There was nothing appealing about the man’s body. Had the Duke been alive, he might have looked better but somebody, in an apparent fit of rage, had hung Duke Farsa and then stabbed him in the heart. True, it could have been done in the other order but that would have been pointless. Death would have been almost instantaneous from the dagger. Hanging him too made it seem like a crime of passion.
Gareth found it hard to believe that only six hours ago he had been watching this man perform in a play. For one fleeting second, Gareth wondered if the killing had been retribution for making the killer watch the play. No, the play had been horrible but not bad enough to kill someone over. Fortunately most of the garish makeup was gone. It would have been hard to say which was worse, the actor in his makeup or the corpse without makeup.
Remembering who he was supposed to be, Gareth looked over at William as if asking for instructions. William caught on immediately and said, “Search the body for clues. Make sure you do a thorough job of it. If I have to make you dig it up, it will be much worse. Check the dagger carefully, I would have expected much more blood from a dagger wound and don’t forget it might be poisoned.”
The murder weapon had been left in the body as if to proclaim something to the world. Unfortunately it was silent on that point. When Gareth pulled the out he saw that the blade was about six inches long with a triangular cross section. There were no sharp edges, only the point.
The unique shape of the dagger brought to mind Jerome, Gareth’s first weapons instructor. Jerome had taught Gareth how to use a dagger, rapier and even tried to teach him how to use a broadsword. In an uncharacteristic display of frustration, he had shown Gareth a similar dagger during broadsword training. It was designed to penetrate armor and he suggested that Gareth might want to carry such a dagger himself. Jerome summed up Gareth’s skills in a few words, “You probably won’t cut yourself with a sword. Your opponent is in no danger either.”
This dagger hadn’t had to penetrate armor or bone. The strike had been just under the ribcage and upward into the heart. Whoever had done this had known exactly what they were doing.
Gareth hadn’t wanted to come to the city. It was a seaport and Gareth always felt there was something unnatural about all that water that you couldn’t drink but Tobias said he had urgent business in the city and that was that. He and Tobias had been partners in the herbal medicine business for less than a year. For the five years prior to becoming a partner, he had been an indentured servant to Tobias although he had been treated more like a son.
It was also during the time as an indentured servant that he learned Tobias made a lot more money providing information and services, usually to the King but that was never a given. Selling medicinal potions was more of a hobby and a cover for the real work. If Tobias said he had urgent business in the city, it was important.
Their entry into the city was less than auspicious. Crowds of people were making progress with the wagon impossible. They were going to hang a pirate captain that day and people wanted to get a good view. The city watch guards were directing every one with a wagon to leave outside or take it to the stables. With all their belongings on the wagon, Tobias chose the stables.
The stables proved to be a lesson in corruption. Taking full advantage of the confusion, some of the city guard were using the stables to sell bogus permits or arrest out of town peddlers. Tobias refused to buy a permit, claiming he had no intention of selling anything. They might have accepted his story, the guards were doing a brisk business and Tobias seemed to be very sincere. Unable to believe his eyes, Gareth saw Tobias reach inside his jacket and offer one of the guards a remedy for his sneezing, “only fifty copper.” At the same time, he managed to drop his pouch spilling out a number of silver pieces in the process. Greed won out and they were arrested for peddling without a permit. The city guard was efficient, their wagon was confiscated and they were immediately taken to a local magistrate.
It was obvious that this was a well-oiled machine for removing coin from out of town merchants. Any semblance to a legal hearing was purely a coincidence. The magistrate had already started pronouncing sentence when he looked up at Tobias and stopped in mid-sentence.
Gareth could see nothing but it was obvious that the magistrate was well acquainted with Tobias and had no desire to build on that relationship. He paled, stuttered slightly and announced that their possessions and lives were being remanded to the King’s justice. “May God have mercy on their souls because the King will not.”
With that the guards led them out of court and into the palace prison. It would have been hard to call this a prison cell. The floor was well polished wood. Rather than cots, there were real beds. In the center of the room was a small table with four well-crafted chairs. The only concession to a prison cell was the lack of a window.
Gareth had stayed at many inns with worse rooms. Maybe all the other cells were full and this was where they imprisoned nobility. He wanted to ask Tobias but the old man was acting very odd. Gareth decided he could wait. The guards were exceedingly polite and when Tobias said he was hungry, the food they brought was far better than Gareth’s normal fare.
Almost three hours later, three men came entered the room. Their faces were all but obscured by the hoods on their cloaks. Once inside, the cell door was closed and the hoods came off. Gareth recognized one of the men as Sir William, an occasional agent for Tobias, but the other two were complete strangers.
Sir William and Gareth weren’t exactly friends. They had come together when Gareth and William had both been assigned by Tobias to protect the same man. Their roles were different and Tobias had not informed Gareth about him. Learning that William also worked for Tobias did not change Gareth’s feelings about him. Competent he might be but he was still an arrogant dolt. Whatever this was all about, Gareth hoped it did not involve working with William.
Tobias didn’t seem surprised to see any of them. All four men seemed very comfortable with each other as if they had once been very close comrades, sharing the bond of having experienced life and death together. For all the notice they paid him, Gareth might well have been a dog or a horse.
Finally, after several minutes of small talk, the clean shaven man nodded at Gareth and said “Is this your new apprentice? William has some interesting stories about him.” Tobias turned toward Gareth and said, “Your majesty, may I introduce Gareth, my latest apprentice? Although his actions belie the fact, he usually thinks quickly on his feet.”
Gareth got the hint immediately and jumped to his feet. He then bowed to the King as he had been taught while he was with the actors. He must have done something wrong because all four men smiled briefly. Gareth sighed, he didn’t know what this was about but Tobias’ smile promised many future hours practicing his bowing.
The King handed a small parchment to Gareth and said, “I need some help from Tobias to eliminate a problem he created long ago. This pass will allow you access to the lower areas of the castle and a limited amount of authority over my guards. Should someone ask…” The King paused a moment in thought then continued, “You found a ring I lost several years ago. When you returned it to me, I was so impressed with your honesty that I’ve squired you to Sir William on a trial basis. Don’t disappoint me. I expect a lot from any apprentice of Tobias.”
With that the King motioned to his companions. Tobias left with the King, William stayed with Gareth. William turned and said, “We need to get to the stables before we lose a horse to that monstrosity you call a dog. When they started to search your wagon, the guard broke his leg trying to get away. Fortunately your dog just stood there and the guards came to get me.”
As much as he would like to have Jerome with him in the castle, Gareth realized that having the 130 pound dog with him was not practical. Gareth said, “Where can we find someone to feed and water him while we’re here? I like having him guard the wagon.”
William motioned for Gareth to follow and headed out of the room. As he followed William down hallways, up a stairway and finally out into the open, Gareth hoped that he wasn’t expected to return without a guide. On exiting the building and realizing they weren’t even close to the castle proper, the need for a guide became even more evident.
Although there was no apparent order to the structures that shared the inner courtyard with the castle, William showed no hesitation as he headed to one of the smaller structures.
From the outside, it had all the indications of a hastily constructed building that had far exceeded the original life expectancy. Once inside, it proved to be sleeping quarters for servants or recruits. There were men of various ages engaged in repairing and polishing various pieces of gear. William looked around and then motioned as if to say take your pick.
Deciding on a man about his own age, Gareth went over to the man and asked his name. The man sneered at Gareth, saying, “That’s no business of yours, boy. I only answer to the Captain of the Guard.” Gareth was about to respond when the man’s sneer disappeared completely replaced by something akin to fear.
Gareth looked behind him, seeing only William with one hand on his sword. “The boy bears the King’s seal. You will treat him civilly,” William growled.
Even though he knew better, Gareth couldn’t help himself. “I can give them any orders?” he asked. William nodded. “Report to the stable master. You will spend the next week mucking out stables. Do you understand or does William have to explain it to you?”
The words had barely left his mouth when an open hand hit his face so hard he was driven back a several feet. The sound of the slap had stopped everyone in the barracks and all eyes were focused on him. William had slapped him, hard! Was the man moonstruck?
While still trying to decide on a response, he heard William in a cold measured voice say, “You may bear the King’s seal but while you are apprenticed to me, you will accord me the respect due my station. You will always address me as Sir William. Is that clear?”
Tobias had given him the role and he was expected to live it. He wasn’t about to forget this lesson, nor were any of the men in the barracks. He seriously considered what he might do after this assignment was but for now he knew what he had to do. Rubbing the side of his face he said, “Yes, Sir William. I will not forget to address you as Sir again.”
The man that Gareth had consigned to the stables started to laugh at Gareth’s punishment but seeing that Sir William was in no mood to be jovial, left the barracks immediately.
With all eyes now on them, Gareth accepted his lesson and eyes still watering, made another selection. The man jumped up and before he was asked said, “Before you send me off slopping pigs or worse, young master, my name is Clarence. What would you and Sir William have of me?”
“I need someone to feed, water and exercise my dog for a few days. He’ll be staying at the stables with my wagon and horse. I don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea and trying to hurt him.”
Clarence only looked at him like he was daft. “I don’t mind the duty but the Royal kennels would take good care of him and give him exercise,” he said.
Even William had to smile at the thought of Jerome in the kennels. Showing a rare sign of humor, he said, “That would be a remarkably bad idea. Just follow us.”
The stable was a five minute walk from the main castle. The weather was brisk but all three men seemed to enjoy the walk. Clarence was the first to speak. “Robert can be obnoxious but you can’t ask for a more loyal companion in a fight. ‘If it were up to me, I’d go easy on him.”
Sir William turned to stare coldly at Clarence and asked, “Were you addressing me, boy?”
“No Sir William. Certainly not, Sir William. I was addressing your companion but I’ve not been informed his name.”
William gave a quick questioning glance at Gareth, receiving a brief nod in return. “He answers to Gareth. He may have other names but based on his lack of a proper education, it’s probably his only one.”
The walk was completed in silence while Gareth wondered just how upset Tobias would be if he broke character and told William just what he thought of him. He contented himself by imagining William mucking out stables, by hand. It wasn’t enough, not by half.
The wagon was isolated in the middle of the courtyard. The horse, Dale, had been unhitched but the back door to the wagon was open. As Gareth came close to the wagon, he heard Jerome start to growl. Gareth started talking as he approached the wagon. Clarence’s eyes widened with shock when Jerome’s head filled the wagon’s doorway.
Jerome had been taught to treat Gareth just like everyone else until Gareth used the all clear word “crop”. Gareth told Clarence, “This is Jerome. He gets fed twice a day. Just don’t try to feed him some farmer’s crop of turnips.”
Upon hearing “crop”, Jerome launched himself out of the wagon onto Gareth. There were still a few rough edges to be worked out in the training. Greetings were one of them.
Clarence looked like he wanted to run. William shook his head and said, “You wouldn’t get past the courtyard. I’ve seen that beast hunt. Rest easy and let Gareth introduce you.”
Once introduced, Clarence was given his orders. “Feed him twice a day. Make sure he has water and he likes to play tug.” Gareth held up a short piece of rope with a knot on both ends. “Leave the door open but don’t try to enter the wagon. I’ll try to check on you at least once a day.”
Gareth was about to leave the stables when he realized he had one more task. Looking up the stable master he inquired about Robert. He found Robert cleaning out an empty stall. Not giving Robert a chance to talk, Gareth said, “Clarence told me you were a trustworthy friend. I was showing more ego than common sense when I assigned you to this. After having Sir William exercise his ego on me, I realize how wrong I was. I’ve talked to the stable master and you’re free to go back to the barracks.”
Robert thought a minute, the sneer almost coming back. Then he said, “It did seem like you were getting a bit of your own punishment. I’ll not argue with you, I always hated mucking out stalls. It seems I owe Clarence thanks. Tell the stable master I’ll finish this stall before leaving.” Then with an almost pained expression on his face he added “I believe I owe you thanks too. You could have left me here.”
Now that Jerome and Dale were taken care of, Gareth was free to explore the city. He didn’t know how long Tobias would be occupied but this seemed like the perfect opportunity. He turned to William and said, “I’m ready to explore the city. Do any of the shops specialize in weapons?”
The look on William’s face was pure evil as he said, “You weren’t listening to our king. We’re not boon companions starting out on a great adventure. You’re in training as my squire and now is a good time for you to learn the fine art of polishing armor.”
Three hours later, Gareth was amazed at how many pieces of armor a knight used. As he finished the final piece, William walked in with two wooden swords. Gareth had no idea how he had timed it but this was no coincidence. “Ready for your sparring practice?” he said. Finally, something enjoyable.
Gareth first weapons trainer had been a friend of Tobias named Jerome. While his current occupation was farmer, his skill with weapons suggested this was not always the case. Jerome had given him his dog and Gareth had named the dog Jerome out of respect. Gareth was looking forward to showing William how much he knew.
When they stepped out onto the practice ground, William handed him one of the wooden swords and said, “Show me what you know. Let me see your guard stance.” The wooden sword was much bigger that the ones he had become familiar with while training. Still it wasn’t that much heavier. Gareth decided the extra weight was a training aid and confidently assumed his stance. William looked on with incredulity. “Your balance is wrong, your feet are placed wrong and you would have no power from that stance. I thought you had been taught by Jerome.”
Gareth almost argued at this point. He was proud of his stance. Jerome had even complemented him on it. Swallowing his anger and thinking about it, he realized the sword that Jerome had trained him with was greatly different from the sword William used. The difference wasn’t obvious with the wooden swords but the styles were distinctly different.
William adjusted his stance and grip several times before he seemed happy. He showed Gareth a guard position and led him through two basic parries and the ripostes. Once he was satisfied, he pointed to one of many big wooden posts that had been driven into the ground. “Make 200 parries and ripostes from both positions. Put some effort into it, I don’t want to catch you resting.”
Around 50, the sword seemed to have gained considerable weight. By 150, his shoulder was beginning to burn. Noticing that Gareth was slowing down, Sir William came over to see what the problem was. Explaining that he was unused to this style, Gareth said that his arm and shoulders were sore. He had already done 150, wasn’t that enough for the day?
William stared at him a few moments in thought and then held out his hand for the wooden sword. A very grateful Gareth handed the sword over to William. He hefted it a couple of times and then said, “I think I understand the problem now, you’re assuming I care about your wellbeing.”
With that he went over to the practice swords and picked out one with a metal blade. “Do 100 more attacks with this and we’ll consider this session as warmup.”
The metal blade seemed twenty times heavier than the wooden one. William gave moral support and assured himself that Gareth was not shirking by counting each attack out loud. By the time he reached 100, Gareth was sure his shoulder was permanently damaged.
On completion, Williams only comment was, “Too much easy living. I hope you groom horses better than you swing a sword, Otherwise the horse will never realize you’re there.”
And so the day went, polish armor, go through basic sword stances, groom horses, more basics of sword work, and finally dinner. Gareth was so tired all he wanted to do was crawl back to the wagon and sleep. As he started toward the wagon, William asked him where he was going. A squire was supposed to stay with his knight and he was not going to be allowed to sleep in the wagon.
In the morning, Gareth found out that William had some friends more than willing to help the new apprentice in his armor polishing practice by giving him three more suits of armor to polish. William had an eye for detail and was more than willing to point out spots that Gareth missed as he was polishing. It was obvious he was enjoying this part of the training.
When the page arrived later that morning bearing a letter from the King, Gareth was overjoyed with the interruption. He welcomed any excuse to stop polishing.
William read the letter, looked up and said, “We’ve been commanded to a play tonight. We’re to be part of the general audience. The King wants us to be armed but not obvious.” He paused a second and then said, “I hope you’re better with a dagger than you are with a sword. If he wants armed knights at a play, he’s expecting trouble. Tobias will also be at the play but he’ll be in disguise. If you do recognize him, do your best to ignore him.”
The play was being presented by a Duke that Gareth had never heard of. It was obvious that Duke Farsa was very proud of his writing ability. He was producing and starring in his own production of what he termed a comedy. After enduring the first five minutes, Gareth had a different term to use for it.
During the play he had spent much of his time looking for Tobias in the crowd but failed locate him. There was a dark area to the left of the stage with several seated gentlemen but Gareth was unable to make out any features. For the next two hours, the Duke managed to dominate every act. The lines and situations might have been funny but the Duke’s timing was off, as if he were telling some of them for the first time.
He also seemed to have some worry about being caught in public by his adoring audience. Every act saw the Duke with a big hat, a huge fake beard and for the final act he had painted his face in multiple colors to show confusion at being dead. It worked, the audience was totally confused.
Once the audience realized the play was over, to a man they stood up and cheered. It wasn’t that they had enjoyed the play, they were overjoyed it was over. Having spent some time with actors himself, Gareth wondered how the Duke could even consider himself an actor. Like the rest of the audience, Gareth was overjoyed that the play was finally over.
With everybody anxious to exit the theater before Duke Farsa did an encore, it took Gareth and William some time to exit the theater. Once out, Gareth noticed Tobias across the street. He saw them and waved them over to him. Tobias was breathing heavily but he seemed content and suggested that the three of them share dinner that night.
Rather than go back to the castle they decided to have dinner at a highly recommended inn. The food was good, the meal relaxed. Tobias would not say what he was doing for the King but did say he hoped they would be back on the road within the next few days. With a slight smile, Tobias then asked Gareth what he thought of the play.
Gareth was more than willing to discuss the shortcomings of the play, the Duke and his lack of acting ability. Tobias continued to smile as if enjoying a private joke. “Did you find nothing of worth in the entire play?” he said. Gareth responded, “The play was actually well written. If a real actor had been doing the play, I might have enjoyed it. If I didn’t know better, I would think the Duke’s acting was deliberately bad. No one that bad could write a play that good.”
Tobias turned to William and asked, “Was that also your impression?” William said only, “That was the best sleep I’ve had in a week. Once I realized that I would miss nothing, I closed my eyes and enjoyed it in the best way possible.”
Tobias smiled his private joke again and said, “Duke Farsa is well known for presenting superb plays. Unfortunately his acting isn’t always as good. It might be time for him to retire as an actor.”
Gareth had reason to remember those words early next morning when he and William were summoned to court and commanded to investigate the Duke’s death.
The King was in a foul mood. “I seldom attend the theater but while he was here he was under my protection. Boy, uh, Gareth, Tobias says you are quick witted and have an eye for detail. I want you to investigate this murder and report back to me. You will continue the masquerade as William’s squire. I’ll publically announce William as the leader of this investigation. You and he can work out the details.”
Handing Gareth a rather oversized pretentious ring, the King said, “This ring gives you all the authority you need to accomplish your task. When you are finished return it to me. Lose it and I’ll have you beheaded.”
He paused for a moment to add, “Tobias is still working on a job for me. He needs to stay focused on my task. Don’t bother him for any reason. Report your findings only to me.”
After leaving the King’s presence, they went directly to the Duke’s body. His corpse had been found in the theater just a few hours after his performance. The body was hanging from a rope suspended over a wooden beam used as support for the backdrops. A small dagger protruded just under the heart and was angled upward.
The face still had a few spots of makeup that the man had missed while cleaning. The body was already cold, probably because of the cold weather. The purple splotches around the neck were clear indications that the hanging had occurred before the stabbing.
Gareth examined the body. When he pulled the dagger out he could see how easily the blade would have penetrated. The triangular blade was designed to penetrate armor and would easily have penetrated the chest but it had been angled upward from under the ribcage. Hitting the heart had been no accident.
Aside from being dead, the Duke looked physically fit. Given how much energy he had shown during the play this was no surprise. Finding calluses on both the hands and feet was no surprise but the Duke had a number of gruesome scars covering his body. He knew accidents sometimes happened on stage but these scars looked like the man had been in a number of brutal fights. Debt collectors maybe? That would explain the way the body had been staged.
It was when Gareth dropped to his knees and started looking for more clues that William exclaimed, “What in the world are you doing?” When Gareth told him he was looking for clues, William stared in disbelief and in a tone just low enough that the nearby guards couldn’t hear said, “How long have you been with Tobias? The truth has nothing to do with this investigation. This scene has been carefully prepared for us. You don’t need to look for clues. Sooner or later someone will come by to tell us exactly how the murder happened or at least the version you’re to report back to the King.”
Gareth managed to respond with, “Huh?”
“Think about it dunderhead. This is a high profile killing and the King asks us to investigate it. He has plenty of skilled investigators and we’re not them. We’re being used to play a part. Give it some time and someone will come along shortly to feed us our lines.”
Gareth felt betrayed. William was right, the King had no reason to expect Gareth to succeed in this investigation. He certainly wouldn’t want the wrong answer to come out either, which meant Gareth was being used.
For an irrational moment Gareth wondered if a murder actually had been committed. No, the body was real and there was no doubt that the man was dead. The King must be trying for a cover up and at the same time testing to see just how bright Gareth really was. If Gareth was too dumb, more clues would be provided. If he was smart enough, all he had to do was follow the breadcrumbs to find the “killer”.
Something in Gareth rebelled. He knew the King was too powerful not to come up with the right answer but if this investigation was a farce who already knew? Was William along to ensure Gareth came up with the right answer? Did William already know the answer? What would happen if Gareth decided to actually investigate? Gareth decided to allow himself be guided to the correct conclusion, if there was one thing he knew, it was how to act dumb as a post. They were going to have to put down a lot of breadcrumbs and along the way he intended to find out who really killed Duke Farsa.
Gareth gave the stage one more, quick, glance looking for clues. There was no point appearing to be too smart he thought. He turned to William and said, “You’re right, I’m not an investigator. This probably is a convenient way for the King to see I’m not too smart and for him to mollify the Duke’s relatives that an investigation was done.
After viewing the body, the last thing he felt was hunger but he was more irritated with William. Hoping that William might also be affected by seeing the corpse, Gareth turned to William and said, “If you’re right, somebody with answers for us will find us no matter where we go. Do you know where we can get a good breakfast?”
To his surprise William broke out in a big smile and said, “Now you’re showing some sense. I know just the place.” With that, William motioned to one of the guards that they were done and headed out the door in search of food. Turning to follow, Gareth sighed. He should have known better than to expect William to exhibit any sensitivity unless his honor was involved. As he stepped off the stage, he realized he felt like an actor finishing Act 1 and wished he knew the rest of his lines.
They had been seated at the tavern for less than 15 minutes when a nondescript woman came up and asked if they were the ones investigating Duke Farsa’s death. With a “what did I tell you” look at Gareth, William said, “Yes. Did you see what happened?”
With that the woman gave a big sigh of relief and then started sobbing out her story. “I was so scared when I saw the Duke hanging there. I was sure the man was going to come back and kill me.”
It was possible she was telling the truth, Gareth thought but after hearing William, it was far more likely she worked for the King. Looking at her, Gareth realized she made the perfect operative. She was so ordinary looking that when he looked away from her, he had a hard time recalling what she looked like except average.
Brown hair, medium length, brown eyes, average height, average weight, absolutely nothing stood out. Gareth could describe her clothing easier than he could describe her.
Fortunately William was willing to see this played out. He had a drink brought over for her then he asked her to calm down and start at the beginning.
“I wanted to be an actress,” she said. Gareth struggled not to roll his eyes. “My father having made a favorable impression on the Duke several years ago, wrote him and arranged a meeting for me to audition for a part in one of the his plays. I met him yesterday and he asked me to meet him after the play.”
“I really enjoyed the play,” she continued. This time even William struggled to keep a straight face. “I was to wait outside to give him time to change and get his makeup off. When it seemed like he was taking too long, I went in. At first I didn’t see the rope. I only saw the man as he stabbed Duke Farsa. I wondered why he didn’t fall and I realized he was being held up by the rope.
“I must have screamed then because he looked up, the man, not the Duke, and shouted, ‘The strength of a kingdom lies within the heart of its people.’ Then he ran out of the theater and I ran the other way.”
“Why did you wait until now to tell someone?” William asked. “The watch might have caught the killer if you had alerted them.”
“I’m not very brave,” she said with a coy look at William. “All I could think about was running. When I heard a handsome knight had been assigned to find the killer, I looked around until I found you. I know you have be very brave to be a knight,” she said again giving William a sly glance.
“Please help me. He knows what I look like and must know I can identify him.” She said all of this with barely a glance at Gareth. For a moment he had a pang of jealously, then common sense caught up and he wondered why. If she was an agent of the King she would know that Gareth was in charge of the investigation and direct her comments to him. Maybe she wasn’t an agent or maybe she was a better agent than Gareth was giving her credit for. By talking to William, she made it seem that she thought he was in charge.
William finally asked her for a description of the killer. “He was about your squire’s size”, she said pointing to Gareth. “But he was bald and clean shaven. He looked older than you but he moved like a dancer or an actor. I thought he was going to take a bow after he shouted his line. He thought better of it and ran off. I couldn’t get a good look at how he was dressed but I could tell it wasn’t coordinated, even his scarf was an off shade of green. Please protect me.”
Great, thought Gareth, we’re looking for a badly dressed monk, who was once an actor, wearing a green scarf. There can’t be too many of those around. And she wants to stay with us for protection. More likely to keep us on the right track if we seem to falter. Fortunately he was able to stay quiet.
He still wasn’t sure that William was right. If this woman was working for the King she already knew who they were looking for and would try to keep them focused on the right person. Maybe this could provide a way to prove William right. Gareth hoped William would understand what he was doing.
Gareth spoke up. “That description should make it easy for us to identify the sailor”, he said. Did she seem startled? He continued, “The knife was very distinctive so we took it to several knife makers this morning. We were lucky, the second shop had sold one just like it last week to a sailor. He was able to show his proof marks on the blade, so there seems little doubt. He remembered the sailor said he would be in town another week.”
William looked at Gareth as if to say, “what are you up to?” but stayed silent. The woman looked confused. That was luck, thought Gareth. He had been worried their quarry might actually be a sailor.
When she spoke, Gareth knew William was right, they were being used. “When did you…” she started and then realizing the error of that question went on to say, “He certainly didn’t move like a sailor. Your knife maker must have been mistaken. If you’ll just take me with you, I’m sure I can identify him for you.”
She said the last to William but Gareth no longer cared. He was being used or about to be set up and he didn’t like it. Aside from being a really bad actor and playwright, just who was this Duke anyway? It was time to change the script.
If they followed the girl, he was sure they would quickly come up with the answer the King was expecting. Gareth wondered if this might not be the best course. William certainly seemed to enjoy all the attention he was being given.
Gareth felt he would closer to the truth without the girl’s help. Since she had already latched on to William, if they split up she would probably stay with William. Gareth said, “I need to complete polishing your armor,” and got up to leave. William gave Gareth a questioning look, then nodded as he caught on.
“We’ll look for the killer”, William said. “Join us when you’re finished. Make sure you don’t miss any spots this time and don’t forget you have to do Sir Jerome’s armor too.” Gareth was fairly sure there was no Sir Jerome. It sounded like William was buying time for Gareth. Maybe he wasn’t happy about being used either.
Gareth left them and headed back to the stable to think and discuss it with his dog. Jerome listened well and seldom interrupted Gareth’s thoughts. Finding out who the Duke was would go a long way in finding out why he was killed, Gareth mused.
All such thoughts left his mind when he saw the wagon’s open door. Jerome was nowhere in sight. Clarence might have been exercising Jerome but the door would have been closed. Pulling his dagger and holding it close to his body, Gareth quietly approached the wagon.
The man inside was making no effort to hide and Jerome seemed very content with the absent minded scratching he was getting while Tobias read. Gareth took a few seconds to get his heart rate back to normal. Then, following the protocol that had been drummed into him since he had joined Tobias, Gareth called out, “Tobias, what are you doing here? I thought you were on the King’s business.”
Calling Tobias by name indicated that someone might be watching. It also gave Tobias a chance to respond in case he needed help. Tobias replied that the King’s business was almost finished, giving him time to study the latest techniques on raising apples.
The response was odd. Normally Tobias would respond with something about crops as an all clear. While apples could be crops, the correct words had not been used. Gareth decided to interpret the response to mean no active threat but stay wary, something might happen or someone might be listening.
Jerome sensing the Tobias was unperturbed ignored the entire exchange in favor of scratches.
Gareth described the killing of Duke Farsa and his assignment. He added the suspicion that he and William were being used to provide an answer for the King. The old man asked the normal questions, how was it done, when was it done, any witnesses but he did not drill down for details like he usually did. When Gareth described the encounter with the woman, Tobias agreed with Gareth’s assessment and said, “It certainly sounds like somebody is staging this. Taking the path of least resistance and letting yourself be guided to the answer will probably get us out of here much sooner.”
Again that tone of oddness, Gareth couldn’t possibly recall how many times the old man had lectured him on not taking the path of least resistance. Was it possible Tobias was trying to tell him something?
Gareth pressed but Tobias carefully avoided answering any more questions. Tobias finally said, “I don’t have any more information I can give you, only advice. If you want to know why Duke Farsa is dead, you need to know how he lived. You might start with the actors, I think you know one of them.” With that he started reading his book again.
Having lived with the old man for the last six years Gareth knew no more information would be forthcoming. At least he had gotten a good hint.
Thanks to the theater owner, Gareth found the acting company rehearsing for the night’s performance. Although their lead actor and benefactor was dead they were planning several more performances. Sure enough, one of the actors was from the same acting company that had trained Gareth.
Peter recognized Gareth immediately and asked him if he was there for an auditions. With the Duke dead they were an actor short and were auditioning for another actor. Not for lead of course, the acting company had already selected Peter for that role. Peter must have remembered Gareth’s short career with the actors differently than Gareth did, Peter was even willing to waive the audition for Gareth
Gareth couldn’t help himself. “The play was horrible,” he said. “How can you even think of continuing on?” Peter smiled and responded, “With a few minor changes the play is actually fairly good. Aside from an improvement in performance, the Duke’s character wore so much makeup that anyone could play his role and no one would know we were using a different actor. With him no longer demanding that we keep the original script this could become a very popular play.”
Gareth thought a second and asked, “Is it possible that one of the actors killed him?”
“It’s possible but not likely. Don’t misunderstand me, he made no friends in this company. He always insisted on full dress rehearsal, so he could feel inspired he would say. He never went out with us. I’m not sure I ever saw him without makeup. If it weren’t for his reputation and his money we would never have come together.”
“His reputation? I thought he was just an untalented amateur”, Gareth said.
Peter looked bemused and continued, “Duke Farsa has written, produced and acted in many fine plays. It seemed like he was going out of his way to be bad in this one. As I said, just a few minor changes and it’s a rather good play. I guess he was too close to see the flaws but he was always being sought out by the acting companies. He would produce two plays a year. He would have his agent organize the actors and start rehearsals. Just before the show opened he would show up and integrate with the company. The show would last for a week and then close.”
“The acting company was allowed to continue performing but the Duke always complained it was too exhausting for him to work more than a week. I don’t understand why this one was so bad but his shows were almost always incredible.”
Peter leaned closer and in an awed tone said, “It’s rumored that the King has never missed one of the Duke Farsa’s plays.”
Gareth said, “Huh, I was at opening night for this one and I didn’t see the King.”
“Our king takes great care not to show favoritism among the playwrights. He often attends plays with a few trusted friends and guards and takes great pains not to be recognized. I’ve only been sure I saw our king once at a play.”
The more he learned, the stranger this case seemed, Gareth thought. Continuing his questioning, Gareth asked about visitors, threats or strange activities. He had to retract his last question, so far everything about the Duke was strange.
Running out of questions and even though he had reason to doubt his eye witness, Gareth finally asked, “Does the phrase, the strength of a kingdom lies within the heart of its people, mean anything to you?”
Gareth wasn’t prepared for the answer. “No, I always wondered why he ended all his plays with that phrase. Often it made no sense whatsoever in context with the play but we all accepted it as one of his many peculiarities.” replied Peter.
Stranger and stranger. This investigation was making no sense. He thanked Peter and went off in search of William to discuss the latest findings. It wasn’t until he exited the theater that he realized that he had made no arrangements on where or when to meet William. He really was a beginner when it came to an investigation.
He decided to head back to the tavern where they had had breakfast. The weather was still unseasonably cold, forcing him to walk much faster than he normally would.
When he arrived there was no sign of William but the tavern keeper told him that William would be back and wanted Gareth to stay. Deciding to take advantage of the time, Gareth ordered a stew and a drink. With that done, he sat back to consider all the facts.
The King had put him in charge of this investigation, why? Gareth had no reputation and a few hours on this had convinced him that he wasn’t a gifted amateur. If he wanted someone to testify on the killer’s identity, there were easier ways. The King had already involved one agent, two if you counted Tobias and Gareth was now sure Tobias was part of this too. Far easier for the King to command someone to give the desired testimony.
If the King were being forced to perform this farce but wanted to know who the real killer was he would have involved an experienced investigator. That left two possibilities, the King was letting him and William be the obvious investigators while the real investigator was able to work undetected or the King wanted to know just how far Gareth would dig when given a plausible story. Tobias might be the shadow investigator, which would explain a lot.
Was Peter’s information part of the farce or real? Gareth decided it was probably real. Not that Peter wasn’t a good actor but the two had been close enough that Peter would have found a way to let him know.
Who was Duke Farsa? Tobias said that was the heart of the investigation and Gareth was beginning to understand. Well respected in the acting community, a total recluse and only in the public eye for two weeks a year. What did he do the other fifty weeks, sit around and write plays? Remembering his experience in pricing potions, Gareth did some calculations. If the Duke packed the theater, he would barely break even at the end of a week. He must have another source of money. That made no sense, why spend all that money only to quit when it started making money?
The tavern keeper returned with the ale and stew, interrupting Gareth’s musings. As if that weren’t enough, William chose that time to stride in followed by the girl. William’s eyes locked on the ale and he took a long swig from it after saying, “Good thinking squire, you should always make sure your knight is well fed.” With half the ale gone, William also grabbed the stew and started eating. Finally realizing that he was the only one eating, William looked up and said, “Feel free to order another for Margret and yourself. I won’t have anyone saying I mistreat my squires.”
Somewhat stunned and wondering if this was the real William or merely William putting on an act, Gareth signaled the tavern keeper for two more and asked how the morning went for William.
“If he’s still in the city, somebody is bound to spot him and let us know. Margret, that’s her name,” he replied with a nod at the girl, “and I went to every sailor hangout in the city. Being morning not many of them were still open but if somebody was nearby, Margret gave them her version of the hanging, a description of the sailor and in a few cases it seemed like she was giving her life story. I had to drag her away in a few cases. That girl can talk. If I didn’t know just how scared she was that he might come after the only witness, I would have thought she was stalling for time.”
That simple statement brought Gareth back to reality and he realized that William was still very much aware of the situation. It was all too easy to think of William as a high born noble with no care for anything but his station. Gareth had been fooled by that act the last time he had worked with William and he had almost fallen for it again. William was far smarter than he acted and William had just reminded Gareth of that.
“We told everyone that would listen that they could find us here.” William concluded. Taking a bite of the stew, William chewed his mouthful a few times before turning his head and spitting something at the floor. “Maybe I’m not as hungry as I thought I was,” he said, pushing the bowl away.
For all the talking William said she had been doing, Margret was very quiet. She was completely focused on the door as if expecting someone to rush in at any time. When a young girl entered the tavern, Margret must have recognized her because she jumped up and hugged the child, talking all the time.
“We’re in luck, she says the sailor we’re seeking has been sighted going into The Harpy’s Scream. Her mother was one of the people we talked to this morning. When she recognized him, she sent Anne to find us, staying to watch in case he left. We need to hurry.”
At first glance The Harpy’s Scream looked so run down that Gareth wondered if it was actually open. Even the sign was hanging lopsided because one of the chains had broken. As they approached, a man loitering near the front stepped inside. Nobody with any concern for their health would pick this place at random.
A woman, slightly older than Margret frantically motioned the group towards her. “When I saw him go in I sent Anne to find you while I watched. He’s still inside. I can see the front and back from here, there’s no way he could gotten out without me seeing him.”
The group barely had time to move up to the woman when a man stepped out of the front door. Margret screamed, “It’s him! That’s the man that killed Duke Farsa!” While she was screaming, she was giving Gareth small pushes to encourage Gareth to chase the man.
It would have to be a chase. Hearing Margret’s screams, the man had looked in their direction and started running. Gareth had already run twenty yards before he remembered this was being staged for their benefit. Tired of being manipulated, Gareth decided that despite what these people were planning, he was going to catch this man.
Had this been a simple chase, it would have ended quickly. Gareth was faster but his prey was experienced in avoiding capture. Minutes passed as the man zigzagged through the streets and alleyways using all the obstacles in their path, continually forcing Gareth to double back and change direction. It ended quickly when the man doubled back around some crates stacked in the street. Without hesitation, Gareth went over the crates, diving off them to tackle the man.
The force of the tackle took both men into the ground with Gareth on top. The man tried to roll Gareth off but they had fallen close enough to a wall to prevent this maneuver. Knowing that his companions would soon catch up, Gareth decided the best plan was to wait for William to catch up and help him.
It might have worked but he was grabbed from behind and roughly pulled off his captive. There were two members of the city watch in front of him, one with truncheon in hand. The man that had pulled him off, was handing him over to the second watchman when William showed up.
Maybe William had authority issues, or didn’t respect the authority of the watch or maybe he was mad because of the chase. Without slowing, William bent his legs to get as low as possible, seized the man with the truncheon and with a little half twist sent the man sailing. The second man released Gareth only to have his jaw collide with William’s fist. Gareth winced at the sound, noting that the man wasn’t moving after being driven several feet backwards. The man took a half step forward and collapsed.
The third man, wisely deciding this was not a fight he would win, raised his arms wide and stepped back. Briefly stunned by how quickly the two men had been overcome, Gareth turned back to take control of his prisoner.
He was immediately hit from behind. “Is he dead? Did you kill him?“ came a female voice. It took his mind a second to realize this was not another enemy. He had been hit by Margret when she collided with him and started asking questions. His lack of experience caused him to turn to respond to Margret’s questions and his captive took the opportunity to jump up and start running again.
Staring at the man running off, Gareth wanted to scream. He wanted to ask Margret why she had done such a stupid thing. It dawned on him that she had intended this interruption because he wasn’t supposed to capture the killer, at least not yet.
While Gareth was collecting his thoughts, the city watchmen were regrouping. William said, “Show them the King’s ring.”
As Gareth struggled to get the ring out of his pouch, in a growl that would have done Jerome justice, William said, “That ring represents the authority of the King. Interrupt us again and I’ll not hesitate to kill you.”
Amazingly, the watchman who had been holding the truncheon started to argue. Without a word, his two companions grabbed the man, turned and dragged him off still trying to protest. William stared at them as they left as if hoping that they would turn around.
Returning the ring to his pouch Gareth said, “He knows we’re after him now. If I were him I’d be trying to leave town as soon as possible. With the head start he has now we’ve lost him for sure.”
Pausing as if the thought just came to him, Gareth continued, “If he’s a sailor he’ll probably try to escape on a ship. How close are the docks?”
It was almost entertaining to see the thoughts play out over Margret’s face. William was definitely right, she was supposed to guide them to their discovery, whatever that might be. After only a few seconds, a very satisfied look came over her face.
“I can lead you to the docks. We should have plenty of time, they can’t just up anchor and leave at a moment’s notice and there’s probably only one or two ships leaving today.” Turning to her friend Margret said, “This is too dangerous for your daughter. Thank you for all you’ve done but you should take her home now. If you would, please tell my father what happened and where we’re going. Make sure you tell him I’m very safe with these two men. They seem very capable of defending themselves.”
Margret’s friend looked at her quizzically and asked, “Is that what you want?”
“Everything will be fine. Just make sure my father knows what happened to the three watchman and how fast it happened. We might still be able to catch sight of him before he escapes. The King will decide what to do if we can tell him which ship the murderer is on.”
Gareth was convinced that she was giving instructions to her friend. Her “father” was probably the director of this production and she was warning him to bring a lot of men or make sure they never catch up with their suspect. The next hour should prove entertaining.
As soon as her friend turned to leave, Margret pointed to the east and said, “The docks are that way. We’ll have to make some detours because there are parts of the city that nobody in their right mind goes through, even if she’s accompanied by two big strong men like you.
“If he plans to leave on ship, we have plenty of time. The ships run on schedules. He would have to be very lucky to find one leaving just as he got there.”
Up to this point Gareth wasn’t fully convinced that this was a show being played for his benefit but Margret’s insistence that they had plenty of time sounded like she was trying to stall so the rest of her people could set up the next part of this show. If she led them directly to the docks this might still be real.
He needn’t have worried, Margret had made it less than twenty paces before she tripped and fell. It was a spectacular fall, accompanied with a scream of pain and ending with Margret moaning in pain while grasping her ankle.
Protesting that she would still be able to lead them if they just gave her a moment, Margret made a big show of rubbing her ankle. Five minutes later, after an initial failed attempt to stand and a plea not to leave her alone in this part of town, they were moving again. Margret was playing her part to the hilt and was holding onto William while hoping on one foot. If she ever decided to change professions, Gareth was sure Peter would love to have her as part of his troupe.
It seemed to take hours but they finally made it to the docks. Sure enough, as if this had been carefully staged, their suspect was in the middle of the path talking loudly to another man. Just in case they had somehow missed seeing him, Margret screamed, “It’s him, there he is. Don’t let him kill me,” grabbing William in a tight embrace.
Incredible, with that one move she had cut their effective force in half. When this was over he would have to introduce her to Tobias, if she wasn’t already working for him. With that thought, Gareth took off in pursuit of his suspect.
The man, already warned by Margret scream, said a few words to his companion and took off running. The companion did a half turn to face Gareth, preparing himself to delay the pursuit.
He knew that the man only intended to delay him but he was tired of this. As the man reached out to grab him, Gareth grabbed the outstretched arm and spun around using the arm as an anchor. As he came around, he used one hand to push the shoulder while he slammed his foot in the back of the man’s knee.
Surprised that the maneuver worked as well as it had in practice with Jerome, Gareth moved his hand back to the arm lock, twisting and pushing down as the man fell. Releasing the arm when he felt it give, Gareth decided against finishing the maneuver the way he had been taught, he was only trying to disable not to maim, and renewed his pursuit.
Despite the delay, it seemed like the distance between them was unchanged. This was more proof that someone had planned all of this. Whoever they were, they had put a lot of effort into this show. Counting the night watchmen, there had been eight people involved so
How and where this chase ended had already been decided. It was obvious that he wasn’t supposed to capture the man, at least not yet. If he did their only witness would just say they had been chasing the wrong man. What would happen if he went off script? How could he go off script?
Jumping over another pile of refuse in the street, he realized the answer was at his feet. Three steps past the refuse and calling on all his acting skills, Gareth stumbled, twisting his ankle badly.
He gave a scream of pain as he dropped to the ground. Two men came rushing from a nearby shop to help him. Add two more men to this group, Gareth thought. Apparently he was expected to continue the chase. Feigning pain, Gareth allowed the men to pick him up and hold him up while he waited for the pain to stop.
Looking forward he could see his quarry leaning against a wagon as if to catch his breath. From the side, William having finally disengaged himself from Margret, had caught up. As he moved to help Gareth, the two men scattered, apparently they had been told about the angry knight. Using this as an opportunity to fall again, Gareth explained his plan to William.
William gave him a look of disbelief but agreed to follow Gareth’s lead. Leaning heavily on William, he started the pursuit again. As they closed on him, their suspect started running again, easily outdistancing them.
In different circumstances the look on Williams face would have been comical. It was obvious that he was frustrated by having to hang back. For his part, Gareth was wondering what this band would do now. There was no way Gareth and William could hope to catch their suspect.
No way except one. The two man that had helped Gareth stand, showed up waving their arms and shouting, “We got him for you. Margret told us what was happening as he tried to run by. He won’t be running anywhere soon. She’s a friend of ours.”
“Where is he?” asked William.
“We left him just in front of the docks. Don’t worry, the way Tom smashed his foot, he won’t be going anywhere on his own. We know you’re working for the King and want to take him in yourself.”
Acting anxious, Garth increased their pace. With timing too close to be coincidence, as they came near their man was being helped up by a sailor while two sailors stood by watching for trouble. The opposition had found a way to even the race again. Gareth had a grudging sense of admiration for whoever was running this.
In what had to be the slowest and worst acted race in history, the two groups moved along the docks until the sailors made it onto their ship. With another example of perfect timing, the ship started moving as soon as the sailors were on board. Gareth and William were left standing as the watched the ship move out to open waters.
They had managed to get the name, “Cloud Dancer”, but the harbor master could only tell them it was a merchant ship and wasn’t expected back for six months. He didn’t know who owned the ship.
“I think this is what they want us to report to the King,” Gareth said. “We identified the killer, he escaped in ‘Cloud Dancer’ and probably won’t be back this way. Although for all we know, he jumped over the other side and swam back to the dock.”
”The timing was too good for him not to be part of the crew. They were waiting for him,” William responded with a jerk of his head to remind Gareth that Margret was still nearby. “The King is expecting us to make a report today. We can tell him what we’ve found and see if he wants us to continue. For all we know, the King wanted to give a medal to the Duke’s killer.”
So much for finding out how often the King attended Duke Farsa’s performances from William, Gareth thought. Giving a report sounded like an excellent way to get rid of Margret. Gareth still wanted to discuss the situation with William without having Margret overhear them.
William said they had a 3PM appointment. It was already 2, and you don’t want to be late for the King. He told Margret he had other duties that would keep him occupied this evening but they would meet again in the morning and let her know if the King wanted to continue the investigation.
The two set off at a brisk pace for William’s quarters. As they were walking, Gareth told him everything he had learned from Peter.
“That explains why the King goes absent every once in a while,” William said. “I always wondered why he seemed to disappear from court for days on end. Too bad he had to meet with some foreign ambassadors on the Duke’s last night. They showed up at the castle two days ago demanding an audience. I heard from one of my friends in the castle guard that the King was fuming about it.
Arriving at his quarters, William dug out the wooden swords and said, “Our appointment with the King is at 6PM. I wanted some time to discuss this with you before we met with him. I’ve always found that sparring is a good way to relax.” With that, William headed to the practice grounds.
Not wasting any time, William kept talking as they walked. “I was right about Margret. Once she knew we suspected a sailor, she got her friend to set the whole thing up. It was just too well timed not to be staged. You know what I’m saying, having him come out of the tavern just after the friend explained she had been watching. They wanted to keep us too busy to think about it.
“It became obvious when the city watch whistles started blowing the moment you caught him. The two watchmen were in front of us waiting, not behind as they would be if they had been in pursuit of us. I would like to think they were surprised how quickly I went through them but they only needed to cause a slight delay.
“I thought you had gone mad when you started limping but you certainly forced them to change their plan. I would never have expected them to balance the pursuit by beating their own man, even a staged beating. Their leader must be almost as conniving as Tobias. Having the ship start moving the moment our man stepped aboard meant they must have been preparing the moment they heard the whistles blow. Tobias would be proud of coordination like that”
Once on the practice grounds, William warmed them up going through the basic attack, parry and riposte. William would make his attack slowly and let Gareth parry and riposte in any line he wanted. As they warmed up, William started making his attacks faster and faster.
Surprisingly, as Gareth let his muscle memory respond, he was able to think about the murder. Coinciding with that thought, William managed to hit him in the side. Blunt or not, these swords hurt, especially with William on the other side.
They went back to guard and started over. This time Gareth was paying more attention. William started a cut at Gareth’s head but much slower than normal, as Gareth’s muscle memory took over and performed a high line parry William redirected his attack to Gareth’s midsection. Gareth responded by jumping back out of the blade’s range but Williams feint caused him to think about the murder in a different light. Suppose this entire incident was nothing more than misdirection staged by Tobias, but why?
Of course that thought came at a price. William managed to hit him twice more, hard, before he was able to call a halt. The idea was just too wild to share with William yet but he wanted to ask Peter a few more questions.
It was only with a slight exaggeration that Gareth begged off continuing the practice session. As he headed back to the theater he realized that he only had one question, what kind of actor was Tobias?
Fortunately he found Peter taking a break from the rehearsal. “Back to take me up on my offer?” Peter said.
“Not today, I’m finding out just how poor an investigator I am but I’m not ready to give up on it. I have a few personal questions first.”
Peter looked at him and said “As long as they’re not too personal.”
“Oh no, not about you. When I was apprenticed to Tobias, he had me spend almost six months with the acting company because he thought it was a skill worth having. Did Tobias ever spend time with the company and was he a good actor?”
Peter furrowed his brow before answering, “I hadn’t been with the company long when Tobias joined. He made no bones about it. He wanted the training but not the career. It was all the master could do to get Tobias up on the stage that first. He would never admit it but I think he loved it. He overacted his parts with a vengeance. For all his other skills, his was always missing his timing. Put him in a rehearsal and you would swear he was the role he was playing. Put him in front of an audience and he became a leaping disaster.”
Gareth had one final question, “Think back to the night you saw the King in the audience. Was Tobias in town?”
Peter closed his eyes as if it helped his memory, “That was a long time ago but yes, I think he was in town that day. I seem to remember the Master giving Tobias some passes for the show. I don’t know if used them or not. I’ve always liked Tobias but that was a long time ago.”
Pieces were beginning to fall into place. If Tobias were directing this farce, it explained much. It also explained why the King was not raging about the murder of one of his favorite actors and why he would choose an inexperienced investigator to look into it.
Gareth thanked Peter and headed back to the castle. It was warming now but the wind still had a bite to it. The worst of the cold weather seemed to be behind them. The cold wind reminded Gareth how cold the corpse had been. At the time, Gareth didn’t question it because there had been several hours between the murder and his arrival. Maybe the man had been hung much earlier. It would explain why there was no blood from the knife wound. That was stupid, such a trick would only fool a very inexperienced investigator. The sound of more pieces falling into place echoed through his mind.
The audience with the King was far from private. He had at least six advisers, two servants, four guards and a few other flunkies. Seeing so many strangers, Gareth decided to continue the ruse that William was in charge. William hesitated a few seconds, looked at Gareth and when he saw nothing from Gareth started his report.
“Your majesty, Duke Farsa died from hanging but he was also given a knife would that would have killed him, if he wasn’t dead already. The rope was ordinary rigging line used in the theater for a number of purposes. The weapon was a small tri-blade dagger often used for piercing armor because of the small point and increased strength of the dagger.
“We have an eye witness to the stabbing but not the hanging. She described the man as a medium size man bald and clean shaven. He is also described as moving like a dancer or an actor. After killing the Duke he recited the closing line in each of Duke Farsa’s plays, ‘The strength of a kingdom lies within the heart of its people,’ and ran off. Thanks to our witness we were able to give chase near the docks but the city watch intervened and he managed to escape on a small ship.”
“What happened with the city watch?” asked the King.
“They must have thought we were troublemakers. Two of them tried to detain Gareth when he caught the suspect. I intervened but they forced us to release the man and delayed us long enough that our suspect escaped.”
The King looked bemused. “Two of the city watch should barely slow down one of my knights.“ Turning to the scribe he said, “Make a note that Sir William will be doing an extra hour of practice for the next three weeks.”
Turning back to William he continued, “Did you clearly identify yourself? Do I need to brace myself for a complaint from the watch commander? It’s a wonder I haven’t already heard from him.”
“As to that sire, I was in a hurry and it happened really fast. I didn’t kill either of them but I’m fairly sure one had a broken leg and the other was concentrating on breathing after bouncing off a wall. When it was clear the killer had escaped, I went back but nobody was there and the city watch was acting as if nothing happened.”
Gareth realized that William must have done this when Gareth had gone back to visit Peter. In his excitement he had probably forgotten it. Knowing that the city watch was very protective when it came to their people this just confirmed what he and William had already guessed, the people attempting to delay them were not part of the guard.
“Anything else? Do you have motive or know where the killer was headed?” the King asked.
“No Sire. We checked with the harbor master. The ship is scheduled to be back in six months but we can’t confirm he stayed on the ship. We can spend more time chasing the killer down or trying to identify him but I fear that would be fruitless with his escape”
The King seemed both pleased and yet unhappy. He said “I agree with your conclusions. While I’m loth to see the murderer get away without punishment, it would seem he has succeeded. Very well, I’ll turn the rest of the investigation to the city watch. If they uncover additional information I’ll inform you. For your diligence in this, each of you may ask one small boon from me.”
Gareth thought a second and then said “Your majesty, for my boon I would have a small amount of time in private with you to discuss some of the Duke’s plays”
The King looked surprised then said “Granted. Sir William, I hope you have a more exciting request.”
William’s look was a mixture of curiosity and disappointment then he said “Gareth willing, I would like very much to be a part of that conversation your majesty.“
Looked at Gareth and seeing a nod, the King said, “Very well. I must ask the rest of you to leave. Guards, should you hear anything out of the ordinary don’t hesitate to take down the door.”
The servants scurried out. The advisers grumbled but filed out of the door, the guards gave William and Gareth piercing looks as if to promise bodily harm if they did anything to displease the King and followed the advisers, shutting the door.
Both William and the King looked expectantly at Gareth. “Your majesty, I have no proof but I would like to share a story with you.”
“There was once a very royal person that discovered he had a talent for acting and giving plays. He realized he couldn’t do it as himself because everyone would feel they had to praise him. So, he created a disguise of much lower royalty and did his acting under that name. Only a few people knew his secret. When he had a conflict, he would have one of his close friends stand in for him. Except for the fact that his friend was a very poor actor this worked fairly well.”
Gareth knew he was on the right track when the King smiled at the description of Tobias’ poor acting ability.
“As the demands of the kingdom became greater, our royal person realized that he could not maintain this fiction much longer. When he discussed this with his friend, who along with his lack of acting ability seems to have a fondness for overcomplicated plots, they decided the actor must die.
“By killing off the actor no one would be wiser and members of the theater guild would stop trying to gain his employment in their acting companies. A recently hung corpse, perhaps a pirate captain since no one would recognize the corpse, a snap of cold weather and a pair of very inexperienced but respected investigators all converged to make this happen. The friend was able to stage a plausible murder of the already dead corpse and then having the killer conveniently spotted by an eye witness. All that had to happen then was the killer escaping so no one could follow him, while the investigators were in hot pursuit. The royal’s friend may be a poor actor but he’s a master at orchestrating people.”
“It was unfortunate that the actor’s last night was marred by his friend having to stand in but it only served to reinforce the need to kill off the actor,” Gareth stopped there.
The King’s expression was unreadable. Williams jaw had dropped several inches and was still hanging there. “Are you suggesting that’s what happened here?” the King asked.
“No sire. William described what happened. I’m only crafting a story that brings all the facts together and giving it to the King.”
The King’s expression was still unreadable then he said, “Tobias said you had hidden talents, Master Gareth. With an imagination like that perhaps you should be writing plays.” He turned to address William too, “You both seem to have wasted the boon I granted. Yet I found the story so entertaining that I will grant the both of you a greater boon providing this story is never again heard. For now this audience is over.” The King clapped and the guardsmen rushed, ready to defend their king.
The King smiled at their speed and said, “Have these men prepared for tonight’s dinner, they will be seated at my table tonight.”
Later that night, Tobias came over to Gareth, clapped him on the shoulder and whispered, “A fondness for over complicated plots? Don’t drink too much, we leave early in the morning.” Nothing else was ever said about the hanged man.