Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chapter 3: The Watchman

     Captain Hambelton Frayg of the City Watch of Ayrst, was an even-tempered man on an ordinary day, but today he felt a little grouchy. First off, he hadn't slept well the night before, and secondly, he hadn't had his usual morning kaffea drink. So when the page had come around that morning to inform him that he was needed at the Watch House immediately, he wasn't in the best of moods. When he discovered that the reason he was needed was because someone had been killed at an inn overnight he was in a mood to chew rocks
       Just what I need, he thought, to look at a stinking corpse before I've even had breakfast. When duty called, however, he tucked his breeches into his boots, grabbed his coat and left.
        Murders weren't common in Ayrst, but every so often some poor fool found himself in the wrong alley of a night, and ran into someone who wasn't polite about asking for a handout. It was nearly impossible to find the murderers in those cases as the alleys were always full of people who hadn't seen a thing that wasn't at the bottom of a bottle or mug. Once in a while, if you did just the right favor for the right person, answers could be had. Captain Frayg knew that some answers could be found through divination, but it was a rare case in which the Temple would take enough of an interest to help out the City Watch. They had more important concerns: like finding heretics.
       As he approached the Watch House Frayg pulled out a clay pipe and thumbed its bowl full of tobacco. He pulled a bit of tinder out of the fire in front of the House to light his pipe. If he couldn't have breakfast, at least he could have a good smoke before going to the crime scene.
        "There you are," said Commander Brylle as he entered. "There's a real mess down at the Carter's Rest. You seem to have a knack for getting information when it's needed, so I thought it best to put you on this."
        Ham nodded to his commanding officer through the cloud of smoke that began to writhe around him. He was sitting on the edge of the long counter that stood just inside the doorway with a sour expression on his face.
        "Yeah, sure. You always give me the weird ones."
        "This one's a little weirder than even you're used to, Ham."
        "Oh? How's that, then?"
        "I think you should form your own opinions at the scene. Then we'll talk."
        Frayg shrugged. "All right. I guess I'm wasting time here, then." He nodded to Commander Brylle then turned on his heel and headed for the Carter's Rest. Yeah, I always get the weird ones.

        The Carter's Rest Inn was a large three-story affair. Its common room featured a long bar, two enormous fireplaces and a spacious gallery above. There was also a small raised platform for musicians or other performers to entertain the inn's guests. Before the platform was an open area which was commonly used as a dance floor.
        Captain Frayg walked up to the bar where a man was putting a tap into a fresh keg of ale. The man was Jaik Welman. He was a large man, and a bit rotund. His graying hair was mostly missing at the top, but his clean-shaven face was smooth for his age, which was about forty. He wore a smock over his tunic and leggings – nothing fancy, but well-made.
        Frayg sat on a stool and waited for the inn keeper to finish.
        "How are you doin', Ham? Am I ever glad to see you! Can I have Ena get you anything?"
        "Thanks, Jaik. I could do with some breakfast. Before that, though ... I hear one of your patrons had an accident?"
        "Weren't no accident. That boy was ..." he lowered his voice before continuing, "murdered – plain and simple. Never seen anyone have an accident like that."
        "Maybe I'd better have a look. Where is he?"
        "Up on the third floor. Room nineteen. One of your guards is already up there."
        "Thanks. I'll be back in a few minutes. I'll eat whatever you've got left over from last night – I'm not picky." He stood up and walked up the two flights of stairs, stopping to empty out his pipe and then put it in his pocket. Brilliant light shone through an open window at the end of the hall. The cold morning breeze carried the acrid smell of blood even from out here. Must have been pretty bad. A guard stood outside the door of room nineteen. He looked pale and was covering his face with a bar towel.
        "Been here long, son?"
        "About an hour, Captain. The smell seems to be getting worse." The guard winced.
        "How about that. This thing locked, or can I go on in?"
        The guard opened the door for him, holding his nose and taking care not to actually look into the room. As soon as Frayg entered he could see why: there was blood splattered all over the walls. The room contained a dressing-stand with an oval-shaped mirror which was cracked, a wash table with a basin – the pitcher was on the floor, in pieces – a table with two chairs, one of which was on its side, and a large bed. The wide double windows here were open, too, for a mercy. The smell was bad enough without it having been closed up all morning. 
        In the bed lay the body of a young man. His tunic was torn open and there were large gashes on his torso. His wrists were bound to the posts with thin, strong rope – silk, from the look of it. He had been young: only the slightest hint of a beard was visible on his chin. His face was contorted – a rictus of fear frozen on it in death. But the most obviously gruesome detail was in the eyes, or rather the absence thereof.
        Frayg approached the body with some hesitation. He pulled his coat up over his nose and mouth. Clearly someone had ripped the eyes right out of this young man's head. On closer examination, he realized that it was more than that. The skull appeared to have been completely emptied: the brain was gone.
        Frayg reached into his coat pocket for his pipe. Grimacing at the very thought of what he was doing, he held the still-warm bowl of the clay pipe between his thumb and forefinger and poked the stem into an empty eye socket. Sure enough, there was nothing inside the dark recess of the skull. He then put the pipestem into the mouth. It made an audible click when it hit the teeth, but he was able to wedge it in and pry the mouth open. The tongue was still there.
        Whoever did this was only interested in the eyes and brain. He shuddered.
        Frayg stood up and addressed the guard. "Did anyone else enter the room before I got here?"
        "Yes, sir. There was the maid who came in to clean up – she was the one who found the body. And then I was the first to arrive and I took a look around. Aside from the ... the eyes ... it looks to be a robbery."
        "I suppose it does. The boy's purse is missing. It appears to have been torn off his belt. Has anyone looked out the window?"
        "No sir. I remembered the time we found that old man and how you told us we shouldn't disturb things at a crime scene. After I saw the state of the body, I immediately sent to the Watch House."
        "Good man. That was for the best."
        Frayg walked over to the window. There was a small balcony outside, just as with all the nicer rooms at the Carter's Rest. He must have had a good bit of coin to rent one of these. Gods, I hope he wasn't some lordling – we'll never hear the end of it. There was no sign of forced entry: no splintering of the window frame or broken glass. The balcony was empty apart from two rocking chairs.
        "Does anyone know who he was?"
        "No sir. I asked the proprietors, and the girl who found him was too hysterical to talk. Mistress Welman took her downstairs to calm her down."
        "I'll need to speak with her later. And with Jaik and Ena. I suppose there's little chance anyone remembers seeing the boy, or anyone with him." He opened the drawers of the dressing table one by one. They were all empty.
        "I didn't have a chance to ask many questions, sir. I thought it would be best if I guarded the room from any tampering. The inn was mostly empty when I arrived."
        Frayg noted that the wash basin was dry, as was the place where the pitcher had broken on the floor. He didn't even have time to call for water to wash.
        "Well, I need to go speak with the Welmans and the girl. Will you be all right here for another hour or so? I'll get them to send someone up here to clean the place up and get you some relief."
        "It would be a mercy, sir."
        Frayg patted the guard on the shoulder reassuringly. Then he headed for the stairs.

        Jaik Welman, having finished preparing his kegs for the upcoming night, was wiping his bar down. He paused and looked up at Frayg as he came down the gallery stairs. He wore a concerned look.
        "So what happened up there?"
        "Looks like a robbery. The young man's purse was stolen. He didn't seem to have any other belongings, but those may have been taken as well. Whoever did it was particularly brutal about it: there's blood everywhere. It'll take some time to clean it up."
        "Your guard wouldn't let us. He said you'd want to see the room as it was."
        "He was right. Sorry to make you wait, Jaik."
        "Can we clean it up now, then?"
        "Well, I'll have to send some men around to collect the body, but once they've done their job, you can clean it up. I don't expect you'll be able to let that room for a while – cleaning it's going to be a real job of work."
        "Not many people staying most nights anyway. At least they won't until the Changeling Festival starts proper."
        Frayg nodded. "Another thing ... I'd like to speak to the girl who found the body."
        "Oh, poor Tania. We sent her home to her ma."
        "I was afraid of that."
        "I can send someone for her. Might be one of the other girls knows where she lives."
        "I'll be back after lunchtime. If you could have her here then, I'd appreciate it. Oh, and Jaik – I'll need to ask you and Ena a few questions then, too."
        "You aren't staying for breakfast?"
        "Give Ena my apologies, but for some reason I don't have much of an appetite any more," he told Jaik. Besides ... right now I have to go buy a new pipe.