seam, and we find the trophies. Not ears, thank goodness, just small personal items.
“There are nineteen.” The Captain is appalled, thinking of twelve more graves.
Alan takes a slender stick from the supply of tinder by the fireplace and pokes at them gently. “They all have labels. Date and location. No names. I guess he didn’t think names were important.”
But what is important is that only seven are labeled Misthold. The random personal items yield no names, just a suggestion that he killed both rich and poor.
The next day father summons us to report to the weekly council meeting. I bring Captain Cabl along to do the formal report; it was his tedious work which found a name and then the rooms. All in all, the report is very well accepted. I suspect all they care about is 1.) we found the murderer, 2.) he is dead. But then I make a suggestion that isn’t so well accepted.
“We told everyone about the Enchanters. We told everyone about flint wounding demons. I don’t see why I need to tell anyone anything else. No one sends me useful information.”
Father is not happy with my suggestion we should send messengers to the other cities on the labels. “It isn’t as if we could give them names.” He carefully ignores that date of death and location might pinpoint who went missing. Then he notices Jes, leaning against the far wall, as usual. “Of course, the tribes are different—allies—but Jes will tell them anything they will be interested in.” And he moves on to the next issue, considering this issue settled.
I might be able to unsettle it, if I go to mother, but the murdered are righteously burned, the murderer is dead and burned as demon, however unnecessarily, and I am not going to lay any unnecessary burden on mother. Let the priests list and describe what we found before they burn them, and write ended to the whole episode.
Father’s sense of pleasure at a problem solved and consigned to the archives doesn’t last long. Taver enters in a rush, bringing a new problem.
Spires have been lit, one for warning, from the northeast. “I have strengthened the guards at the gates, and given warning to the merchants that there may be danger on the road.” Taver doesn’t have to tell father there is nothing more to do until couriers arrive with more information.
“Get me someone familiar with that part of Abalem to describe landmarks, and I can scry for anything out of the ordinary.”
Father surprises me by just looking thoughtful instead of scowling at being reminded of Alan’s magic. Taver looks hopeful; he appreciates the reports he has been getting from scrying. When father agrees they both hurry from the room, heading toward Alan’s workshop, and effectively suspending the meeting.
Since I can’t help with finding landmarks or scrying, I head to my tower to check on the construction. They won’t let me go up, won’t let me spoil the surprise, but I can tell construction is still going on.
I wander around trying and failing to find something useful to do. I notice Jes on the wall in his snow-watching corner, and go up to see what he is doing. The harvest is almost over, but it is still weeks before we could see even a flurry of snow.
“Are you going to talk to the tribes about the murderer?” Because if he is, I want him to ask about big black cats too. I won’t ask him to dream-talk just because I am curious about cats; it costs him too much.
“No. There were no deaths from the tribes, so they wouldn’t be interested.” Jes leans against the merlon, looking out through the slits to the streets outside the castle walls. “Has your father changed, or was I just wrong about his aversion to the use of power.”
From his tone, I don’t think power is what he means, rather it is just the word in our language nearest to what he means. Oh yeah, I was going to talk to him about this, but had kept putting it off.
“Father’s aversion is to demons, who mess up our city squares with dead bodies and blood, and he equates demons with Sorcerers. He doesn’t care one way or another about Shaman or Clairvoyants, and the only reason he hates Enchanters is because one attacked him.”
“I mis-judged,” Jes admits. “But few of my powers are of use in your city anyway. Although the hunting ritual did work.” He sounds slightly smug about it. “What are you going to do about Zar?”
Good question, wish I had an answer. “And the twenty-three mercenaries once they finish searching all of the open fields.” Father had accepted Taver’s explanation of why he set them to the task, but I don’t think he realized they were permanent additions to Misthold. Thinking of permanent residents, I realize I need to check with Daver about the women, so I leave Jes waiting for snow and go searching instead of just sending for him. I haven’t prowled the castle for days.
“They are all healthy too, despite the long travel,” Daver concludes his report. The women’s stories are consistent with Hunk’s. Nothing surprising or conclusive there, given the length of time they traveled, there was plenty of time for practicing.
“Oh damn.” I race off without explanation. I need to fetch soldiers, and, I guess, some of Sister May’s nurses for the women, to check all of them for tattoos. I had just blindly accept they had won the fight at the manor.