The couple sitting at the Watch House regarded Frayg with a frantic desperation. They'd been waiting for him for nearly an hour, and they could tell by the way the other watchmen behaved that there was something they weren't being told. Frayg sat himself across the table from them. He looked over a piece of parchment in his hands.
"Mr. and Mrs. Prayner?"
"Yea," said the man. He was tall and rotund, but had a look of strength about him. His light brown hair was closely cropped and he was clean-shaven. His wife was similarly built, but softer. Her blonde hair was tied in a tight bun at the back of her neck. They both wore long white aprons and smelled of fresh bread.
"I'm Captain Frayg. This report says you're looking for your son ... Nodge?"
"Yea. 'E joined the navy, y'see ..." Mr. Prayner had an odd accent that Frayg couldn't quite place.
"Have you checked down at the docks?"
"No sir, 'e never went to the docks."
"Are you sure?"
"Yea. A navy cap'n come up t' our bakery this mornin' an' tole us Nodge never showed up f'r duty yest'day,"
"Do you think he got cold feet and fled?"
"Nay. 'E was bound an' determined, in spite o' the fact that 'is mother an' me didn't approve."
"So, when did he sign up?"
"Day 'fore yest'day. An' then we 'ad a fight o'er it that night. We kicked 'im -"
"You kicked him out of the house, Novril," interjected his wife. "I was upstairs crying at the time."
"I see. So you wanted him to stay and run the family bakery, but he wanted to run off and see the world, yes?"
"So 'e says, yea."
"Tell me, Mr. Prayner. Did your son say anything about where he was going?"
"Nay." Novril sullenly lowered his head. "I tole 'im I never wanted t' see 'im again. Didn't give 'im time t' tell me what 'e were about. I were too angry, y'see."
"But he was due to report to the Yard yesterday morning. Tell me, did he have much money on him?"
"Yea. 'E waited 'til after I paid 'im 'is wages t' tell me 'is plans."
"Would you describe him for me please? Also what he was wearing."
Just as Frayg had both hoped and feared, the description matched that of the boy from the Carter's Rest. Well, he had to be someone, I suppose. He just hated to be the one to break the news.
"Mr. Prayner, would you mind coming with me for a moment? Mrs. Prayner, you can wait here. We'll be back in less than half an hour, I expect."
"Mr. Prayner, I'm afraid I have some bad news for you." The two men walked up Lyons' Wist – the central bisecting road of the Wall Street District of Ayrst – towards the temple where the victim's body was currently housed.
"I expect you do, Cap'n Frayg, else you'd not 'ave left my wife behind."
"The description you gave me of your son matches that of a, uh ... a body we found at the Carter's Rest Inn yesterday morning. I'd like you to identify him to be sure. We haven't had a clue as to his identity up to now."
The man paused a moment, his face suffused with blood. He choked back his tears before asking, "'Ow? 'Ow did 'e Pass? Did 'e drink 'imself Over on account of our fight?"
"No, sir. Someone sent him."
They walked the rest of the way to the temple in silence. Novril Prayner did recognize his son.
"But 'is eyes ... what's 'appened to 'is eyes?"
"We don't know, Mr. Prayner. We are pretty sure he was Passed before that happened, though," Frayg lied.
"Please, Cap'n ... don't tell Ella about th' eyes. She'll not know 'ow t' take it." Novril's tears began to flow.
"As you say, Mr. Prayner. We'll tell her simply that he was robbed and that he Passed quickly. There's no need to add detail. We shouldn't keep her waiting, though."
After a few minutes, Novril composed himself and the two men left the temple. The walk back to the Watch House was a slow one. Every few steps Mr. Prayner would begin weeping again.
"'S my own fault y'know. If'n I hadn't yelled at 'im so ... 'e might o' stayed at home that night. An' 'e would've 'ad a quiet place t' sleep, 'stead o' spendin' 'is coin on ale an' a room."
"Mr. Prayner, listen to me. This is not your fault. There is no way you could have known what would happen to Nodge."
As they approached the Watch House, Mrs. Prayner stepped through the doorway. Looking up the street, she caught sight of the two men walking and talking together. As soon as Mrs. Prayner perceived the look on her husband's face she dropped to her knees. An otherworldly wail issued from her throat. Mr. Prayner ran to her and joined her on the ground and held her to him. They rocked there back and forth, the inhuman wailing seeming as though it would never stop.
Frayg turned away from the couple, unable to control his own tears. Up to now it was just a body, he thought. Now it's a person. He knew his chances of finding the responsible party were slim, but he determined he would exhaust every possibility.
The Prayner's weeping slowed after several minutes. They sat there on the ground, holding one another.
"I'm so sorry, Ellie, I'm so sorry," began Novril. "'S my own fault. I shoulda never let 'im leave. I were so angry an' now it's my fault 'e's gone an' I dunno what t' do ..."
Ellie put a finger on her husband's lips. "Hush now, you fool. You couldn't have known. It's not your fault. I should have -"
"That's right," interjected Frayg. "It's not your fault – either of you. We're not sure who's fault it is, but we have a few clues, and I promise you I will do my very best to find them and see them brought to the King's Justice."
Frayg helped the grieving couple up from the ground and brought them inside, away from the crowd of onlookers that was beginning to form around them in the street. He got them both a glass of cool water and found chairs for them.
"Shall I call a priest from the Temple? Or from another church?"
"We've always worshipped at the Church of the Earth," said Mrs. Prayner. "My husband's family came to Ayrst from Bergheim when he was a boy. The only things they brought with them were their profession and their faith."
Mr. Prayner nodded agreement. "But there's no need for you t' call a priest. I think we'll collect Nodge's sister an' go to the church together."
"Very well. I'll contact the priests at the Temple of the Light and make arrangements for your son to be handed over to the Church of Earth. Do you need any other help with arrangements for the Rite of Passing Over?"
The Prayners' eyes welled up with tears again. "No thank you, Cap'n. We'll take care of ever'thin' else. 'S our fam'ly duty."
They rose from their chair and turned to go. Frayg accompanied them to the door.
"If you need anything at all, please let me know. You can always reach me through the Watch House, even when I'm not here."
They thanked him and walked out, whispering to one another. After a moment, Mr. Prayner returned - alone.
"Y'know, though ... reminds me of a tale me mam used t' tell us children of an evenin' ..." He trailed off.
"What sort of tale was that?"
"One o' them stories folks used t' tell their young'ns to get 'em to behave. She used t' warn us all t' stay close t' home an' always do as we were tol' on account o' the Eye Reaper. They used t' say he'd come and steal th' eyes of children what wouldn't listen, or if'n they cried too much."
"Is that so? Did you ever tell such tales to your son?"
"Nay. 'S one o' them things we left behind in Bergheim. But I used t' have this neighbor, y'see ... 'e always said them old stories was based on real creatures what used to live a'fore the collapse of th' Old Empire. 'E used t' say that not all of 'em was gone, either – that some of 'em lived on. 'S probably nothin' t' do wit' ... this ... wit' our case, I mean. But after thinkin' on it a minute, I were reminded o' them old stories."
"Any little thing you can think of might be helpful, Mr Prayner, no matter how unrelated it may seem. Thank you."
With that, Novril rejoined his wife in the street and they left for home. Frayg, meanwhile, sent one of the pages to the temple with a message to make arrangements with the Church of Earth.
The Eye Reaper, he thought to himself. Could such a thing really be true? Monsters from legends had been seen now and again, but in a city of close to half a million people? Surely someone would have reported seeing something like that.
"Billi," Frayg said to the House Captain, "When Commander Brylle comes back, tell him about the Prayners. At least we know who that poor boy was, now. Oh, and let him know I'll be at the library for a while."
"The library?" Billi was nonplussed. "What in All the Hells are you going to be doing in the library?"
"Following a clue. Not a very good one, mind you ... but I just had one of those peculiar ideas put in my head, and until I do something about it, it's just going to keep bothering me."