Thraxas and the Ice Dragon / Траксас и леденият дракон: Единадесета глава

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Chapter Eleven


After placing my bets I head towards Baroness Demelzos's mansion, where I'm due to talk to her daughter Merlione. In Turai there were carriages for hire but the only carriages in Elath seem to belong to the Barons and their ilk. Commoners walk everywhere. The young servant who admits me is wearing a plain white tunic. I'd have expected Baron Mabados's servants to be wearing something fancier. Embroidered, at least. Maybe the Baron is too cheap to dress his servants well. Or maybe in Samsarina it's a sign of good taste to dress your servants plainly. I can't tell. I don't know the nuances of servants' apparel the way I did back in Turai. I don't know the nuances of any part of society here.


"The Baroness asked me to escort you to our western reception room. Merlione is waiting for you."


For what is effectively a holiday home, it's a large enough place. We walk along plain white corridors hung with pictures of the Baron's ancestors, and past the central shrine, where I catch a glimpse of a rather modest statue of St Quatinius. It's some time since I prayed. In Turai it was standard to pray three times a day. Religious rules in Samsarina are different. There's a period in the evening when everything stops for prayer, but no set time during the day. Probably the Barons don't want their farmers suffering too many interruptions as they work in their fields.


I've formed a picture of Demelzos's daughter as a shy girl, full of imaginary fears and worries. It turns out to be not particularly accurate. For one thing, she's a little older than I expected. Eighteen, perhaps. Old enough to have been married off in some favourable dynastic match. The fact that she hasn't been probably says something about the family, but I don't know what. She greets me in a confident enough manner. She's a reasonably attractive young woman - though I'm finding that harder to judge as I get older - dressed quite simply, with a plain blue robe over a long white dress that looks much the same as those worn by most woman in Elath. They're well-cut garments, but you wouldn't necessarily take her for a Baron's daughter. She isn't wearing any fancy jewellery, which would have been obligatory for a rich young woman in Turai. She does sport a discrete queenstone bracelet.


I take a seat and get down to business. "I understand you think someone is trying to kill you?"


"Someone is," she says. "And no, I'm not imagining it."


"Who thinks you're imagining it?"


"Everyone. But they're wrong. And Alceten's death wasn't an accident either, no matter what anyone says. She was murdered."


Merlione looks me in the eye, defying me not to believe her. She has very dark eyes. She looks a little like her mother did when she was younger. It gives me a faint memory of being a lot younger myself.


"Tell me what happened."


"Only if you're here to help find out who killed her. If you're here to try and persuade me it was an accident, I'd rather not."


"I take it you weren't impressed by the original investigation?"


Merlione laughs, quite bitterly. "Investigation? There was no investigation. Daringos, the King's Steward, asked a few questions and believed whatever was easiest for him to believe. The carriage that killed Alceten was owned by Baron Girimos so he wasn't going to cause any trouble there."


"Who's Baron Girimos?"


Merlione looks at me in a rather less friendly manner. "Shouldn't you know that?"


"I'm new in town."


"That wouldn't seem to qualify you to find out the truth."


"Indulge me. I have hidden talents. Who's Baron Girimos?"


"He owns land all over the west of the country. Very rich and important. He's one of the King's main allies, so no one was going to accuse him of anything."


"Do you think Baron Girimos was behind the death of your friend?"


"I don't know. I can't see why he would be. But someone deliberately drove that carriage into Alceten. They said it was just runaway horses but I saw someone driving them. He was lying on the seat, almost hidden from view by the footboard. He couldn't ride properly like that, but he still whipped the horses into action and they mowed down Alceten. The carriage raced off down the street. When it was recovered there was no sign of a driver."


"And no one else saw him?'


"No. But I did."


"This was in the evening? When it was dark?"


"Quite dark, yes."


"And raining?"


Merlione looks offended. "Yes, it was raining. But I know what I saw. There was someone in the carriage."


"Were there any other witnesses?"


"Only Zinlantol. She works at the Record House. She told the King's Steward that there was no one driving the carriage. But she came out the building after Alceten, she can't have seen it properly."


"Has anyone explained why the horses bolted?"


"Daringos told us they must have been startled by some dogs. There are dogs there, sometimes. But I didn't hear any of them barking."


I take this in. I have known horses to be startled into bolting by dogs. I've known people to be killed by runaway carriages too, in narrow city streets. I ask Merlione what she was doing outside the Royal Record House.


"Alceten asked me to meet her. Her father was the Royal Record Keeper."


"Did you often meet her there?"


"Not often," says Merlione. "But sometimes we'd meet before going to the Queen's Bathing House. That day she sent me a message, saying she wanted to see me."


"What about?'


"I don't know. The message just asked me to meet her in the evening."


"And you arrived just in time to see her killed. Do you have any idea at all what might be behind it? Had she any enemies?"


"Not as far as I know."


"Have you?"


Merlione shakes her head, though for the first time in our interview, she looks troubled. "I didn't think so. But I was very close to Alceten when she was run over. I think the carriage was hoping to run us both down. That's not all that's happened. Two days ago I was walking along King's Royal Way and a slate came off a roof and shattered right beside me."


"You think that wasn't an accident?'


"I"m sure it wasn't."


I'm not immediately convinced. A slate falling from a roof isn't that uncommon. King's Royal Way, despite the fancy name, is a fairly dilapidated row of buildings that leads from the Baron's houses into the centre of Elath. The road is in poor repair, and so are the houses.


Merlione sips water from a silver goblet. "Why did my mother hire you?" she asks, abruptly.


"To find things out."


"But you're a stranger in town. Why you?"


"I'm a professional investigator. You don't have any in Elath."


Merlione looks doubtful. "It seems odd to me. Did someone recommend you to her?"


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