SHADOWS OVER LORNWATER
continued from yesterday (where you can also find a short glossary)...
Their life is sucked from your bone.
But not only in obscure curtained night.
No, they draw strength from any light.
Barely the suggestion of a glimmer will do.
Of all, children understand them alone,
They know that the Unreal in Darkness breeds,
And their dread sustains all gloomy needs.
Oh, and children’s tears enrich them, true.
- A Life of Their Own, from The Collected Works of Nasalmn Feider (1216-1257)
First Durin of Juvous
Shadows danced in the room, a faint breeze from the open door wafting the flames of the shagunblend torches, casting stripes of darkness over the supine naked woman’s corpse. Welde Dep stroked his black beard and cursed his bad luck as well as the gods. He removed his watchman’s bronze helm and placed it on the wine-stained sideboard. Those same shadows flickered over the helm’s vigilant eye, giving the absurd impression that it blinked. Kneeling beside the dead woman’s head, he glanced at the two attending watchmen who hovered near the doorway of the House of Velvet. “Make sure nobody enters until I have completed my examination.”
“Yes, sir,” said Banstrike, the more reliable of the pair. Cursh appeared disconcerted, which was not surprising, considering the amount of blood on the floor and walls. Dep suspected that Cursh didn’t have the stomach for the job; he bore watching. Watch the watchmen. As ever. The two men hurriedly slipped under the bead curtain and out the door.
The corpse was no longer recognisable. Her face had been expertly sliced off, baring bone. That accounted for the mess of blood. He shuddered and wondered if the mutilation had been done while the victim was alive. As Lornwater’s chief special investigations watchman for eleven years, he’d seen all manner of sights and dealt with man’s depravity, the cruelty meted out to men and women alike by disturbed individuals forsaken by the gods. Yet even now he was not quite inured to the grisly nature of his calling. He still felt empathy for the victims.
Stripping the skin from a person’s face was a message. Usually, the messenger was an assassin. This particular message meant that the victim would be consigned to forever roam Below and never attain eternal rest with the Overlord. That raised at least two questions: who was the assassin, and who hired him? Yet more questions lingered, however. This disfigurement was slightly different: the woman’s right eye had been cut out and placed in her left palm, and her nose was missing. Absently, he fingered the gristle that was all that remained of his right ear and let out a throaty mew of sympathy.
The dead woman’s body was twisted, as if she had fallen abruptly, her right arm trapped under her. Gripping her cold shoulder, Dep eased up the corpse and released the arm.
The glint of a gild ring on her finger immediately caught his attention. Most odd. There were not many female assassins registered in Lornwater. And what was a member of the assassin’s gild doing here; and why was she killed? Was it a failed assassination attempt?
Clutched in the woman’s right palm was the missing grisly nose. The placement of the eyes and nose signified something esoteric, he felt sure. He must solicit advice from someone adept at dealing with the Darkness; his own dealings were concerned with ranmeron magic, involving personal power, and this was beyond his knowledge. He sighed. He had no choice but to approach Nostor Vata, the king’s witch.
Dep stood and studied the room.
This was a place of leisure and pleasure. He expected to see scantily-clad nubile women, fruit of the gods and wine, plenty of wine. A goblet lay on the floor, its red liquid spilt, near the sideboard. No bottles, no more goblets. Wine mixed with blood. He noticed his own bloody footprints – and those of Banstrike and Cursh – but there were no others. Most odd, indeed.
Business-like, he fished out a small black leather pouch and bagged the eye and nose. Then he removed a thin sliver of coloured paper and dabbed its edge into the spilt wine; the colour changed, but not red, rather blue. Poison, then. That was the female assassin’s method, though it clearly went awry and cost her life.
“I find it hard to believe that you’ve developed a sudden case of memory loss,” Watchman Dep said, levelling his dark brown eyes on the proprietor of the House of Velvet, Ska-ama. The office was small, two walls filled with shelving. Only high narrow windows admitted daylight. Shadows abounded wherever Dep looked.
“I’m trying to remember, Watchman.” He leant on his desk top, screwed-up his features. “But… it is the shock. Who was she?”
“I was hoping you’d tell me.”
Ska-ama shook his balding head and his jowls wobbled. “I didn’t recognise her. How could I, with… with…”
“What about her other features? They weren’t defiled by her killer.”
Ska-ama nodded hesitantly. “She – a terrible waste, she had a good body… but nothing that would identify her for me.”
“Do you know who was visiting your establishment earlier today?”
“No, I can’t keep account of…”
“The law says you should.” Dep sighed. “I will have to close you down, since you’re incapable of abiding by the law.”
“But – some very important people visit here. They don’t want their names associated with… with my house.”
“I’ll spare their reputations and blushes, providing you give me the information I require.”
Reluctantly, Ska-ama got up, moved sluggishly to a shelf and removed a book. “My receptionist records every person who enters and when they leave.”
“So, since the woman’s body was found the place has emptied. And she managed to make a note of everyone leaving?”
“I imagine so. It’s her job.”
Dep took the book, leafed through its pages, found the most recent entries. “Seemingly not. A good half-dozen visitors are not logged out. Yet they certainly are not here now.”
“An oversight. My receptionists are usually very conscientious.”
“I’m sure they are. And doubtless being scared of vicious murderers, they abandoned their post.” He wasn’t going to get anything out of Ska-ama. “I need to interview your… staff.”
“I’ll arrange it at once. But please don’t keep them too long. They have a job, you know. Time is money.”
“Since you said ‘please’, I’ll do my best.”
“Thank you, Watchman.” Irony was lost on him, clearly.
Dep sent his two men away to check on the whereabouts of today’s visitors listed in the receptionist’s book. In the meantime, he spent the next two orms interviewing the men and women “entertainers” who “catered for all tastes”. Every one of them vowed that none of their company was missing. The dead woman was a stranger to them. This suggested that she had entered this place without being noticed, which wouldn’t be difficult for an adept assassin, and was here on a killing contract.
***to be continued... in later blog pages !