The creaking of my chamber door awoke me, as Lord Aryden pushed into the room, Eldis, the doctor Endan, and Barro following. Orange light from the rising suns illuminated the room with the impression of fire. The lord looked at the remnants of the ritual circle on the floor, smeared by my feet and by the water that had run from me as I exited it and made a low sound to himself.
“So this is how you kept us at peace last night, is it? You could have thought to do it sooner. Or were you waiting for a special occasion?”
I thought to correct his misapprehension, but then thought better of it. “There is a sort of trial and error to my work,” I explained, “It is called the ‘Subtle Art’, after all.”
“Yes, well.” Aryden said, more to himself than to anyone else. “For all your minor successes, our situation continues to deteriorate. My wife cannot be awoken from her slumber. Tell him, Endan.”
Part of me wanted to interrupt and tell them I already knew this, but I decided to play my cards a bit closer to the chest—I’d already chosen to conceal the existence of the cult from Lord Aryden, what would it hurt to keep a little more to myself until I’d deduced the full cause of his lady’s suffering.
The doctor began, “While the phantom may not have appeared to torment the night’s celebrations, my lady’s condition worsens, and I can find no physical cause for her decline. She has no fever, no sweats, no boils or buboes. Her blood appears normal and so does her urine. She’s been in this condition without dying or recovering for too long to suspect toxins, but she shows no signs of disease—and none of her handmaids have fallen ill. And yet, as my lord has mentioned, she is in a slumber and none can wake her. The cause must be spiritual, as we have suspected all along.”
“We are running out of time,” Aryden interrupted. “You are running out of time, Lord Thaumaturge.”
“I am making progress, Aryden.”
“I’d rather not share all of the details at present.”
“That does not instill trust in said progress.”
“I understand that, but caution is necessary in these matters. We know now that it is Orren’s spirit that haunts your castle. At least, all evidence points that direction and I’ve seen none to contradict it. But we don’t know who killed him and why, both of which are essential to discover if I am to have any chance of banishing the spirit permanently. Gossip travels, and I am loath to let the killer, whoever it is, know what I know lest they plan some way to misdirect me.”
“Hmph,” Aryden responded. “And then there’s the issue of my daughter,” he continued. Behind him, Gamven frowned.
“What issue with your daughter? I already told Gamven what happened.”
“And you can tell me, now,” he insisted.
“What is there to tell? As your servants saw, she entered the room while I was bathing, forgetting herself in her excitement to share with me a clue she’d found in Barro’s library but not remembered until just then and, once she told me, she realized the situation and immediately withdrew.”
“What was it that she found and had so urgently to tell you?”
“That, according to Savute, vengeful spirits sometimes rise when a person dies under Qaidhë’s moon.”
“Does that fit our situation?” Gamven asked.
“I have to do the math, determine when Qaidhë’s moon was last in the sky, see if it fits our timeline.”
Aryden again. “If it does, what does that mean? I thought you said you needed the killer and the motive?”
“If Qaidhë’s moon is an influence, then there may be a ritual to undo that influence. If that’s the true cause, then the boy’s death might actually have been an accident, and there might be no killer at all.”
“An interesting prospect,” the lord said. “And a convenient one, I think.”
I rose from the bed. “If you don’t trust me, Aryden, perhaps I should leave. You come in here first with an accusation of my failure, then of my bedding your daughter, and then of playing some sort of trick on you—and to what purpose? If I were aware of such a simple solution from the first, why would I put myself in harm’s way in the Close? Or with the creature in the forest? Besides, I don’t think that that will be our answer. The spirit here feels…to empowered for some mere operation of the cosmos to be our cause. I’d not even have mentioned the possibility unless I’d checked the stars and found some basis for further investigation—which, as I said, I’ve not yet done.
If you won’t confide in me to do my job as I gave my word I would, how can I help you? When I do find what needs to be done, what happens if you don’t want to hear it? What happens if the person to blame is not someone you are willing to punish? What then?”
Lord amn Vaina was taken aback, either by the forwardness of my words or the revelation that I wore nothing under the bedsheets, though he would’ve known that already if he’d been observant. My underclothes had dried, thankfully, and I put them on as I waited for some response.”
“Dammit,” Aryden said resignedly. “I know you’re right. I don’t like it, but I’m man enough to admit it. I’m—I grow weary of this plague upon our house and my wife. It makes me suspicious. And stubborn.”
“I’m not here to judge you,” I told him. “I’m here to help you. Let me.”
He sighed. “Yes. Of course. But there is one more thing.”
“Lorent amn Esto?”
“I’ll avoid him,” I said. “You have my word.”
“You’ll be needed at the wedding ceremony this afternoon,” Aryden reminded.
“To keep watch again, yes.”
“So, you’ll spend the morning making the calculations about Vesonna’s theory?”
“I’ll need more information. Can you have Eldis let us know or find out when Qaidhë’s moon was last seen? I can do the rest from there.”
“The farmers will know; they keep an eye on such things. In the meantime?”
“In the meantime, I need to speak with the constable.” By now, I’d donned my clothes for the day and strapped on my belt. As I sat on the edge of the bed to pull my boots on, Aryden and his retainers turned for the door.
Before he left, though, the lord turned back. “Lord thaumaturge…” he began.
“Work quickly. Save my wife. Please,” I’d not heard such desperation in his voice before, though I’d seen it in is his actions, felt it in his words.
“I’m doing everything I can.”
For a moment, I thought that he’d return the statement with a threat or chastisement that what I was doing was not enough. But he only nodded before he passed through the door.