Guard Duty: Part Five
Fyora had said nothing since her arrest, and Smith knew he would need more evidence before he questioned her directly.
Once the crowds had dispersed from the gardens, Smith returned to speak with the gardener, Vyline.
"I imagine you'll be on the front page of the Times for this one," Vyline chuckled.
"I'm glad you can be so happy, given that the Queen's in the dungeons," Smith pointed out.
"She'll be out eventually, I'm sure," Vyline said confidently. "We both know she wouldn't do such a thing... at least not in cold blood. Anyway, what can I help you with?"
"When I saw you here last night, you said you had seen Habbard passing through earlier," Smith explained. "Do you remember where he went?"
"Up to the east gallery," Vyline answered, pointing to the windows that looked down on the gardens. "I'd seen some lights heading along there soon after I arrived, and then when Habbard came past I saw them heading past in the opposite direction."
Smith nodded; Habbard's story checked out. He made a mental note to allow the Faerie Kougra back onto the investigation now that he was seemingly innocent.
Smith made his way back to the guest room that Ambassador Walters had been given. The east gallery connected the guest quarters with the more official parts of the castle. Most notably, it would be a direct route to the quarters from Fyora's own chambers.
Yet, Fyora couldn't have just walked down the corridor. Her footsteps would have been heard by the other guests, and in any case she would have run into Major Brenham as he left the Ambassador's room.
Smith gasped as he looked out of the Ambassador's window and realised what he was looking at. The scene of reconstruction that was presented to Smith was merely an illusion... in reality, the window looked out on the invisible Hidden Tower, and the east gallery contained a hidden entrance that few in the castle knew of.
Yet... something about this still didn't make sense. The light had returned from the east gallery before Ambassador Walters had screamed, and if Fyora had escaped from the window, why had it been neatly closed from the inside when Smith had arrived at the scene?
Smith knew that only two people held the answers. One was dead, and the other was sitting in the dungeons. It was time to speak to Fyora.
"Are you making progress, Captain?" Fyora asked pleasantly as Smith arrived.
The Draik took a stool and sat down next to the magically enchanted bars that now separated the two.
Sandra and Lieutenant Habbard stood in the corner, attempting to look as if they weren't listening in that very typical guard manner.
"I know you wouldn't do this, Majesty," Smith said. "But everything points to you. Why?"
Fyora smiled. "That is the question. There's more to this than meets the eye."
"But you won't tell me?" Smith asked.
"Given that I have been arrested on murder charges, withholding information will hardly make things worse," Fyora remarked.
"Here's what I think happened," Smith explained. "You retired to your chambers, and instructed Celandra to stay there to cover for you should anyone come calling. A job she didn't manage very well and I'm sure she'll admit to it under questioning if we have to go that far. Meanwhile, you made your way down the east gallery to the Hidden Tower's secret entrance, and to the window that looks directly into the Ambassador's room. It can't be a coincidence he was given that one, you must have arranged for it. You waited there, observing the argument between the Ambassador and the Major."
Fyora said nothing.
"When the Major left, you made your move," Smith added. "You left the Hidden Tower and flew across to the Ambassador's window. Next, I don't know how, you added black Peachpa to his normal daily powder of Turnip... something that would prove fatal when mixed with the Bagguss in his stomach. The Bagguss that you had added to the dessert everyone ate at dinner earlier that evening. Everyone had Bagguss in their stomachs, but only Walters would take the fatal additive. I imagine you told him it would help his daily routine, or something like that. You then left, flying back out the window to the Hidden Tower and making your way back along the east gallery to your chambers. Meanwhile, the Ambassador took his medicine, and the rest... well, the rest we know.
"What I don't know..." Smith finished, "is your motive. Why would you want to assassinate a foreign Ambassador? Fair enough, maybe you wanted to free Harkdale from its tyrannical regime... but why Walters? If anything, he seemed to be sympathetic to Meridell. Killing Major Brenham would have made a lot more sense."
"There's more at work here than you understand, Captain," Fyora answered. "I'm sure that one day, you will possess all the facts. For now, it seems, I must stay here. I am happy to play my part."
"You are happy to be here?"
"If I must be," Fyora answered. "I must do my duty, just like you."
"And what is your duty?"
"To protect the people of Neopia," Fyora answered.
Smith seized on this. "Then who are you protecting?"
"Now that is a good question, Captain," Fyora said with a smile that made it clear that the answer was not going to come from her.
Habbard had been quite happy to hear that he was no longer a suspect, and together with Lieutenant Jones and Captain Smith, the three officers returned to the guard room to discuss the situation.
Faerieland would keep itself running in the short term, as the kingdom was so focused on rebuilding that it could survive without a Queen while people busied themselves with their given tasks. But if the investigation continued for much longer, things would need to be done. A ruling council of Faeries would need to be gathered to control Faerieland in the interim, and if Fyora's arrest proceeded to a trial, a new Queen would need to be crowned.
Fyora had ruled the kingdom for so long that the process of naming a successor was something of an antiquity... but it would need to be researched, and fast.
The three were interrupted in their discussions by the door to the guard room bursting open.
Major Brenham slammed an official document on the desk.
"What's this?" Smith asked, picking up the paper.
"I have been in contact with the Harkdale government since the arrest of Queen Fyora," Brenham announced. "They have been appraised of the situation, and have sent this. It is an extradition request for the Queen. You are to turn her over to me, and I will escort her to Harkdale where she will be tried for her crime."
Smith stared at Brenham. "You are aware that extradition requests are normally made after people have been tried, yes? Queen Fyora has only been arrested on suspicion of the Ambassador's murder."
"Your investigation has been bungled," Brenham stated. "You have failed to assess evidence relating to the Meridell Ambassador. It is likely the Queen was in collusion with him."
"Likely to you, maybe," Smith replied, putting the paper down. "But here in Faerieland, we operate according to the law. Fyora cannot be extradited to anywhere, let alone Harkdale, until she has come to trial in Faerieland."
"The Military Council expected you would say this." Brenham smiled. "You have a personal relationship to Queen Fyora; as such any investigation conducted by you or your soldiers will be hopelessly biased. Unless you release Fyora to my custody immediately, Harkdale will consider this an act of aggression and will launch military action against Faerieland."
"You really think you can contend against Meridell and Faerieland?" Smith asked.
"I think you overestimate the might of your army since the fall of Faerieland," Brenham replied smugly. "Harkdale is already poised to push out into Cogham and occupy it. From there, it is only a brief journey until we would be able to siege Faerieland. Release Fyora to me, or we will take her by force."
Smith didn't doubt that was true. The ruling council of Harkdale were so horribly obsessed with war and xenophobia that they would happily lash out to conquer other lands if they had the most basic of excuses. He had little choice but to hand the Queen over.
But he couldn't allow that. He knew that if Fyora was handed over to Brenham, all chance of a fair investigation or trial was gone. She would be jailed as a Meridell conspirator before she knew what hit her. To have any chance of survival, Fyora had to stay in Faerieland.
But short of finding the real murderer right away, there was no way to keep her there.
Smith glanced towards his two officers as a sudden idea struck him. There was no way to find the real killer so quickly, but he could buy his officers time to locate them, and free Fyora from the Harkdale threat at the same time.
"Habbard," Smith instructed. "I'd like you to release Queen Fyora, cleared of all charges."
"What!?" Brenham shouted.
"I have to agree with the Major, sir," Habbard added. "What?"
"She didn't do it," Smith explained. "I am confessing to the murder of Ambassador Walters, and will sign to that effect. You are to arrest me in her place. Jones, please escort me to the dungeons."
"Then I demand you in her place!" Brenham said.
"You do not have the authority to do that, Major," Smith replied as Jones chained his arms. "The extradition request is for Queen Fyora, not me. If you want to make a similar request for me, you'll have to contact Harkdale again and get one. I'm sure Fyora will be happy to consider it."
As Smith was led out of the guard room by his two officers, he whispered to Habbard, "Solve the mystery – quick."
To be continued...