Calmin awoke with a start. It took him a moment to
realise that he still heard the woman’s voice, that it was not only in his
dream. She was screaming, though no words could be heard. A quick glance out the
window told him that it was morning, or very near to it. It was still rather
dark, but every second it became lighter. Already he could see the furniture in
his room quite clearly.
Quick as a flash, though drowsy moments ago, he got up and grabbed the first
thing that came to hand – the poker from the fire. He didn’t know why there was
a woman screaming, but you could never be too careful. For all he knew, she
might be under attack by some vile man meaning her harm.
Rushing out of his room, he heard the scream more clearly, although it was
decreasing in volume. It came from two doors beside his own, so he quickly ran
there. The first thing he saw, still in the hallway, was the woman. It was one
of the two barmaids that he had seen the previous evening. She did not seem
physically hurt, but her eyes were wide set and hazy with shock when she turned
He was the first to respond to her scream, apparently, though other doors were
opening. On seeing him, she abruptly ceased her screaming. Instead, she just
pointed at the room in front of which she was standing. The door was open; one
glance inside told him the reason why she was so upset. He saw that a man was
lying on his back on the floor of the room. His head was close to the bed, and
there was a small pool of blood next to it. The clothes on his chest were also
soaked with blood; a patch had formed around the dagger which protruded from it.
The merchant approached the body, but it was quite clear that it was too late
for the man. His eyes were open, staring at the ceiling, and when Calmin touched
his hand it was quite cold. Turning around, he saw a cluster of people gathering
in the doorway. He pointed at two of the men, who were already more or less
dressed. “You! Go fetch the innkeeper, and then run to the garrison and get the
Captain of the Guard. You, get a healer. Quickly, man!” The men thus addressed
jumped up and ran downstairs in search of the innkeeper. Another man had already
taken care of the distressed barmaid, seating her in a chair and trying to calm
her. Calmin went over and squatted down beside her.
“Are you all right, lass?” He asked. She was sobbing, but nodded her head. He
knew it wasn’t the best thing to ask, but then he’d never been in this
particular situation before and he didn’t know what else to ask. But there were
things he’d need to know, and either he or the Captain would have to ask her.
Might as well be sooner than later.
“Look, I know this is distressing to you, but could you tell me how you found
the body?” He didn’t really want to be so blunt, but he’d never had a way with
words. The girl nodded again, and after a few more sobs started talking: “I was
doing my round of the rooms, airing the empty ones, changing the linen and so
on. When I reached the door of this room, I heard nothing at all. It seemed
strange, because usually you hear people, even when they are sleeping. They turn
in their beds, they snore or even mumble, but here there was nothing. I knew the
room was occupied, though, so I opened the door to see if everything was all
right. I wish now that I hadn’t been so curious. Oh, how I wish that…” Calmin
nodded in sympathy. “And before that, did you notice anything unusual? Anything
at all?” But at this question, the barmaid shook her head. She said everything
had been normal, up to when she opened the door.
She started sobbing again. For an irrational moment he felt irritated with women
and their tears, but he just patted her shoulder and waited for her to calm
down. “So, you started screaming as soon as you opened the door?” he asked. The
girl nodded. “You didn’t touch anything? Only the handle of the door?” Again,
her head went up and down. Before he could ask his next question, he was
interrupted by the innkeeper coming in. Glandys took one look at the body and
turned away, looking for support with a hand. His face showed a mixture of
emotions. The most prominent were shock that such a thing could have happened in
his respectable inn, nausea at the sight of the dead man.
Calmin gave him a reassuring look, then turned back to the girl. “Do you know
who he is?” This time the barmaid shook her head. “I’ve not been close enough to
see his face, I only knew the room was occupied but no more.” As an answer to
the merchant’s look, Glandys also indicated that he did not know. “I’d have to
look in the records for his name. It’s something with a 'V', I think. He’s come
here a few times, but this is a busy place. Maybe if I looked into his face, I’d
remember it, but…” his voice trailed away. It seemed that despite his tough
appearance, the barkeep had problems facing death. Calmin nodded. “Please fetch
the records, we need to know his name, and the details of his stay.” For a
moment he paused, wondering how he could be so calm with a dead man lying a few
fores away. But then, he had seen many more dead men in his days, he had seen
them not only dead, but also dying, which was sometimes worse. Many of the
deaths that he had witnessed were more horrible than the swift stroke of a knife
to the heart. He had dealt in these deaths, at first as the hand of Armeros –
one of the many hands of Armeros, the elite soldiers in an army he did not care
to remember. Later he had killed on his own. That was when he had realised that
Armeros had left him. Or that he had left Armeros, he still did not know which.
In any case, he had seen enough not to be very touched by the death of a man he
did not know, despite it occurring two doors from his own.
While waiting for Glandys to come back and the healer and the Captain of the
Guard to arrive, the man examined the room. He started with the door, and paid
special attention to the knob. He could see nothing. Or yes, there was
something. A tiny speck of red, almost brown. Dried blood? On the other side of
the door, there was the same colour, almost invisible against the copper of the
doorknob. It was larger, so that this time he was quite certain. It was blood,
dried in the time between the murderer’s hand touching the door and dawn.
Turning his back to the door, he walked over to the fireplace, examining it but
not expecting to find anything. The chance that the murderer would have put a
log on the fire was rather small. All he could really see was that the fire had
not been banked, and it had gone out completely. This could mean that the man
had been killed when it was still early. Of course, it didn't have to be so,
there were so many other possible reasons. Maybe he just didn't know how to bank
a fire properly.
Looking over to the other side of the room, he saw that his estimation of the
time could be right. At least, the bed had quite obviously not been touched.
Calmin returned to the body and examined it more closely, careful not to touch
anything. The dagger seemed to be more ornamental than practical. The hilt was
wrought of gold, with a ruby set in the top. The gold itself was decorated with
very fine swirling lines. It was good craftmanship. A shame that it had been
used in such a manner.
He was distracted from examining the dagger by the horrified voice of one of the
bystanders. “What do you think you're doing? You should leave this for the
Captain of the Guard! You should leave the body alone!” Calmin stood up from his
squatting position and looked at the man. A small, weasely kind of fellow, who
only really dared voice that opinion, because he was surrounded by a few people
with the same opinion. He was the kind of coward the merchant only felt contempt
With narrowed eyes, he answered: “I'm seeing if there's anything I can help the
Captain with, who happens to be a very good friend of mine. The sooner this room
is examined, the better, and I'm not touching anything specifically in order to
let the Captain see everything as it was. Was there a problem with that?” The
icy tones that he used were not normal for him, but he knew well how to use
them. The coward shrank back and only shook his head, not brave enough to stand
up for his opinion.
They were interrupted by three people coming into the room, one of which was
Glandys with a book in his hand. It was open on the last page where something
was written. Apparently, the man's name was Vendai. After the innkeeper, one of
the men who Calmin had sent out entered, returning with a healer. Not that he
could do much for the victim anymore, but at least he could help establish
approximately when he had died.
The result, after examining the body, was the same as what Calmin himself had
surmised earlier. He had died in the early hours of the evening. The cause of
death was the dagger, the pool of blood near his head was a result of hitting
the side of the bed as he fell. The man nodded and thanked the physician. He
decided to wait with any other investigations until the Captain of the Guards