Captain William Royce woke with a drum beating in his head. He found himself sprawled out on of the benches inside the, now empty, tavern. Save for the dim light from the oil lantern on the table before him, the place was dark: it was still night. From the looks of the tavern now there was no sign of a party that led to a violent brawl earlier. As a city guard, it was his job to keep the peace. But William chuckled for he started the fight.
It was his thirty-second name day celebration, and what better place to celebrate then a friends tavern to get drunk. Neil had his handful with the patronage William brought him that night, but it was worth it to be sure. William knew Neil would be stingy and only give him "Free" drinks until he was drunk, which didn't take much. But he was also his best friend so there was little cause to complain about the gift.
Though he didn't anticipate getting this drunk, fortunately, he had the next day off. When he picked up the oil lamp he found a small vial with a tag attached to it carrying Niels initials. He knew what it was and after consuming it, the drums in his head quieted down.
Outside the day would be breaking soon but he took the oil lamp anyways. He was unarmed and wanted something just in case someone was fool enough to attack him. Lately, there had been a strange increase of robberies, from sneaking into homes and taking jewels, or downright mugging in the middle of the street. Rumors, if they could be believed, were that there was a new candied treat out there that was changing people's attitudes.
William only had half a mind for those rumors but the fact did still remain that the number of robberies in the city has increased over the last few months. Perhaps he should start carrying around his boot knife again, at least on the day's he wasn't in his armor and didn't wear his sword belt.
The city watchmen normally wore smoky-blue cloaks and armored in chain mail around their torsos, and double folded leather for their arms and legs. Fishermen would mock at them by calling them "sea whelps", as their uniform and armor had colored them in the colors of the sea. Only their half-helms and weapons were untouched by the coloring dyes, but it was no matter, the fishermen were too few to care about their mockery.
Their real name was, in fact, the Sky Cloaks, as their uniforms were supposed to resemble the sky. Perhaps on the signs of an early storm did they resemble the sky, but the fishermen were more accurate that they looked like the sea. The continent of Argolas was surrounded by a ring of smoke shooting out from the sea.
"I never understood why the city guard's uniform resembled the sea so much," Neil said when William first showed up to him wearing the Sky Cloak. "I mean the sea is miles away from the capital and we can't even see the rings of smoke from here."
"It's supposed to resemble the sky you carrot headed drunk." William countered.
Neil was a stout man with passive green eyes, a crooked nose, freckles dotted all on his face and curly orange hair. The curly hair didn't stop at his head though, one summer Neil had gotten drunk and removed his shirt to wrestle with a knight who boasted he could beat any man at the sport. The hair on his torso and arms was thick, and just as orange and curly as the ones on his head.
He had a rounded belly that showed muscles when he breathed and a chest and arms like a blacksmith. Neil had won the first match and even hustled the man out of a gold coin for a rematch. The second time he had locked the knight's head under his arm within a matter of seconds. Eventually, the man yielded defeat and, after getting his coin, Neil poured him a drink for which he charged full price.
"Besides, maybe they can't get the color of the dye to come out right."
"Whatever," Neil said pouring him a flagon of ale. "How about A round for the new city guard, on the house."
"I can only drink water when I'm on duty."
"Ahh piss on that!" Neil said after taking a deep gulp from the flagon. "You need more color in your life then blue!" He finished off the flagon and slammed it on the bar counter. "I know! I'll call you Blue Boy from `er on out. William Blue Boy, you like that name?"
Whether he liked it or not Neil would be calling him that for years until he became a captain of the City Watch. The captains and lord commander wore white uniforms with no signs of blue anywhere on them. It looked nicer, but as his betrothed told him it was much harder to clean out when it got dirty.
William was elevated to captain when he saved a noble lady, whose name he couldn't remember now, from a gang of rapists in the alley. They pulled her in there when she was fool enough to wander on her own at dusk, and gagged her with part of her own dress they tore off. Will had left his lance at the barracks, for his day was over, and he was going home; but he did have his short sword.
Fortunately for the lady, the alley she was pulled into was en route for William on his way home. He heard a muffled cry as he passed by and turned to see her distress. There were four of them and he was alone, but only one was armed with a small knife. He killed the one with the knife, though not out of malice, the second and third he had beat bloody and bruised after sheathing his sword, and the fourth ran. It took him a while to find that fourth man but it was off to the dungeons with him until it was time for their execution to be sentenced.
William knew that they would all be hanged for their crimes, but he didn't want to be the one to kill them. Taking another man’s life had never been easy for him, but he learned young that it was the way of the world sometimes.
After getting rid of the would-be-rapists, William escorted the lady back to her caravan. Lord Commander Albert Hathen raised him to the status of captain within a fortnight after his heroic rescue. It was mostly in part to the young woman’s lord father who felt William deserved a promotion for saving his maiden daughter.
Neil’s Tavern lay near the south end of Bulwark Street, just by the city center. Neil crafted a back entrance to allow the guards on patrol to pop in for a quick drink. The Sky Cloaks were among Neil’s largest patrons, the tavern was on prime location for this business, second only to the brothels hidden around Bulwark Street.
Sometimes the whores from these brothels would come into the tavern, walking around half naked, and steal away a few of the customers. Perhaps this was the reason William's betrothed, Katrina Danmur, disliked him going to Niels tavern. Or maybe it was because after he became a captain they moved to a quieter part of Bulwark Street much further in the North West, and the tavern was a long walk away.
Katrina didn't like that he would go there, but Neil was one of his oldest and only friends, and since being engaged to her he only went there once a week. Another part of him liked walking down Bulwark Street, the fellow guards were almost like a family to him, and he felt safe walking down that street, strong and confident too.
But this night he didn't feel that way, he felt strangely uneasy as he made his way home down the street of the City Watch. Perhaps it was the dark sky that should be light by now, or the eerie silence, as his footsteps echoed down the street, the only sound around.
Something wasn't right, he knew right away. Bulwark Street shouldn't be this quiet, even so early as now. But it wasn't just the silence that was off... After walking for several more minutes, he finally realized what was right in front of him: darkness. The dawn may have been strangely late, but it was too dark tonight for this street.
The street lanterns should be lit, but they were all doused. He stopped to listen for footsteps or any other noises. After a long while of nothing, he continued ahead at a faster pace. There were no patrol guards around either, something was definitely going on.
As the first light of dawn finally came up over the horizon, to start lighting things up, William relaxed a little further and slowed his pace to a normal walk. He still needed the lamp to help guide him, but the morning light should drive away his unusual fears and any potential dangers.
Even as the dawn approached William couldn't shake the uneasy feeling he had. Coming to the corner of the street at Buckler Avenue his lantern lit up a figure sprawled out on the ground. William stumbled back in surprise, almost tripping over himself.
Lord commander Albert Hathen lay dead in a pool of his own blood. He took a closer examination of the commander’s corpse; his body was pale, cold to the touch, and stiff. He's been dead for a while now. As dawn finally broke William saw something glitter in Albert’s pool of blood. It was a piece to that game the sage's seemed to enjoy so much: Chess.
He picked it up and inspected it. It was a tiny castle tower made of bronze that fit in his palm. What'd they call this piece, a Rook? It wasn't dropped by accident; it was placed here, probably by the killer.
Looking up at the barracks just ahead William shouted, "Guards!"
No response, he shouted again. "Guards come quick!"
Once more all was silent. William set his lantern down and pulled out Albert's falchion style sword, and approached the barracks with caution.
The door swung open slowly, the morning light starting to pour into the barracks through the shutters. All around were Sky Cloaks unmoving, either slumped over the rows of tables or sprawled out on the floor. From the strong smell of ale and the loud snoring of some of the men, William gathered they were all passed out drunk.
They're alive at least, but they should be out on duty, patrolling the streets, protecting the people, protecting their commander. He walked around the slumps of drunken men to open all the shutters of the first floor to let in more light, a few men stirred in their sleep when the glare of light covered their eyes but little more.
William then gathered several empty buckets and filled them up from the water pump outside in the back. He put as many of them as he could carry on a pole and took them back to the front room, the dining hall, not the smartest area to place a dining area for guards but that wasn't Williams call, though Albert was looking into moving the dining hall to the back after he requested a change.
After a couple of trips, he had several buckets filled with icy cold water. He went around the room tossing the buckets contents over as many men as he could. Most of them woke up after that, groggy but awake. The rest were not waking up for some time, he made a note of who they were, they'd have to be punished more severely than the others.
William looked around to all the men still waking up from the splash of water, and dealing with the inevitable hangover. What do I tell them?
After pacing around for a few moments, he lingered in his spot before the door and looked to all the men who were waiting for him to speak. "Lord Commander Albert Hathen is dead, laying in a pool of his own blood just steps outside from these barracks."
The men started whispering amongst themselves at this news. Half of them didn't believe it, while the others were too hungover to interpret what he had just said.
"He was counting on us, and all of us failed him;" just like they failed my father. Was it like this with him too; were all the guards on patrol gone as well? "Do you not believe me? Does this all sound like some jest? Well then, get your asses outside and look for yourselves. Now!" He shouted the last command, leading the way after.
They followed not long behind him, to their surprise he was telling the truth. Questions went up among them like, "Who could have done this?" Or, "Why did they kill him, Albert was beloved by all." None were answered, and more followed that William hardly noticed, but they too went unanswered.
Another of the captains, Derren Atwood, came to stand next to William and said, "Albert was a good man, liked by so many, I can't think why any would do such a thing to him."
"He was a good man, and well liked" William agreed. "But now he's a dead man. His family and friends will weep, and we will bring his killer to justice."
Captain Derren said a quiet prayer to the Outlander for Albert. Derren stood at six foot even, with a clean-shaven face, ivory skin, and yellow hair that were now disarrayed out of its normal tight pulled back tail. His sea-green eyes had made men mistake him for a sailor a good number of times. He would smile it off and move on fast as he could, but William saw his smile turn sour the moment the men turned away, something about the notion of him being a sailor seemed to annoy him at the least.
William stood a couple inches shorter than Derren, with wavy coal black hair reaching his ears. His brown eyes were hard most the time, but he was friendly to most. His large muscles were well outlined in his captain uniform, and many of the older Sky Cloaks had mistaken him for his father the day he first wore it.
"Put a white blanket over the body," he said to Captain Derren.
As he went to fetch the blanket from the barracks William addressed the other men around.
"I want three of you around the captain's body at all times until I get back. The rest of you block off this junction of Bulwark Street and let no one through, detour them elsewhere, no matter how much they argue."
As the men left to do their duty William shouted, "And no one speak word about this to anyone, not even your fellow guard near you, whispers echo through these streets when all is quiet. I don't want anyone else knowing about this until I have figured out what is to be done about it. For now, I'll be seeking the king to tell him of this tragedy."
When Derren returned with the white blanket and covered Albert with it William noticed he was the only other captain awake. "Captain Derren you have charge of this while I'm away. And don't let the senior captains try to state their position of command just because they're older. I'm in charge at times of such crisis."
"Of course captain Royce," Derren said dutifully. Before William could walk away though he continued, "Ser given the circumstances you should take a few men with you."
William thought about it but then said, "That won't be necessary." He was then reminded he was holding Alberts sword, he handed it to Derren, "This belongs to our lord commander."
Derren took it reluctantly, seeing William had no armor, nor weapon now. He was still concerned for his safety but said nothing more as William moved on.
The White Pawn II
Lord Street: where the cobblestone ends and the marble walkway begins. To be sure there were always guards patrolling here. Did they see anything last night? William wondered.
No, they were paid too well to notice anything outside this street. If a lady cried for help outside this district not a one of these guards would help. But if a poor looking man, or woman, walked through here half the patrolmen would surround them to make sure they didn't even look at a highborn or wealthy commoner. Indeed, they couldn't block their way, it was, after all, a free city, but they could make them feel so unwelcome they would do everything in their power to avoid the district.
William was sure to tell them off from time to time even when he wasn't a captain; that only bought him vitriolic stares from the guards of this affluent street. If he had been their captain he would have put them in their place or replace them at the snap of his fingers. But he wasn't their captain nor the Lord Commander, and every day the city fell further from grace and honor.
Still for all the animosity he held for the guards on this street, at least, they were not passed out drunk in the barracks like all the others. They were patrolling around routinely as they always did, garbed in the smoky-blue uniform of the Sky Cloaks. Their uniform allowed them to move more quickly around the streets should they be called on for help or have to chase a criminal.
But Lord Street and its entire ward seldom had criminal activity. The very streets of the ward were paved with smooth white-grey marble stone, and even half the shops and homes there were made in parts with marble. It gave the entire area a clean glimmer when the sun was in the right place in the sky.
Some of the guards placed a cautious hand on the hilt of their short swords at the sight of William briskly walking down the street in a sort of huff. The others tightened the grip on their spears. It seems some of them didn't recognize William so well without his uniform on.
The sweet smell of cherry tarts and fresh bread filled his nostrils as he made his way down Bakers Avenue. The avenue was filled with all sorts of baking shops, hence the name. They stood side by side with wooden frames and little chimneys puffing out white smoke from their ovens. Half the windows were opened with a sample of their finer goods placed on the sill to let the wind carry its unique scent and show off.
William liked this avenue the most on Lord Street because not a one of the bakery shops was made with marble, it was all a cozy brick and wood foundation. It made them look more inviting in their own way. And when the bakers children or apprentice was punished they weren't flogged in the street, they were taken out behind the shops to be taught a lesson.
He turned right, near the end of Bakers Avenue down through Merchants Avenue. The final stretch through Lord Street that was also the only direct path to the road leading to the castle. The entire length of the street had every sort of shop one would ever need, only in the most regal sense, though.
From toy makers to tailors, wine cellars, and herbals stores, the shops lined either side of the winding street, each unique in its own way. The different shops crafted in a unique style of building or pallet of color on their brick, marble, or wooden construction to get a customer’s attention. And each of them selling goods for ten times their values because of where they set up shop.
Castle Bourgh stood at the top of a large hill with a gray stone wall extending out from the rear sides and encircling the inner grounds and edges of the hill top. The heavy wooden gate was just opening up to the castle grounds as William strode up the hill. The guards stared at him as he made his way past the gate. They believed him to be a peasant or some lesser man, he should have at least picked up his uniform on the way here.
Inside the grounds, far in the back, was a massive structure of stone which took up half of the castle ground itself: the Crown Keep. The Crown Keep was formed like a heptagon with most of the paramount rooms built into it. Rooms such as the Throne room, where William was heading for now.
The guards crossed their spears before the throne room doors, the entry point of the Crown Keep. They wore doublets of golden and crimson with a crown embroidered on the center, Royal Guards. They gave him a stern look but said nothing. He addressed them both, "My name is William Royce, captain, and second commander, of the Sky Cloaks. I am here on urgent business and must meet with the king immediately."
They held their spears in position. "By order of the kings Hand, we're not to permit anyone inside the Crown Keep." The guard to his left said, a dark-skinned man with a thin beard and short fuzzy hair.
He knew this guard, he was a member of the Sky Cloaks for a time before being elevated to the position of Royal guard. "Loren, you know me well enough, you must let me in this business is extremely important, and urgent."
"Orders are orders, sorry captain," Loren said.
If he thought he could get past them without grievous injury on either side he would have done so right then. But he knew Loren well enough, the man was a great fighter. He'd beaten William in spars before, with and without weapons. And no doubt the other man was a great fighter as well, it is after all the prerequisite to be a royal guard, or have a good family name and moderate fighting skills.
William was about to give up until a voice spoke from behind him, "I'll escort the captain."
He turned around to see ser Erquin Sais, armored in full plate armor of crimson-ash color, with a golden crown embellished onto the chest. He stood half a foot taller than William with tanned skin, chiseled chin, shaved head, and a dark trim goatee. Ser Erquin’s fierce gray eyes passed from William to the royal guards.
Loren and the other guard exchanged a glance and with a bit of reluctance pulled their spears back to their side and let William pass through. Sir Erquin followed right behind him and they strode side by side through the throne room. At the far end of the room, the throne sat empty. The throne itself was a gilded chair of blue and lilac hue's with an ornate sapphire rose, carved from birch wood, attached to the back rising above all the kings and queens who sat there.
"Tell me, Captain Royce, what is this urgent business you have to discuss with the king?" Erquin asked him.
The man had vouched for him to get him inside and with his position he would hear it soon anyways. "Lord Commander Albert Hathen is dead," William said solemnly. "He was murdered sometime last night, just outside the City Watch barracks.
"That is most grievous news indeed," he sounded more passive than shocked. "Your father, the lord commander before, was murdered too."
William ground his teeth in anger at the mention of his father's death at this time.
"Forgive my rudeness. Ser Adam was a great man. I'd known few better than himself, he deserved a warriors death. Not a coward’s dagger in the shadows."
"I wasn't aware you knew him so well ser."
"Aye I did, better than most. He was almost like a brother to me, I swore I'd find his killer one day, but the kings personal guard doesn't get much time to themselves or to explore."
They stopped before the steps ascending to the throne. William intended to wait there for the kings arrival until Erquin said, "The king will not be seeing visitors for a while at this time. You best take this matter up with the Hand, he should be in the council quarters on the right there." He pointed east to the hall leading out of the throne room, then took his leave.
William didn't wait long before going down the hall on the right. The long corridor ahead had many passages leading off but the council quarters was a straight walk ahead. Fortunately, William had been there before otherwise he wouldn't have known that and may have wandered the Keep for a while. As he came closer to the council quarters the sounds of arguing leaked out from the cracked doors.
He couldn't fully understand what they were saying and didn't feel like sitting outside eavesdropping either. He pushed the council doors wide open. The councilors arguing were the king's Hand Duncan White Tree, Gerald Ironwroth, and Mira Coldpeak, who all stopped to turn their blue eyes over to William. Duncan was the only one of them not glaring at him, the well-aged man instead offered a humble smile and said, "Captain Royce."
William gave a low bow in response, "My lords I come with grim news I'm afraid."
"Albert Hathen is dead," Lady Mira said bluntly.
William was baffled and didn't know how to respond. Duncan seeing the bewilderment on his face informed him, "We received a raven from the barracks before your arrival here, telling us of this dark news."
Of course the second floor of the Barracks! He was so upset he didn't even bother to check up there to see how many men were up there that might not have been passed out drunk. Maybe they can help him figure out what happened, maybe one of them sent the raven. He'd never know who though and what's done is done.
He fiddled around with the bronze Rook in his hand, not sure what to say next. He stood there in quiet for a couple minutes until Gerald said, "If that's all captain then you may take your leave."
William lingered there a moment in hesitation. He knew that to most everyone else, the highborn especially, that this wasn't of paramount importance. But he had to try appealing to the king, or his council, hoping, this time, things would be different than they were with his father: they weren't.
He turned on the balls of his feet to leave when on a whim he turned back and placed the bronze Rook down on the council table with a thud. The tension in the air grew as the present council became apprehensive. They know what this is, William thought as he looked over their faces. All of them were staring at that Rook piece as if it had come to life and spoke to them with the news he brought.
He had their attention now and found his words to make his case, in an attempt to make this killing of greater importance to them. "That was found in the pool of Albert's blood. Placed there presumably after death. Mean anything to you?"
William waited for a response as they moved their eyes from the bronze Rook to him. But they said nothing so he continued, "There's more though. When I stumbled upon his body it was nearing dawn yet all of the lanterns were out and the streets were disturbingly barren and quiet. Even for that time, and all, well most, of the guards were passed out drunk. This was a highly professional attack, probably an assassin."
"What makes you so sure this wasn't some random attack?" Gerald asked.
"Because on top of everything else I told you, Commander Albert had been dead for several hours before I stumbled upon him. Murdered in the middle of what should have been the most well-guarded street in the entire city. I've seen a lot of things before as a guard to this city, but this is the first I saw of a city guard being killed, while in armor, without signs of a struggle and then left to rot in the middle of the street with no one to discover him for hours.
"My lords, my lady, I want to induct a thorough investigation into this. I would like extra funds and a handful of men from the royal guard. This killing wasn't random, and it wasn't accident or chance that all the guards on duty happen to be drunk inside the barracks before Albert's death. I know it may sound like a lot for the investigation of a common-born man but I don't think this was just about the Commander, I think something bigger is going on here; I just don't know what."
"Tell us how did you know he'd been dead for so long?" Mira asked bluntly, ignoring his request entirely.
"Rigor mortis," William responded with a touch of annoyance in his voice. "You can tell a lot from a dead body, not just how they died but clues their killer left them, such as their height and-"
"And how exactly do you know all this, who taught you?"
My father, he wanted to say. "I learned from a White Sage," A lie, it was my father who learned from the White Sages and who then taught me. "There was a time I wanted to be like them but, well I followed the steps of my father."
"He was a good man," Duncan said humbly
"A great man." William cast his eyes down.
The council exchanged a few glances before Duncan kindly said, "Captain it seems like it's been a very long night for you, why don't you go home get something to eat or get some rest. We'll send summons for you later when we're ready to discuss what should be done next."
"That's a kind request and all my lord, but I haven't much need for rest right now. And time is very precious for finding his killer."
"Captain you mistake me," Duncan's voice was firmer now, "it wasn't a request. Go home get some food, get some rest, whatever you need to clear your mind. We'll summon you later today when we need you."
He had no other choice. He gave a light bow then snatched the bronze Rook off the table before leaving. They wouldn't be taking it from him, it was the only clue he had to this deepening mystery.
The White Pawn III
The Sky Cloaks were back to their routine duties when William returned to Bulwark Street. It was good to see them active, even if it was in such a groggy state as theirs. Whatever the hell compelled them to drink so much? He wondered.
Back at the barracks, William found the avenue was open to all, Albert's body was gone, and the blood was being washed and scrubbed out from the cobblestone. He approached Captain Derren who just looked at him with remorse as if he was powerless to stop whoever moved the commander's body.
"Derren where is the commander's body?" William demanded of him. "You had explicit instructions."
Derren just shook his head, "I'm sorry ser, it was out of my hands. I was ordered to stand aside, me and my men."
"Ordered? By who?"
As if on cue captain Percil came out of the barracks, his fat cheeks parted ways for a massive grin and his ornate ear jewelry gleamed in the sun. "Captain William you returned at last," Percil said, with a sound of joyous mockery in his voice.
William didn't like that, he detested captain Percil, and the feeling was shared by the brown-curly-haired bulbous man. Percil was in charge of the guards around Lord Street. It was from his own decadence that the men under his command became as hedonistic as himself.
There was never a man as self-serving as Percil Luent. He was like a living embodiment of the state of decay the city had fallen into, far as William saw him. And worse still he seemed to corrupt the men working under him to the same avarice and lavished lifestyles. He was everything William was not, maybe part of him was jealous of Percil, the man had the wealth of a noble with the title of a captain.
"What happened to the commander’s body?" William asked curtly.
Percil smirked at him in mockery then took a drink from his wine flagon. The sweet red liquid overflowed from his mouth and spilled down onto his white uniform where pink splotches were already there; staining it. He wiped the wine from his lips off his sleeve where even more wine stains had been set in from carelessness. He let out a belch, testing Williams patience, before finally saying, "Orders, he was moved."
Percil spit at William's feet in answer to his question. That was the last straw for him. He pivoted to his side, leaning forward, and throwing his fist at Percil. He was intending to knock the grin off that fat face of his, but Derren was quick and caught the blow with his open hand.
William grit his teeth but took a step back. Before Percil could curse at him or threaten him, though, Derren held out a small rolled up parchment. "This came down from the castle before your arrival ser," Derren said, handing the letter to William. "By order of the kings Hand, we were to hand over the commander's body to the acolytes and clean up his blood. He also named captain Percil acting lord commander until further notice. Lastly, ser, lastly you're dismissed from your duties for the day and are ordered to return home and await the councils summons."
William read over the parchment while Derren spoke, it was all there, and had not only Duncan's signature, but the other councilor's present when he went to see them. They must have sent it out the moment he left the castle.
"You seen it all right there, I'm in charge now," Percil said. "That means get yer ass home like a good dog and stay there with your bitch you mutt."
William would have tried to hit him again had Derren not taken a step forward in warning. He had no choice but to drop it for now, but he'd remember this. He also noticed Percil's hooked nose was crooked, that made him smile, it was probably broken.
William took his leave but went east to Raven Street. The Westcher on Berret Avenue was the only place the acolytes would have taken the commanders body to be prepared for burial. This wasn't so bad, he needed them to take a look at the commander’s body sooner or later to tell him more. But what had ever compelled them to give the temporary command to Percil of all people?
The Westcher was a lone and dismal building made from grey bricks. Inside was colder than outside, the cold helped persevere the bodies so there were no hearth's in the Westcher. He found the acolytes in the back room, where the ceiling was made from clear glass to allow the sunlight in.
And a younger grey sage with thin hair and a cowhide apron who was cleaning out his tools at the end of the room. In the center of the room, on the table, was a sheet of white linen draped over a figure. "Is Commander Albert Hathen under here?" William asked approaching the table.
The grey sage turned to see him grabbing the sheet, ready to pull it off. "You don't want to look under there," he warned him.
William pulled it up anyways and immediately regretted it. Albert's corpse was dissected right away and all that was left below his neck line was viscera. William turned away and gathered himself. How these guys did this sort of job was well beyond him.
"You wasted no time on this," William said.
Pulling the sheet back over the remains of Albert's corpse the sage said, "Someone wants this done fast. I just finished before you arrived. And I'm gathering from your tone you want it over with too?"
William nodded his head; when he had pulled up the sheet the rotted smell was let out into the air.
The sage removed his bloodied apron and dropped it on the floor then turned to the young acolytes and said, "You two finish cleaning up my tools then wash the apron. I'll return to prepare the body soon enough."
William was led to a small room which evidently served as the sage's office. The wall was lined with shelves filled with medical books, and on his desk was some parchment, ink, and a quill waiting for him. The sage removed his gloves, revealing thin bony hands, and started writing on the parchment. "So what is it you came by for exactly?"
"The commander, I wanted the results of your examination of him."
"The results of my examination?" The sage asked keeping his focus on his writing.
"Yes, specifically how'd he die?"
"Right! Sorry ser, most people comes here want only to know if the body is ready to be viewed."
"I'm no Ser."
"The commander died from multiple puncture wounds throughout his whole body and bled to death. I can't tell how many assailants there was but I found something quite peculiar. Every one of his wounds managed to miss his vital organs, and only a few severed the arteries, whoever did this wanted him to suffer. Far as I can tell he didn't actually bleed out until several minutes later.
"Tell me where was his body found again? I heard from my acolytes they picked him up in the middle of the street while he was in a pool of his own blood."
"Yes, that's correct."
"What is it?"
"Well, I found vicious bruise marks on his ankles, like he was tied to something."
"Maybe he was bound by the feet, captive, and escaped before being stabbed?" That might make more sense, he wasn't waiting by the barracks but rather running to them.
"No, those bruises were made shortly before the violent assault on him. It was like his attackers bound him first then stabbed him. That's why I was asking about where his body was discovered."
"Could they have killed him elsewhere then moved his body?"
"Possible, but it seems like a lot of work. And whoever did would have been sure to be caught by the guards on patrol."
William took his leave after that. He left with more questions than he had before, it was time to go home.
Katrina, William’s betrothed, was distressed when he returned home at long last. Her light-brown eyes were red from crying, and her small lips were quivering. She had heard the news of a dead guard in a white uniform and was terrified it was him. She was a delicate woman, and he hadn't been home since earlier in the evening before; of course she was upset.
After kissing her gently William sat her down at the table and held her small hands, "I'm so sorry my love, I meant to return home so much sooner."
"You were gone all night, I was up waiting for you and when you didn't return I went looking for you. And then I hear the news about the guard in a captain’s uniform." She wiped a stray tear from her eye.
"I told you I didn't expect to be home until much later, possibly the next day, but on my way home." He shook his head. "It's been a long day, for us both. And the day is barely begun, let's retire to our room, and get some rest."
Katrina smiled lightly and said, "You haven't eaten all day, you go get some rest and I'll wake you when your food is prepared."
He wasn't feeling tired but crawled into bed after shedding his clothes and somehow fell asleep. What felt like an instant later Katrina was by his side gently nudging him awake. "William you have a summons request, from the king's Hand." She said.
He'd forgotten all about that and soon enough got out of bed and dressed in his uniform. It was time he was back in it, he was too unrecognizable without it. After fastening his sword belt he said, "I may be gone for all day today, so this time, don't wait up and don't worry."
She quickly moved to the door to block his way, "You're not leaving until you eat, I cooked your favorite breakfast, sausage and eggs."
His stomach started growling at the prospect of food. He ignored it. "The kings hand summoned me I can’t' make him wait."
"The summons was set for your 'earliest convenience,'" she argued. "You haven't eaten for a while and you need your strength. Besides, they sent a horse so you can get to the castle much faster."
He needed a horse, all the captains had one. But he enjoyed walking around and didn't much care for the extra costs the steed came with. Captains got a large discount for stabling their horses in the Bulwark street stable; all the same, he didn't want one.
The breakfast smelled very fresh, he gave in to his hunger and sat to eat. Katrina was happy as she joined him. "I also have some good news to share with you," she said delighted.
"What’s that?" He asked stabbing his fork into a well-cooked sausage.
"My father's health is looking much better. The white sage's say he's finally out of bed. It's only been a couple hours a day but hopefully in a couple, maybe a few months, he will be well enough to make the trip here. And then we can have our wedding at long last."
"We'd been waiting a while now. I feared we might have to go ahead without your family coming by, least some of them. I'm looking forward to it. In fact, we should start making plans for it soon, now that your father's health is improving."
Katrina blushed and they finished their breakfast. Afterwards, William set out for the castle, there was a brown pony awaiting him outside his house, he hopped on it, heading for the castle.
"I don't understand," William said baffled.
"We're offering you the seat of the Lord Commander," Duncan repeated himself.
"Beggen your pardon I mean why?"
"You've shown exemplary duty over your short time in the city guard, your father was the lord commander before, we can think of no one better to fit the role."
Lord Commander, that's what his dream was, that's why he joined the Sky Cloaks because he wanted to be like his father. But the lord commander was a busy job, he wouldn't find the time to investigate Albert's death and would have to set the task to someone else. But who could he trust to find anything out when even he didn't know what he was looking for?
What would my father do? He thought.
"You can't trust any of the noble families William," Ser Adam Royce told him when they settled into the city once again. "All of them are schemers who attack from the shadows or offer you a cup of poisoned wine."
"Captain the City Watch needs a lord commander," Gerald said impatiently. "So just accept this honor so we can all move on, as you know we are very busy people."
He sighed, knowing what the position at this time would mean for him. "I'm afraid my Lords that I must decline your generous offer. I cannot accept the duties of Lord Commander presently; if it could wait for just-"
"It cannot." lady Mira cut him off. "If you pass this up now you may never rise higher than a captain of the City Watch, do you understand?"
"I do my lady, I'm afraid the answer is still the same."
Mira rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath, "Disappointing."
"I can recommend a couple of very well suited captains that could take the title in my absence though my lords."
"That won't be necessary, you're dismissed now Captain," Gerald said curtly.
William bowed his head and took his leave.
"What do you mean you didn't take the position they offered?" Katrina asked, perplexed by the news. "William do you understand what this means? I mean denying a lords request like that."
He didn't understand why she was so upset by this news. It should make her happy he didn't take the job, it would give him more time to be with her in the future. "I told you I'm just not ready for the title, and with Albert's death being the way it is."
"What’s what this is truly about isn't it? It's not just because of the lord commander’s death, it's your father’s death that you can't let go. You're still chasing his killer even now, even when you promised me you had let it go."
She was right of course this was about more than just Albert Hathen's death it was about his fathers too, that’s why he was so determined to find the truth. Even if it meant costing him his dream of following his father’s footsteps, and growing out of his shadow.
His silence answered for him and she quickly became enraged. He'd never seen her like this before so decided it was best to take his leave now. He left for Niels tavern before he continued his investigation into Albert’s death. If ever he needed a drink or two it was now.