CHAPTER II: A SCREAM IN THE NIGHT

A SANTHARIAN DETECTIVE STORY

 
The Tale of Katya Dragonseeker   
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Introduction. Early next morning a barmaid finds the body of the murdered guest. Her screams wake up some of the patrons, among them Calmin, who quickly takes charge of the situation. The investigation can begin...
 

orses were galloping at high speed through green, open fields. The sun was glittering down on a wide range of weapons and armour, though not one piece the men were clothed in fitted with another. One rider was wearing plate mail, another only arm bracers and a leather jerkin over his shoulders. A motley band of warriors – less than warriors, really, though more than robbers, or so they said themselves. Leading the band was a flamboyant young man. On his head balanced a lightbrown hat, with a very broad border. He wore a yellow velvet doublet, laced at the chin, and breeches of doe skin. His boots reached up to his thighs, which gripped the horse beneath him tightly. The forest loomed around the riders, trees seeming to close in on them. Fog curled around their horses' legs, rose up like the smoke of the fire around which they were sitting. From the forest came an eerie sound, like thunder. Or a ghost, maybe. Or no; the sound was lower, different still than a ghost. It was a woman’s voice.
 

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 to Calmin.

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 for.

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 had arrived.
 


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