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Mystery at Shadow Peak (8/final)

Writers: Estelle
Date Posted: 23rd October 2022

Characters: Jorghan, Alekis
Description: Jorghan makes his report to the Warder, and receives a message from home
Location: Elsewhere on Pern
Date: month 9, day 14 of Turn 10


Bright afternoon sunlight streamed through the windows of the tower
room, warming the air and sparkling off the fine glassware and polished
wood as Jorghan made his report to the Warder. He hoped his words would
be as illuminating, driving away the shadows of suspicion that had
gathered around the mountain hold.

"So the young man, Yulen, has these letters from Holder Beliron." Alekis
studied the sheet of paper, traced his finger along the creases, read
the gentle words of love in the old Holder's fine hand. "After Beliron
dies, he shows this to Belkas, asks for money to go to the Weyr in
return for keeping the secret."

"That's what I believe." Jorghan felt a moment's discomfort at having
shown the letter to the warder, though it was important evidence. What
was expressed in it was open and unguarded, never meant for anyone but
its recipient. "Then he disappears, and ends up in the mine shaft where
we find him."

Alekis blinked, considering. "I only met Belkas a couple of times. At
his wedding to my cousin, and another family gathering a few Turns ago.
He wasn't exactly a generous man, but why not just give the boy the
marks, and never hear from him again?"

"Turn it over."

He did so, and frowned. "'I know what you did?' Who did? What?"

"I don't know for certain. But Yulen gave this to Holder Belkas, so it
was something _he_ did. And you told me yourself there had been a lot of
unfortunate events at the Hold. Starting with the death of the old Holder."

Alekis looked up at him sharply. "That's quite a conclusion to jump to."

"Perhaps there were other letters. Or Yulen saw something. Or it's
possible he was talking about the thefts and shady deals that were going
on here, rather than Beliron's accident. You've seen the secret records,
the notes to traders no-one's heard of. Neither of us was here at the
time. We didn't know either man, not at first hand." Jorghan drew a
breath. "I thought perhaps his wife -"

"No." The warder spoke abruptly. "At least, not without something more
than this. My cousin isn't in the best of health, and then there's her
son to think about. To learn that about his father and his
grandfather..." He shook his head. "Let's say that you're right. Holder
Belkas, or perhaps his steward, killed the boy to keep the secret,
whatever it was. Then who killed them? That's what you came here to find
out, after all. The smithy might have been an accident, but the steward
surely didn't throw himself down the mine shaft in remorse."

Jorghan had been thinking over that too, all the way back from the
cothold. "Yulen had family, but there's no evidence any of them were at
the Hold at the time. To my mind, this was a professional job. Someone
picked the lock to the safe where the blasting powder was kept, and knew
about the chemicals stored in the smithy. They set the trap while the
young guard was there, perhaps already dead, or unconscious. And they
knew the codes that the steward was using and used them to summon him
out to the old mine. We found their note in his hand."

"You mean there is another person involved?"

"Even if Yulen was silenced, there were still the other letters, which
were sent out of the hold with a trader. Neither Belkas nor Sogreal
could easily have gone looking for them. They might have hired someone.
Perhaps to kill the young man, too, if they wanted to give themselves an
alibi." His lips thinned, as if trying to hold in what he didn't want to
admit. "There are gangs. Not so much around Garnet Valley itself, but
the outer holds. Where there's marks and jewels, there's gambling,
smuggling. Thieves. You don't want to get into their debt."

"Faranth's Egg." Alekis wiped his brow. "My cousin's husband was
involved with them?"

"It seems so. I sent the sketch your harper made, of Steward Sogreal,
back to Garnet Valley, and one of my colleagues did some asking around.
A while back, someone who looked like Sogreal used to hang around the
miners' taverns with some very unpleasant people. There was a man who
might have been Belkas, too. Gambling. Oddly enough, the leader of that
group turned up dead last Turn. Rumour is he didn't pay one of his hired
killers what they were owed."

"Hold on. So Sogreal knew where he could hire a thief or assassin, and
did a deal to get the rest of the letters back. And then - what, someone
along the line didn't pay up?"

"And whoever didn't get paid decided to set an example." The stars knew
Belkas and his steward had deserved their fates, but receiving it at the
hands of their own criminal associates was a poor form of justice to
Jorghan's mind. "Reputation is everything in those circles. If they let
anybody get away with cheating them, business would suffer."

"It's not possible Yulen's family hired the killer?"

"I doubt it. These people are expensive. Too expensive for a poor
cothold which couldn't afford to send its son to the Weyr."

Alekis sighed. "What a nest of tunnelsnakes. If this is what happened,
is there any chance of catching the one who did it? Even if we think
Belkas was guilty of murdering his father and this young lad, there's
still Lannul, the guard who died in the smithy. He was innocent."

"It won't be easy." Jorghan pushed a few papers across the desk. "I can
ask around, see if any of these faces were spotted around the hold at
the time of the murders."

Alekis examined the top sheet, a charcoal sketch of a man with dark
hair, the line of a scar visible across his cheekbone and up to the
bridge of his nose. The artist had given him a direct gaze, intent and
cold, like the stare of a hunting feline. "Who's that?"

"Varlin. Thought to be responsible for several killings in Beryl Peak,
though he had to flee that territory about five Turns ago." Jorghan knew
the details like the back of his hand. "A holdless man who worked with
him gave information to the Lord Holder, which is how we got this sketch
and the name. That man turned up in an abandoned cot a few months later,
with his guts hanging out of his belly and his own sword buried hilt
deep in his throat."

"Shells." The warder had turned faintly green.

"We lost track of him after that, but there's the odd rumour he's still
plying his trade. He's intelligent, used to living rough, completely
ruthless. Hard to find, let alone catch. But we will get him in the
end." Jorghan eyed the other man. "Needless to say, if you do see him
around here, don't approach him."

"No. Of course." Alekis pushed the sketch away, hastily, as if the man
might jump out of the paper at him.

"If it's any comfort, he won't be back unless he thinks it's worth his
while." Jorghan gathered the sketches and stood. "I might have more luck
back at Garnet Valley. If so, I'll send you word."

"You're off, then? Well, you did find the missing steward, and that poor
lad too. And the...issues with the Records. It's more than I expected."
His brow furrowed. "You've given me a great deal to think about. I'll
need to decide what to tell the holders."

"I'll send you my report, and my captain will send word if we arrest
anyone. As to the holders, it's your call, but my advice is to tell them
the truth. Secrets are rarely healthy."

"They certainly weren't for my predecessor," Alekis said wryly. His
expression sobered. "Or his father. Well, I'll give it some thought." He
reached out, shook Jorghan's hand. "Thank you, Guardsman."

"It's my duty." Jorghan gave a slight bow and left the office,
descending the long stair for what he hoped would be the last time. He
could show the sketches around the hold for the rest of the day, write
up his notes and then start back for Garnet Valley in the morning.

***

At the evening meal, the Warder made a brief announcement about the
discovery of the Steward's body, and that of the young stablehand, but
refrained from any further comment. Jorghan supposed that was wise,
until the investigation was complete. He received a great deal of
attention from the holders, eager for gossip, and used the opportunity
to show his sketches. There were a few doubtful guesses that it might
have been this or that visitor, but no positive identifications. It
didn't surprise the guardsman too much. If the killer had been Varlin or
someone like him, it was unlikely he'd have been seen.

"So you think it was a holdless man?" Nikolter asked, once the meal was
over and they were lingering over klah. The harper had clearly seen such
sketches before. "I'll have to tell Corigale. He'll be relieved to know
it wasn't any fault of his that the smithy was blown up. Though perhaps
he'd feel guilty that he wasn't there."

"He shouldn't. If I'm right, that leak in the laundry saved his life."
And doomed the poor guard, Jorghan thought. Two young lives lost, over
greed and shame that was none of their own. His determination to find
the one who'd done this only burned stronger.

"Terrible thing. Let's hope it's over now." The journeyman drained the
last of his mug. "Oh, before I forget, a message for you from Garnet
Valley." He handed over a rolled hide. "The runner apologised, said he
was afraid it's been greatly delayed. It came from Beryl Peak, must have
just missed you before you left to come here. They didn't know whether
to wait for your return, eventually decided to send it on."

"Good thing it caught me before I left here, or they'd have had to run
back with it again. Thanks." Jorghan took the letter and unrolled it as
the harper left. Beryl Peak - it must be from Lisna. He'd written when
the news had come about Lord Rorigraff's death, to check that she was
all right. The girl likely hadn't even thought that he might be worried..."

But it wasn't from Lisna.

Jorghan read the words again, as if doing so might make them make sense.
Regret to inform you. Attack on the Hold - completely unexpected. Wrong
place, wrong time. Didn't know she had family at Garnet Valley until now.

Deepest sympathies.

He felt a rushing in his ears, his heart beating painfully in his chest,
had to remember to breathe. It was hard to think, or move, as though all
his limbs had turned to cold lead. It wasn't possible. She was only
eighteen. It had to be a mistake, some other drudge who'd got in the way.

He had to get to Beryl Peak. Immediately.

Last updated on the October 30th 2022


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