Osgary 10, 1014
“None of this,” murmured Sir William, flipping through the parchment on his desk — the reams of notes, reports, and reflections assembled by Tawiel, Christopher, and Sir William himself — “is adding up at all.”
Long practice as warden of Tower Prison in Glasonland had made Christopher quite adept at knowing when to keep his mouth shut. He availed himself of that knowledge now. Sir William had decided that Sir Lamorak’s death was not what it seemed, a simple misadventure of a man having crossed paths with the wrong sort of ruffians. Christopher had no idea how to talk him out of that conclusion. Therefore, he said nothing.
Tawiel was not so circumspect. “But, my lord — we’ve been investigating for weeks. We haven’t found anything to support any theory but the obvious one!”
Sir William shook his head. “Explain to me the bee stings, Master Raben.”
“Er … well …”
Christopher came to his rescue. “Sir William — the bee stings could be coincidence. We didn’t find a disturbed hive in the area, I’ll grant you that — but we don’t have any way of knowing that where we found Sir Lamorak was the same place he was killed. It’s entirely possible that the ruffians responsible could have moved the body in order to throw us off the trail.” And, thought Christopher, if you can figure out how anybody could contrive to have a great hive of bees come and sting Sir Lamorak, I’ll eat my hat.
Sir William shook his head. “We found his sword not far off. In the bushes. That indicates that the body wasn’t moved. And,” he pressed, “if it was thieves — why didn’t they take the sword? It’s a damn good sword!”
Christopher would take Sir William’s word on that. “That may be true enough, my lord — but perhaps they couldn’t find it. As you said, it was only found in the bushes, and only when our men were doing a thorough search of the area.” A search, Christopher remembered, that Sir William himself had ordered.
But then again … why was he surprised? These knights of Albion were close; they had all grown up together. Of course Sir William wanted justice for Sir Lamorak. Of course Sir William would wish to leave no stone unturned. And of course Sir William would grow frustrated and perhaps a bit fanciful when confronted with a crime like this. The truth of the matter was that a crime that took place in a remote location, left no witnesses, and was probably undertaken by “professional” criminals was the sort of crime that was very difficult, if not impossible, to solve. It might be easier to pretend there was some sort of conspiracy at the heart of it rather than face the truth that Sir Lamorak’s death may never be properly revenged.
Sir William, however, had more to say. “The sword wasn’t even bloodied. And you can’t say that it was cleaned, Master Tower. If the thieves — if there were thieves — had found it, they would have taken it away with them. So Sir Lamorak had a chance to take his sword from his scabbard — but not to use it. How do you explain that?”
The question was honest, or at least not openly antagonistic. So Christopher took a deep breath and tried to explain. “The thieves might have fallen to fighting over the sword after Sir Lamorak was killed, and the leader threw it into the bushes to stop the fight.”
Tawiel shot Christopher an impressed glance.
Sir William blinked. “A valuable sword like that? Thrown away? No. No thief would do that — and even if he had, surely the other thieves would have tried to go after it. But those bushes were undisturbed until our men went tramping through them.”
Christopher took a deep breath. “My lord –”
“And what about Triss — Sir Lamorak’s horse?” Sir William went on.
Once again Christopher’s mouth opened to point out that the horse was probably sold before the body was discovered. It could be halfway to Reme or Ludenwic by now. So could all the other valuables in the saddlebags. And while Sir William himself might not see anything that valuable, if Sir Lamorak had packed at all for a few day’s journey — perhaps with an extra suit of chain maille, or some clean tunics, or hell, even clean small clothes — somebody could see money to be made from those goods.
He never got a chance. “Given what the border guards found this morning?” Sir William went on.
Christopher narrowed his eyes. “Er … what did the guards find, my lord?”
Sir William blinked. “You … hadn’t heard?”
Christopher exchanged a glance with Tawiel. Tawiel shrugged. Christopher shook his head. “No, my lord.”
Any frustration that might have been in evidence on Sir William’s face disappeared. “Oh — I’m sorry. I thought you knew.” He rubbed his temple, then cracked a knuckle. “I’m sorry — I don’t even know where my manners have gone. Please, sit down, both of you. I’ll explain.”
Christopher and Tawiel sat, Christopher already trying to summon up sensible, logical explanations for whatever it was that the border guards had found.
Sir William began, “This morning, two guards found Triss — Sir Lamorak’s horse — in the forest on the Camford-Albion border … perhaps twenty miles away. It was dead … and had been for some time. Probably … about as long as Sir Lamorak.”
Sir William swallowed, rubbing his temple again. Christopher coughed and took it upon himself to ask the obvious question. “My lord, with all due respect, how were the guards sure it was Sir Lamorak’s horse?”
“It matched the description. And it still had his saddle and saddlebags on it.”
“His saddle and saddlebags?” repeated Tawiel. He shot an incredulous glance at Christopher. Christopher shot him a look every bit as surprised.
“And in the saddlebags, or very near,” Sir William went on, “was, as far as we can determine, everything Sir Lamorak’s valet had packed in them.”
Christopher’s jaw fell. “Everything?”
“Well, nothing edible,” Sir William admitted. “The saddlebags were disturbed — the guards think it was animals who got in. But surely you’ll agree, Master Tower — Sir Lamorak was not slain so that thieves could steal his lunch.”
It was quite possible that Christopher deserved that. He swallowed, letting the knowledge sink in. If nothing in Sir Lamorak’s possession was taken — then he couldn’t have been killed by thieves.
“But …” Christopher whispered, for the first time asking this question honestly, instead of tossing it in Sir William’s face to get him to see “reason,” “if it wasn’t thieves … who was it?”
“That would be the question,” replied Sir William.
Tawiel scratched his head. “Ought we to send another party to search where we found Sir Lamorak’s body? We could have missed something the first time around. We were looking for thieves then, Sir William. It — it was the obvious explanation …”
There was an apology in that suggestion, and who could blame Tawiel? Sir William was not the kind of lord who quashed dissent without ever giving it a fair hearing, but this was the first time Sir William had, as Chief Justiciar, been proven decisively right. This could be nasty.
Or not. Sir William sighed and popped his knuckles one after another. “I’ve had three separate groups of guards search the area. They’ve found nothing. I don’t think …”
He trailed off, his eyes narrowing. “Master Tower …”
“Yes, my lord?”
“Did …” Sir William turned his head to one side. “Did the place where we found Sir Lamorak’s body seem at all … familiar to you?”
“Familiar, my lord?” Christopher could only stare. It was as close as he could get to pointing out that he was a city man through and through, and that one clump of trees was much the same to him as another.
“No?” Sir William leaned back — disappointed? Christopher bit his lip. “But I thought perhaps …” He stroked his chin.
Christopher and Tawiel waited. When Sir William started to think like that, usually only Lord Pellinore had been able to drag him out of it — and that was only by pulling rank. Christopher and Tawiel lacked that option.
“Are — are you sure?” Sir William asked. “Because I thought …”
“You — you thought, my lord?”
“I thought it might have been the same place we captured Lady Morgause. But it’s been so long …”
“Well, my lord, it’s certainly possible …” It had been a long time. Over four years. And the last time Christopher had seen that place had been in the dead of night — and when there was a dangerous witch to be watching, too.
“Would that be important, my lord?” asked Tawiel, cutting directly to the point.
Sir William tapped his fingers on the desk, only the parchment muting the sound of nails clicking on wood. “It could be,” he murmured.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Christopher interrupted. “My lord — if it was Sir Aglovale, or heaven forbid, Lady Dindrane who’d been found there, I might believe that there might be significance to it. But Sir Lamorak? What did he have to do with everything that happened with Lady Morgause?”
Sir William’s eyes widened — then they narrowed. He leaned back, the only movement he exhibited coming from a slow, methodical cracking of his knuckles.
Then he leaned forward. “We … we never explained why Lady Morgause wanted to make herself young again … did we …”
“My lord!” Tawiel protested. “I–I know I didn’t have much part in the trial — but we didn’t need to, surely? Who wouldn’t want to make themselves young and comely forever?”
Sir William blinked, his eyebrows arching over his bright eyes. He turned to Christopher. “Do you think we should be worried?” he deadpanned, nodding to Tawiel.
Christopher barked out a laugh before he could consider his options. It stilled almost instantly. This was surely no laughing matter …
But who was he kidding? They called it gallows humor for a reason. Show Christopher the gaoler or lawman who didn’t have it, and Christopher would show you the gaoler or lawman who must have been halfway around the bend already.
Sir William smiled in response to the laugh, a quick flash of teeth and upturned lips that was gone almost before Christopher could register it. Tawiel even smiled. Then Sir William turned back to Tawiel. “Do you really think it’s as obvious as that?”
“Does it need to be any more complicated, my lord?” asked Tawiel.
Sir William did not answer immediately. He got up and started to pace.
Sir William did not urge them to sit down — a sure sign, if there ever was one,that he was too far gone in thought to be paying much attention to what they were thinking. He hadn’t had a habit of doing this when Lord Pellinore was Chief Justiciar. But when Lord Pellinore had been Chief Justiciar, Sir William had managed to avoid having to do his deep thinking when anyone was around to watch him. Christopher did not doubt that Sir William would have given a great deal to have that luxury back.
He made one pass of the room — two passes. Three. Finally he came to a rest facing the door, arms crossed before him, weight shifting from one foot to the other. “That can’t be all it was,” he finally said.
“Why do you say that, my lord?” asked Christopher.
“Because of Lady Morgan,” Sir William replied. “Because of some things my mother said, of some things the Queen said. Because of the woman Lady Morgause was.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow, my lord,” replied Christopher.
“You didn’t know her very well,” replied Sir William. “I didn’t, either … but my mother has said things — Jess–my lady wife has said things, Gar–Lady Garnet has said things …” Sir William shook his head. “Lady Morgause was obsessed with her appearance. With being beautiful. The fairest in all the land.” Again the rhythmic popping of knuckles began. “Why did it take her almost fifty years to get to the point where she would kill — or come close enough to killing — for beauty?”
“Because of the cowplant, my lord,” Tawiel pointed out. “She didn’t get a cowplant growing in her back garden until after Lady Dindrane put it there.”
“Lady Dindrane said she’d been growing it for a long time before Lady Morgause struck,” Sir William answered. “She said she started before Lord Lot grew ill, although her experiments didn’t start in earnest until she was trying to cure him …”
“Lady Morgause’s experiments probably took a long time to work themselves up to that point,” Tawiel replied.
“No.” Sir William shook his head. “The cowplant creates youth through death. Everybody knows this. Why did it take Lady Morgause so long to kill?”
Christopher opened his mouth. But a quick look at Tawiel’s expression proved that the coroner was just as mystified as he was. Still, somebody had to inject the obvious into this debate. “But Sir William … what does any of this have to do with Sir Lamorak?”
Sir William froze. He turned around. “Do you truly think it could be coincidence — Sir Lamorak meeting his death in the same place where Lady Morgause was captured?”
“Sir Lamorak, yes!” replied Christopher. “If it had been Lord Pellinore — Sir Aglovale — Lady Dindrane — anybody on the jury — or even, with all due respect, my lord, you — then no, it’s certainly not coincidence! But Sir Lamorak? He had nothing to do with any of that. He was one of the only Gwynedds to keep himself completely out of it … er, not counting the young ladies.”
“But was he?” Sir William whispered — and to Christopher’s ears, Sir William wasn’t asking them, but himself.
Tawiel had a better question. “My lord … was Sir Lamorak involved? Did he say things to you, or do … something that was connected, but didn’t mention it to anybody else?” Tawiel glanced at Christopher, who shrugged. “Master Tower and I don’t know what Sir Lamorak might have done — but it seems you do …”
“Oh, yes,” Sir William murmured. “I do.”
More than that was not forthcoming.
Then there was a string of orders. “Master Raben — please send for the Emryses. Tell them I’d like an appointment — tomorrow, if at all possible. If not … well, tell them as soon as they can get here. Let them know it’s important. And …” Will stroked his chin. “Make sure you assign extra guards to the area of anyone who was connected to Lady Morgause’s trial or capture. If … if I’m right …”
“You think more people might be in danger?” Christopher asked. The question made Tawiel go pale — which was to say, go more pale.
But Sir William didn’t answer. Instead he pursed his lips together.
“Sir William — you’d best tell us what you’re thinking,” Christopher pressed. “You are someone who was very involved in Lady Morgause’s capture and trial! If you think Sir Lamorak’s death is connected — and if other people are in danger — you’re at the top of the list!”
“No. Not the top.” Sir William took a deep breath. “At least — I don’t think I’m at the top. But …” He shook his head. “Get the extra guards. But tell them not to be too obvious about it. I don’t want … I don’t want to tip my hand unless I have to.”
Christopher could well believe that. Tawiel, however, only nodded. “Aye, my lord.”
“And I …” Sir William took a deep breath. “I have to take my leave of you now, gentlemen. Please excuse me.”
“Where are you going? My lord,” added Christopher.
Luckily Sir William did not take offense. But all the same, his answer was not one that Christopher had been expecting. “Home. And thence to where we found Sir Lamorak. With — with my lady wife.”
Christopher’s eyes bulged. “Your wife?”
“Aye,” Sir William replied. Then, softly, “I can only hope I haven’t left it too long.”