Sergeant Cepero sighed and stretched at his desk. He was in his office in the guardhouse, one that he shared with two other sergeants in the Town Guard. It was a large room with three desks taking up much of the room’s middle. Two sides of the room had wooden shelves filled with ledgers, and wooden boxes stacked haphazardly, while the room’s only window overlooked the front entrance to the building and let in the dwindling sunlight.
A knock on the door made him look up. It was Kaaye, who had been helping him with the case. “Sir, I have some information for you.”
“Come in, Kaaye; have a seat.” Cepero guessed that it had to do with the murder he was looking into. The dead man, Burian, had been the son of a merchant, a man named Einar; the man suspected of the killing was Ludovic, the dead man’s twin. because the body had been discovered with a knife in it. The captain had suggested that Cepero handle the investigation, and during the course of looking into the case, he had found that the dead man had made many enemies.
“You had asked me to find out about the knife.” The dead man had been killed with a bejeweled knife owned by Ludovic.
Kaaye looked at him expectantly and, when he nodded, continued, “I checked with the weapon-seller and the ironsmith on Traders Avenue but they both said it looked like a custom order; one of them suggested I check with the old swordsmith, Maarten. When I went there, Maarten said that he had made the knife but the decorations on the knife were done afterwards. He said that it looked like Nila’s work –” she stopped when he raised his eyebrows in question.
“She’s a silversmith, sir, and when I talked to her, she said that she did them as a custom-order for Karanat.” Karanat was manservant to Ludovic, the dead man’s twin.
Cepero nodded again. “That’s the same story the family told us. Karanat gave the knife to Ludovic as a birthday present. Ludovic doesn’t deny it.” Cepero drummed his fingers on the table and said, “Tell me, have you talked to Ludovic at all?”
“I was with you when we brought him into the guardhouse, Sergeant.”
“What is your impression? Do you think he did it?” Cepero was curious to know if her opinion tallied with his. He himself did not think that Ludovic was a murderer, but he could scarcely tell the justiciar that he felt Ludovic was innocent because of the tone of his denials!
“I don’t know, sir.” She stopped speaking and looked at him, a question in her eyes.
“Tell me,” he encouraged.
“I’ve been asking around, sir, and Burian made a lot of enemies before he got killed. Ludovic is a gambler, sir, but he pays his debts, and he isn’t a drunkard like Burian was. Plus, Ludovic swears he didn’t kill Burian, sir, and I don’t know, I want to believe him.” The twins, Burian and Ludovic, had been competing to be named heir to their father, and since Burian’s murder made certain that Ludovic would be heir, he was the best choice for murderer.
Cepero nodded. “I agree. I have arranged for everyone to be here in the guardhouse today for the second questioning, so let’s get started, shall we?”
“Mistress Isla? Come in,” Sergeant Cepero invited, “Have a seat.” He observed the woman before him closely. She was housekeeper and cook to Einar, the gem-merchant, father of the dead man. Isla’s eyes were shadowed, and Cepero guessed that she was upset about Burian’s death; after all, she had practically raised Burian and Ludovic subsequent to their mother’s death when they were very small boys.
Kaaye, who had escorted the woman in, remained in the office.
“I’d like for you to tell me what happened on the day Burian died,” Cepero said. He had been unable to get a clear picture of the suspects, and had decided that the housekeeper’s information would lighten the murkiness surrounding the murder.
“Well, it was just another day except for Burian getting killed,” Isla said. Then, her voice rising agitatedly, she continued, “Sergeant, Ludovic didn’t do it. He couldn’t kill his own brother. You have got to let him go. You must understand –”
Cepero interrupted, “Yes, I do. Now, Isla, Ludovic will be set free if he is innocent. But in order for me to get the proof that he is innocent, I need your help.” He waited until Isla subsided and then said, “You can help by thinking back to that day and answering my questions. What were you doing that morning? Start with when you woke up.”
“I woke up when the last bell of the night rang, just like any other day,” she paused and Cepero took the opportunity to ask another question.
“Isn’t that a little early?”
“Not really. I only have one maid to help, and it’s a big house. Donato and Karanat help; they take care of the entire upper floor, but there’s still the young master’s rooms to clean, and the rest of the house.” Donato and Karanat were the manservants of the twins, Burian and Ludovic.
She sniffed and continued, “Then there’s all the cooking to do. We have a woman who comes and takes out the laundry to do at the river, but –”
Cepero interrupted again; while he believed in letting people talk so that they would let the truth slip, he was not deeply interested in the details of housekeeping activities. “By young master, you mean Einar?”
“Yes, sir. I cooked breakfast — the young master likes to breakfast early. We had several visitors that day, and they all came through the back door. First there was the milkman, and then the girl who does my shopping came by with the spices and meat.”
“Did they come into the house?”
“No, they didn’t; I just met them at the back door. There’s a little alcove there between the kitchen and the outside door, and they usually stop in there. Let’s see, who else visited that day?” Isla stopped, a faraway look in her eyes. “There was this young man who wanted to see Burian, but Donato had just come down to the kitchen to get breakfast for Burian and he chased him away.”
“Hmm.” Cepero frowned, thinking about it. “Did you know the young man? Can you describe him for me?”
“He was a pretty young man,” Isla offered doubtfully.
“What color hair? Eyes? How tall was he?” Cepero asked, knowing that without his intervention, Isla could talk about the unknown youth for a bell, yet fail to provide a single, useful detail about his appearance.
“Blue, I think,” she hesitated and then continued, “Light brown hair. I’d never seen him before.”
“I don’t know. Shorter than Donato, maybe.”
“Who else came by?”
“Well, about a bell after that, and I remember this because I came back into the kitchen after serving the young master breakfast, and there she was!” Isla looked at him triumphantly.
“Why, Raizel, of course, Donato’s sister. She had come to visit him; she came down after seeing him.”
“Was Karanat there?” Cepero knew from his conversations with the others that Karanat had gone to visit his aunt Francesa and her son Ruarc, but he believed in corroborating everyone’s story. Sure enough, Isla confirmed Karanat’s absence.
“Oh, he’d gone to visit his family. He went the previous night, you know, after Ludovic went to the Serpent. He must have come back really late that night, because he was in when I got up and he took early tea up to Ludovic.” Ludovic was something of a gambler, and frequently played cards at the Inn of the Serpent which was the haunt of serious card players.
Cepero asked, “So what happened when you saw Raizel in the kitchen?”
“Nothing, really. She said she was in a hurry and ran away. I was busy, so I didn’t ask. I went away to clean the young master’s rooms after that. No one else came to the house that morning, I don’t think,” Isla said. “At lunch, young master Einar wanted to know where the boys were. I told him to go up and look. He went up and found Burian dead. That’s all.”
“Thank you, Mistress Isla.” He nodded to Kaaye, who escorted Isla out.
Sergeant Cepero watched Kaaye and Ludovic enter his office. With brown hair and honey-colored eyes, Ludovic was of slender build and medium height. His face had an ascetic look to begin with, due to the straight nose and high cheekbones, and now the incarceration had etched deep lines in his face, making him look gaunt. Not that the guard ill-treated their prisoners, but Ludovic had been fretting about being in jail, complaining incessantly to any of the guards who passed by his cell.
Cepero settled himself in his chair comfortably, putting his feet up on his desk. “Have a seat.” He nodded to Kaaye, who took a seat behind Ludovic to one side. “I need you to tell me exactly what happened from the time you entered the Inn of the Serpent that night.”
“How many times, Sergeant? How many times are you going to make me tell you the same thing over and over again?” Ludovic asked angrily. “I’m not stupid. If you think I’m going to change my story the tenth, fifteenth, or twentieth time I tell it, you’re wrong, because it’s not a story; it’s the truth!”
“So tell me the truth,” Cepero invited.
“Fine. I went to the Serpent to play cards that night. I’d received word that someone new was going to be at the game, someone good, and I wanted to play against her. By the time I realized Burian was there, the third bell of the night had already tolled, because Deserae wasn’t in the common room — she normally goes upstairs on the third bell.” The Inn of the Serpent was a place frequented by serious card players and Deserae was the innkeeper’s daughter who assisted her father, Ballard Tamblebuck, in running the establishment.
Ludovic paused to cough and then continued, “Burian was drunk, as usual, and we had a fight. It was nothing special, just regular –”
Cepero interrupted, “Nothing special? You and Burian threatened to kill each other and you say it was just the usual?”
“Sergeant, you’ve got to understand. Burian and I — that’s what we did.” The vehemence in Ludovic’s voice rang true and Cepero also knew that it was, because he had spoken to people who knew the twins and they all said the same thing: the twins had fought verbally and physically with little regard to time or place.
“Did you mean it?” he asked, just to confirm.
“No,” Ludovic said emphatically. And then slowly, he said, “No, I didn’t.”
“You don’t sound too sure.”
“I don’t care that he’s dead,” Ludovic dismissed his twin’s death, “but I didn’t do it. I did not do it.” He emphasized the last sentence, separating each word as he had done before.
“Straight; go on. Tamblebuck?”
“The innkeeper, Tamblebuck, threw us out. He wanted to know if Donato and Karanat were there. He called them our shadows.” For an instant, Ludovic’s voice trembled, but he composed himself. “Father hired the two of them to be our manservants, companions, when we were younger. Donato was Burian’s and Karanat was mine. Anyway, Karanat wasn’t there — he never went with me when I played cards. He disapproves of my gambling.” Ludovic gave a small smile. “Donato was there. He offered to take us home, but I didn’t need any help because I wasn’t drunk.” The scorn in his voice was palpable. “And then I went home.”
“What happened after that?”
“I went to bed. The next day Father had sent word for us to lunch with him; he wanted to celebrate the fact that I was getting married. I didn’t go and he came upstairs to fetch us. We went into Burian’s room and there he was, dead.” There was no horror in his voice, and Cepero recognized the lack for what it was: the numbness resulting from endless repetitions of the explanation.
“Where was Karanat?”
“He had gone to visit his aunt.”
“When did he return?”
“N– yes — I don’t remember, straight? After Tamblebuck threw us out, I came home and got drunk, so I don’t remember when Karanat came home.”
“Did you have breakfast that morning?” Cepero decided to take another direction.
“No, I was feeling too sick. I couldn’t go down to eat. Just had a cup of tea.”
“Hmmm. I guess Karanat brought you the tea,” Cepero offered gently.
“Yes, that’s right, he did bring me tea. But I really had a headache.”
“Such a headache that you don’t remember killing your own brother?” Cepero asked with sudden emphasis.
“No!” Ludovic’s response was immediate and heartfelt.
Cepero changed the subject again. “Tell me about the knife.” One of Ludovic’s knives had been found in the body.
“It was a gift.”
“Who gave it to you? How many people knew it was yours?”
“Karanat gave it to me during my last birthday celebrations. Everyone knew it was mine.”
“Where did you keep it?”
“In the dresser in my room. I wore it for formal occasions; it was beautiful enough that it was a decoration, and yet functional enough that I didn’t need to carry any other weapon.” Ludovic paused for a moment and then mocked, “Well, Sergeant, it appears you believe me after all.”
“It is your knife,” Cepero pointed out gently. “Tell me, Ludovic, did you kill him?”
“Are you hard of hearing? Perhaps you should find a good healer or a magician to look at your ears. Or perhaps you should get a truth-hearer in. How many times do I have to tell you? I did not do it.” Ludovic was shouting by the time he finished.
“Well, we’ll see,” Cepero offered. “Kaaye, have Pallas take him back to his cell, please.” Syshe Pallas was a new recruit to the guard.
Kaaye stepped out of the office briefly to give instructions and returned.
“That was a strange smile on his face when he talked about Karanat,” Cepero mused. “I wonder if Karanat is the killer and Ludovic knows.”
“That isn’t it, Sergeant.” Kaaye shook her head. “I have heard that Ludovic doesn’t bed women. People say that the two of them are together.”
“Is that all?” Cepero snorted. “That isn’t enough reason to kill.”
“Well sir, the father, Einar, threatened to disinherit Ludovic because of that.”
Cepero murmured, “Hmmm. That’s interesting. All of the evidence is against Ludovic. It was his knife; they fought and threatened to kill each other just the previous night at the inn, and their rooms are across from one another in the house.”
“Yet you don’t think he’s guilty, do you, sir?”
Cepero sighed and brought his feet down with a plop. “I don’t know. Maybe he is guilty. I just — his denials ring true to me.” He leaned forward on the desk and shouted, “Pallas?” A brown-haired man entered and Cepero asked, “Ah, Pallas, is Donato waiting?”
“Yes sir, shall I send him in?”
They waited and Cepero drummed his fingers on the desk rhythmically. Suddenly he paused. “Kaaye, I have an idea about that young man Isla described. Remember the first time we spoke to Karanat and he said Ruarc came to see him? Why don’t you take Isla and see if she recognizes him?”
Kaaye nodded and left the office quickly, passing Donato in the doorway. Manservant to the dead man, he was of medium height, with red-blond hair. Hazel eyes and a neatly trimmed beard gave him the kind of good looks that would catch any maiden’s eyes.
Cepero nodded to the newcomer. “Donato, please have a seat. Why don’t you tell me about Burian.” The question was uttered like a statement.
“What do you want to know?”
“Anything. Everything. What kind of a man was he?”
“He spent his days drinking. Einar paid me to watch him so that he didn’t fall into a ditch when he was drunk,” Donato said.
Cepero stared at the other man, whose eyes were curiously blank. It was as if the real man behind the hazel eyes was hiding. It frustrated Cepero, who liked to size up people when he met them. “Is that all?”
“What more is there to say about a man who preferred to remain drunk rather than sober?”
“You tell me,” Cepero snapped. Donato’s habit of answering a question with another question annoyed him. He knew there was something Donato was hiding and he wanted quite fiercely to find out what it was.
“He drank a lot.”
“You said he spent his days drinking. What did he do with his nights?” Cepero knew the answer to that one: wenching. But still, he wanted to get a rise out of the expressionless man in front of him. And he did. A strange expression, almost one of hauteur, crossed Donato’s face.
“Burian fancied himself a ladies’ man,” he offered.
“Tell me about your sister, Donato.” Cepero was tired of the game, and he came to the point brusquely. He was conscious of satisfaction as rage crossed the other man’s face.
“Leave Raizel out of this!” Donato half-rose from his chair, gripping the handles with white knuckles.
“I talked to Ballard Tamblebuck, owner of the Inn of the Serpent. He told me Raizel is … ill.”
“Ill? Ill?” Donato took a deep breath, his anger coming off him in waves. Cepero was a little surprised that Donato had lost his poise so completely, but it appeared that his mention of the sister had touched a sore point. Mentally he congratulated himself and awaited Donato’s outburst.
“She’s with child, and you know it, don’t you? Damn that Tamblebuck! He told you!”
“Hold on, Donato,” Cepero soothed, “I would’ve found out even if Tamblebuck hadn’t told me.”
“Well, it’s true, Raizel is with child.” Donato seemed to force out the words.
“The father –”
“Isn’t Burian! I know what you’re trying to do, Sergeant, but I can only say that you’re wrong.” Donato had recovered his calm, and he stared back at Cepero silently.
“Did you kill Burian?”
“No! I did not kill him,” Donato said.
“Did she kill him?”
“No, she did not.” He paused deliberately between each word as if mocking the guard.
Cepero looked at him, debating whether to provoke him again, and then decided against it. He nodded decisively and called for Pallas to escort Donato out.
“Sergeant, you were right,” Kaaye said, her words tumbling over each other in excitement. “The young man who went to visit Burian that morning was Ruarc. I took Isla over to Ruarc’s house, and she recognized him right away.” Kaaye had left while Cepero had been questioning Donato and had just returned.
“That’s excellent,” Cepero allowed a note of satisfaction to enter his voice. “What do you want to wager that Ruarc simply waited and went upstairs when no one was looking?”
“But why, sir?” Kaaye asked.
“I questioned Karanat’s aunt to make sure he did go there. She told me that her son Ruarc was trying to sell some ale to Burian, who cheated Ruarc out of the ale as well as twenty Sovs. Ruarc is a thief, so I’m not sure who cheated whom. And what money? What ale? No one else is talking about it. As far as I’m concerned, I want to find out who had a reason for killing Burian, and frankly, if I had to choose, I’d probably say Ruarc cheated Burian rather than the other way around.”
Kaaye nodded. “You’re right, sir. I was the one who caught him when he was trying to cheat that old woman who sells flowers in the marketplace.”
Cepero continued, “That morning, as far as I can tell, Burian had at least two visitors; he could have had as many as four. First, Ruarc went to the house, but Isla says that Donato chased him away. I think he probably waited and met with Karanat who took him upstairs. Next, Raizel went to see Burian. And Karanat could have gone to see Burian about this alchemy matter. He seems pretty attached to that aunt of his. Ludovic says he was drunk the previous night, so whether he could have even moved the next morning is unknown.”
Kaaye shook her head. “No, sir. According to Ballard Tamblebuck, Ludovic had only two drinks; it was Burian who was really drunk. I know Ludovic says he was drunk, but he did have a visitor the next morning and he did go into Burian’s room. Listen to this: I found out that Ludovic gives a lot of money to a woman named Iolanthe. She lives in this little cottage that’s way out, and she has so many animals.”
“Isn’t she the one they say is a lucky healer?” Cepero asked. He remembered when his horse had gotten the dog-fever, an ailment that usually ended in the death of the horse, an ailment named thus because it occurred when someone fed a horse dog guts. The horse had been cured, and when he had asked the guardhouse’s stable master how the horse had survived, he had learned that Iolanthe had helped heal the animal. “What about her?”
Kaaye began, “Sir, she went to see Ludovic on the morning of the murder, sir, and asked him for money. She said that he went downstairs and then he went into his brother’s room and got her the money.”
“So we have one more person who entered Burian’s room that morning: Ludovic, as well as Raizel, probably Ruarc, and Karanat,” Cepero listed.
Kaaye objected, “Why not Donato?”
“Because he has more to lose with Burian’s death.”
“How do you figure that, sir?”
“Raizel, Burian’s woman, is with child, according to Ballard Tamblebuck of the Serpent. Raizel is Donato’s sister. With Burian dead, that child has no father, and I don’t think that’s what Donato would have wanted.” Cepero leaned back and stretched in his chair.
A guard poked his head inside the door and said, “Sir, Karanat is here for questioning.”
Cepero waved him in and when Karanat entered, invited, “Be seated. I would like for you to tell me what happened that night.”
Ludovic’s manservant, Karanat, was a stocky man whose brown hair and brown eyes would have allowed him claim to at least ordinary looks, had it not been for a nose with a sharp curve and a scar on one temple, both of which made him look just a little dangerous. He began, “But I have told you –”
“Once more, please,” Cepero said firmly.
“Straight.” Karanat sighed and paused, as if he were recollecting his thoughts. “That night, Ludovic had gone to the Serpent to play cards. I didn’t go with him because I hated that he gambled; he would never listen to me. I had gone to see my aunt — she’d sent a message that she needed my help. I didn’t come back until they discovered the body. I went up to see Ludovic and there he was, with Einar, in Burian’s room.”
Cepero sighed internally. He knew that much of what Karanat said was true; but he also suspected that some of what Karanat said was not. How to separate the two? He would start with what he knew for certain from the housekeeper at Ludovic’s home: that Karanat had returned to the house much earlier.
“Are you sure you didn’t return to the house until then?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Are you sure you didn’t see Ludovic until they discovered the body? I will check with Ludovic,” he pointed out.
“Well, I — I don’t — yes,” Karanat said stiffly.
“Lad, don’t lie to me,” Cepero said. “Let’s try this again, and this time, the truth, if you please.”
“Sir, I came back early and spent every mene with Ludovic.”
“Lying again. Look, tell me the truth. I know you came back early and took breakfast up to Ludovic.”
Karanat said quickly, “Only tea. And he had such a headache. Sergeant –”
Cepero sighed. “Enough, Karanat. Come back when you’re ready to tell me the truth. Pallas?”
“Sir?” The guard outside the door poked his head in.
“Escort Karanat out. Karanat, go. Come back tomorrow.”
Silently Cepero watched them leave and turned to face Kaaye.
“That was very interesting, sir,” she said. “Did you know that Karanat and Ludovic are –”
“Yes, I know. That’s actually the only reason I even suspected Ludovic. He didn’t want to marry that girl, and what better way to ensure that his father names him heir than to get rid of the only other person who could be heir?” Einar, Ludovic’s father, had agreed to naming Ludovic his heir on condition that Ludovic married a girl he had chosen.
“Karanat lied, sir, I’m sure of it,” Kaaye said. “I think he came back earlier than he said he did. He must have seen Burian or Ludovic.”
Cepero frowned. “That’s odd. He didn’t come back in the morning — the housekeeper there, a woman named Isla, let out that he got in late the previous night.”
“Why did you let him go, sir? We should have detained him.”
“No, no,” he shook his head. “Of all the people, I think that Karanat is the one with the least reason to kill Burian. Even if he was worried about his aunt, he would have approached Ludovic, given their relationship. As it is, I don’t think he even had a chance to tell Ludovic about what happened. That’s why I let him go. But you can have him followed, if you like. Want to put someone on it?”
Kaaye was halfway out of the door before he had even finished his question and he smiled at her enthusiasm.
“Raizel, come in. Please be seated.” Cepero looked at the woman who had gone to see Burian on the morning of his death. She was a beautiful woman, with red, curly hair and bright blue eyes. There was a strong resemblance between her and her brother Donato, who had worked as manservant to the dead man.
“What is this about?” Her voice trembled just a little and her face was pale.
“I need to ask you a few questions in the matter of Burian’s death,” Cepero said. He had originally decided to take the slow route with his questioning, but the very fact of her looking so wan and scared gave him an idea. He decided to press her for the truth with a harsh hand. “You knew him very well, didn’t you?”
“No, well, maybe. He came to drink at the Serpent often,” she said. “I didn’t know him that well.”
“Don’t lie to me, girl. You knew him so well that you’re carrying his child,” Cepero said sternly. “Tell me the truth.” As an afterthought, in a loud and resounding voice, he threw in, “Now!”
Raizel began to weep. “Straight, I am carrying his child. I just –”
“You went to see him, didn’t you?”
“On the morning of his death, you went to see him. And you killed him, didn’t you?”
“No! I didn’t –”
“With the knife that you found there, didn’t you? Tell me,” Cepero urged.
“It wasn’t me; he was already dead!”
Cepero was silent, taken aback by that statement. It was obvious that Raizel was telling the truth. “Tell me what happened.”
Raizel wiped her face with a fold of her skirt and said between hiccups, “I went to see him that morning. I sneaked in through the kitchen — I didn’t want to meet anyone else, especially Donato, you know?” She looked at him enquiringly as if to make sure he understood, and when he nodded, she continued, “When I went there, Burian was on the ground with the knife sticking out of his chest, his leg all awkward. Everything was scattered, broken, like someone had been fighting. I swear, I was so scared that it was Donato. If it was he –” she began to weep again.
Cepero nodded to Kaaye, a guard who had been listening in, and she patted Raizel on the shoulder. They both walked out of the office. Cepero watched them go and sent for the next person on his list.
It was Donato, Raizel’s brother. He shared the same red hair with his sister, although he wore his hair close-cropped. His eyes were hazel, his beard neatly trimmed, and he was just as handsome as his sister was beautiful. He had a curiously blank face, as if he found changing facial expressions a chore. Cepero had questioned him before, but he knew that his earlier conversations had not elicited the whole truth. This time, the first question he asked was the crucial one. “Donato, did you kill Burian?”
Donato snapped, “No, I did not. How many times –?”
“Well, if you didn’t, who did? I know who did. I think it’s Raizel,” Cepero said sharply.
“No! It wasn’t her, I swear. I did it,” Donato said, a hint of a quaver in his voice. For the first time, his eyes did not have the blank expression that they usually had; the skin around his eyes creased and there was fear.
“Donato, I know that Raizel went to see Burian. I also know that you know she went to see him. Why don’t you tell me what you saw when you went up?” Cepero had made a list of the people who had gone to visit the dead man on his last morning alive, and Donato was one of them. If he told the truth about what he had seen, perhaps the fog that surrounded Burian’s death would clear a little.
Donato stared back at him for a moment, obviously weighing alternatives in his mind.
Cepero said, in an attempt to tilt the scales in his favor, “If you tell me exactly what you saw, it will be easier for me to get to the truth. And I don’t think your sister could have done it.”
Donato responded eagerly, “No, I know she couldn’t have. Straight, I’ll tell you what I saw. When I went up about a bell after breakfast, to clean up the rooms and pick up the dishes, the room was torn up. There had been a fight, and Burian was on the ground, dead, with Ludovic’s knife in him. I’d put the knife on the dresser the previous night. Raizel’s scarf was there. I thought she had killed him. So I picked him up, put him on the couch, cleaned up, and took her scarf away. I didn’t kill him, and neither did Raizel. That’s all. It’s the truth, I swear.”
“You didn’t leave the knife there. You killed him, didn’t you? Stop lying, lad! Tell me the truth!” Cepero pounced.
“I am telling you the truth. I didn’t kill him. I wanted him alive, because I wanted him to marry Raizel. I would have done anything for that. I didn’t kill him!”
Cepero sighed and glared at Donato. The truth in the latter’s reasoning was apparent, and Cepero believed him. There wasn’t much else to say at this point. He wondered if Raizel had killed Burian, but her denials had also rung true. At the rate this was going, he was going to run out of suspects!
Of the people who had entered Burian’s rooms that morning, Donato and Raizel appeared to be telling the truth, which left Ludovic and Ruarc. He sighed again and said to Donato, “Straight. You can go.”
“Don’t worry, Donato, I won’t be arresting your sister,” he reassured, knowing that it was only worry for his sister that had made this controlled man talk.
Kaaye came back at that moment and Cepero said, “When Raizel saw Burian, he was already dead, and Donato went to see him after she had gone. Only Ruarc and Karanat are left, given that Ludovic didn’t do it.”
“I went to his cell, sir, and asked him about Iolanthe,” Kaaye said.
For a moment, Cepero was conscious of both surprise and irritation that she had taken the initiative, and then he felt absurdly pleased that his thoughts about Kaaye had been right: she was a promising young guard who would be very successful. He made up his mind to encourage her initiative. “Well, what did you find out?”
“Sir, he says he only took some money from Burian’s rooms, and that Burian was asleep, snoring.” Kaaye looked troubled.
“What do you think?”
“It looks bad, sir. I still don’t think he did it, sir, but it looks bad.”
“Mmm. How about tackling Karanat with Iolanthe’s story?” Cepero suggested.
Kaaye smiled. “I’ll have Pallas bring him in.”
When Karanat entered the office, Cepero offered him a seat and then plunged directly into the questions. “Karanat, tell me the truth. When you went back to the house that morning, you went to see Burian, didn’t you?”
Karanat began to shake his head, and Cepero said sharply, “Tell the truth or it will be the worse for you, do you understand? There’s no one else who had the need to kill Burian except you, because of Ruarc’s alchemy problem.” Karanat’s cousin Ruarc had worked on a bad business deal with the dead man that had resulted in Ruarc losing, giving both Ruarc and Karanat plenty of reasons to kill Burian.
“It wasn’t me, I swear,” Karanat began. “I did go to see him after taking up Ludovic’s tea, that’s true. We fought, and he — Burian isn’t very good at fighting. He was half-drunk, I think, and he fell over a fold in the carpet and broke his arm. He was lying there, crying in pain, and I couldn’t fight him any more. How could I hit someone like that? I was so angry that I ran out of the house. I walked all the way to the docks. When I came back and went upstairs, Ludovic and Einar were in Burian’s room and he was dead.”
“Is that the truth?”
“I swear, it’s the truth. I did not kill Burian.”
“Ludovic has confessed to entering Burian’s rooms that morning,” Cepero said.
Karanat looked startled, then worried. “He didn’t do it, I’m sure he didn’t. He couldn’t have.”
Cepero pounced on that assertion. “Why couldn’t he have?”
“Because it’s not in him to kill a man, Sergeant,” Karanat said in a long-suffering tone of voice.
Cepero stared at him, but Karanat’s gaze did not falter. Finally Cepero said, “You can go.” He was fairly certain that Karanat had told him the truth, but whether he had left out anything was what Cepero wished to find out.
The moment Karanat left the office, Kaaye said, “Sir, why didn’t you ask him about Iolanthe?”
He smiled. “Burian’s arm had been broken before he died, straight?”
Kaaye nodded, her eyes still puzzled.
“Karanat broke Burian’s arm and left him lying there. We know that Iolanthe came early, because the housekeeper never saw her come. Ludovic must have entered Burian’s room before Karanat did, because Burian was asleep in his bed when Ludovic went in.” Cepero sat up straight. “Karanat went in after Ludovic left, broke Burian’s arm and left him lying there. By the time Raizel went to see him, he was already dead. The only person who went in to see him between Karanat and Raizel was Ruarc. Let’s go find Ruarc, Kaaye.”
Cepero stared at the woman in front of him. “Mistress, I want only the truth, do you understand me?”
“Sergeant, I am not a liar.” She stared back at him proudly. Francesa, Karanat’s aunt and Ruarc’s mother, was a buxom woman with bright blue eyes and wheat-colored hair. Although she barely came to his shoulder, she met his gaze unflinchingly even through his accusations.
Cepero sighed. “Fine. Why did you send for Karanat?”
“My son Ruarc had been in a fight and I needed … help. I wanted Karanat to talk to him, so I sent a message for him to visit.”
“Did he eat dinner here?” “Here” was a small house on Murson Street. The living area led into the kitchen, which looked bright and airy from where he stood. The staircase led upstairs to the bedrooms, Cepero assumed.
“Oh yes, I made his favorite stew.” A small smile crossed her features.
“Did he sleep here, in the living room?”
“Oh no, Ruarc was sleeping in the bed there. He slept in the upstairs loft.”
“It must have been nice having him here after a long time,” Cepero said gently.
“Well, I’m always glad to see Karanat — he’s such a good boy, you know. Not like Ruarc. If ever there was a boy to break a mother’s heart, it’s Ruarc. I don’t know what I would’ve done without Karanat.” Francesa sniffed.
Cepero swallowed a smile. The woman was excitable and went from emotion to emotion like a scurrying rat. “It’s nice for a mother to cook meals for her sons. I’m sure you gave him breakfast.”
“Mmm,” she nodded vigorously. “He likes porridge and I made it special, for him.”
“Did he stay to lunch also?” Cepero asked allowing only a note of mild interest to show in his voice but internally holding his breath for the answer to this crucial question.
“I wish he would, but he never does. Always rushing off to Lu-ergh-hmm,” she coughed, giving him a quick glance from beneath her eyelids. “He left early, you know.”
Cepero looked back at her blandly, allowing no hint of the amusement he felt at her stuttering to cross his face. “Where’s Ruarc?” he asked, changing the subject so that Francesa could recover herself. “I thought his leg broken?”
“Yes, indeedy, but Karanat made a crutch for him, you know, so he can walk. He’s just gone to the marketplace. He gets bored, you know.”
“How was his leg was broken?”
Francesa sniffed. “I don’t know what happened; I really don’t. One morning last sennight, I wake up and there he is, lying on the ground, with a broken leg!”
“Thank you mistress, for all your help,” he said formally and turned away. He wanted to go and find Ruarc, who was the only one of Burian’s last visitors that he needed to question.
Sergeant Cepero walked towards the marketplace, accompanied by Kaaye. As they approached, they saw two guards talking with a tall, bald man. One of the guards hailed Cepero.
“Sergeant, couldya come over here for a moment, please?” It was Mayandi, one of the guards on patrol.
“What is it, Mayandi?”
“This be Ballard Tamblebuck, from the Serpent, you know, where the carders play?”
Cepero nodded to Ballard, whom he had met briefly during the course of the investigation.
“He says a little boy cut his purse, sir,” Mayandi reported. “I heard the boy yell, sir, and then he just laughed and ran off, sir.”
Cepero sighed. He had given up trying to cure Mayandi of the habit of using “sir” after every three words, and it never failed to annoy him every time he spoke to the man. He said, “Come, Tamblebuck, let’s walk this way. Mayandi, you go on.”
The two of them turned, followed by Kaaye, and began to walk through the marketplace between the stalls. Cepero said, “Did you get your purse back?”
“It wasn’t cut in the first place, Sergeant. I caught the boy just as he was doing it.”
“Did you punish the boy?” Cepero wasn’t sure that there was anything for him to do in the matter, since the purse hadn’t been cut, and Ballard had apparently disciplined the boy and let him go.
“Just enough to make sure he never does it again.”
Something in Tamblebuck’s voice reached Cepero, and he stared at the taller man. “Wait a moment, just what did you do to the boy?”
Tamblebuck looked down and grinned. “You’re sharp, Cepero. I gave him a job as Deserae’s helper in the kitchen.”
Cepero chuckled. “You better be careful the boy doesn’t steal all your spices and –”
Kaaye interrupted, “Sergeant, look, there’s Ruarc! He’s running!” She started to run towards the figure, which had been watching them from across the street. Since the figure was on crutches while Kaaye was very fit, she overtook him in moments.
Cepero’s game knee had precluded him running as fast as Kaaye, but he reached the two of them in time to hear Ruarc’s assertion.
“– hurt me, please. It’s true, I did it. Don’t hurt me any more,” Ruarc quavered. “Don’t, please don’t. I killed Burian, it’s true.”
The “any more” phrase caught Cepero’s attention, and his forehead creased in concentration as he wondered what Ruarc was saying. As he watched, he realized that Ruarc was staring at something behind him. He turned and saw the receding back of Ballard Tamblebuck.
“He’s in his cell, sir. I’ve sent word to the justiciar, and once we get her response, we’ll know what the schedule is like for the trial,” Kaaye said.
“So why did Ruarc confess?” Cepero wondered. “It’s true that Ruarc is pusillanimous, but surely a sense of self-preservation would have stopped him from confessing?”
Kaaye laughed. “Oh, he didn’t confess because he saw us, sir; he confessed because he saw Ballard with you.”
“What does Tamblebuck have to do with anything?”
“I think Ballard broke Ruarc’s leg, sir. Ruarc kept muttering something about not breaking his other leg, and something about not asking Raizel for money,” Kaaye explained. “You know, Ballard keeps an eye on the girls who work there and Ruarc is scum, sir, pardon my language. I think that Ruarc threatened to say that Raizel did it unless she paid him. I expect she told Ballard and he gave Ruarc a drubbing.”
“How do you know all this?” Cepero asked. The blackmail had not come out in questioning, which was not surprising, and frankly, if Ruarc had complained against Ballard, Cepero would have had to arrest the innkeeper, much though he disliked the idea.
“I talked to Deserae, sir. Ballard’s daughter?” she said in a questioning tone when he looked blank.
“Did she tell you all this?” Cepero asked.
“No, sir. She told me that her father was angry because someone was scaring Raizel. After Ruarc confessed, sir, I realized that it had to have been about the murder. I’m sure the justiciar will give him the stiffest sentence. Murder and blackmail — such malice!”