Guard Duty: Part Six
Fyora seemed almost shocked as Smith was led into her cell and she was led out.
"This is silly, Captain," she said through the bars. "I know you didn't do it."
"I don't suppose being free might make you explain who you are protecting?" Smith asked.
"Not today, no," Fyora answered. "But thank you, Captain. I feel you may have averted a war."
Smith considered Brenham, who was busy trying to arrange a similar order for the Draik's extradition.
"Or maybe just delayed it," he commented.
Fyora smiled, "Perhaps. In any case, you've done well so far."
"We have to think," Habbard stressed. "What are we missing? There must be something."
"The third ingredient?" Jones the Pteri ventured.
Jhudora still hadn't reported back as to the identity of the third powder in the Ambassador's bowl. It clearly wasn't a typical grocery, and wouldn't have been delivered with the others the Queen had ordered. Similarly, it couldn't be an ingredient from the castle kitchens. But short of inventorying every single item that had come into the castle over the past month they had no way of discovering what it was. And that was only if they assumed it had come into the castle by recorded means, instead of being smuggled in without anyone's knowledge.
"But what would that do?" Habbard asked. "How would that tell us who the murderer was? It probably just made the poison more potent."
"The locket!" Jones gasped suddenly.
"The Captain said Ambassador Walters was wearing a locket when he was found!" Jones explained. "He said the Ambassador wasn't wearing it before he went into his room."
"It could just have been something he took out of his belongings, though," Habbard considered.
"After Major Brenham left, he would have been going to sleep," Jones said. "Who puts a locket on just to go to sleep? It must be important, somehow. And there was something odd about it, as well. The Captain said it had a picture of the Ambassador inside."
"Who keeps a picture of themselves in a locket?" Jones asked. "Loved ones, maybe, but Walters didn't seem that narcissistic from what I've heard of him."
"Where's the locket?" Habbard asked.
"It'll still be on the body in the morgue we set up in the dungeons," Jones explained.
Thankfully Habbard had remembered to take Captain Smith's keys after arresting him, and the two were able to gain access to the locked room at the foot of the stairs that led to the cells.
Both stopped dead when the door opened.
The morgue was empty. The stone table on which the body had been placed was bare.
"We're missing a body," Jones observed.
"How...?" Habbard questioned, running his hand across the table just to make sure that the Ambassador was actually gone.
A few minutes later, Captain Smith found both officers outside his cell.
"Sir, you know when you confessed to the murder?" Habbard asked. "Well, you were lying, weren't you?"
"I only ask, sir, because the Ambassador's body is missing from the morgue..." Habbard explained. "And until you were arrested, you had the only key to get in."
"You think I stole the body?" Smith asked.
"Well... it's been locked since the morning after the murder, sir," Jones said.
"The castle's been in lockdown since the murder, no one's been out to dispose of a body," Smith said, but then gasped. "Except Brenham!"
The Lutari had followed Smith out of the city to speak with Jhudora. He may have moved the body before catching up to him. For a moment, a spark lit in Smith's mind as he thought he was on to something.
"But he wouldn't have a key, sir," Habbard pointed out.
Smith deflated, thinking in silence as he considered possible alternatives.
Eventually, he lifted his head.
"We've been thinking about this the wrong way," Smith said as last. "We've been assuming there was a murder."
"Sir?" Habbard questioned. "There was a murder."
"No, just something made to look like one," Smith said, standing up. "I'd appreciate it if you release me, Habbard, as this isn't a murder investigation any more. It's a missing persons investigation. Ambassador Walters didn't die, he defected. Don't you see? There's only a lock on one side of a door. It could be unlocked from the inside!"
The cell was unlocked soon after, and at that moment Banks came hurtling down the stairs to the dungeon.
"Captain! Captain!" the Scorchio called. "Jhudora sent a message! The third ingredient! It's Zombieroot!"
Smith nodded. "I guess that was also on the list of groceries the Queen received?"
"The amulet, that was clearly some sort of magical charm to reanimate the body in conjunction with the Zombieroot. Haunted Woods magic; that's why Jhudora wasn't familiar with it," Smith concluded.
"What do we do now?" Habbard asked.
Smith deflated again slightly. He knew what had to come next, and it wasn't something he particularly wanted to do.
"Ambassador Walters was... is a Harkdale citizen," Smith announced. "We have to inform Major Brenham that he's still alive."
Major Brenham was busy in his quarters when Smith and his officers went to see him. He looked triumphantly towards Habbard, who entered first.
"The message has already been sent to Harkdale, if you're here to beg for mercy," he sneered. "Even the Meridell Ambassador has fled with his tail between his legs. He fears the might of the Harkdale army will soon arrive on Faerieland's doorstep, do doubt."
The Lutari's face fell as he saw Smith enter.
"What's going on? Why is he out of the cells?" he demanded.
"I went back on my confession," Smith explained.
A wicked smile spread across Brenham's face. "Then I may take Fyora with me?"
"Sadly no." Smith smiled. "We can't arrest Fyora for murder, as no murder has taken place. Ambassador Walters has left the castle grounds, and perhaps even Faerieland. We will of course begin a missing persons enquiry immediately, but I just thought you should be informed, as per policy."
"Left the grounds!?" Brenham shouted. "He's dead! I saw the body!"
"Was dead," Smith corrected him. "We believe that he came back to life, as a zombie."
Brenham stared at Smith as if he was joking for a few moments before his eyes went wide with horror.
"You have to find him!" he demanded. "It can't be a coincidence that the Meridell Ambassador is gone! They must be colluding!"
"As I said, we'll be looking for him," Smith told him. "But if he's leaving under his own steam, we can't stop him, no matter who he is with."
"But he is a traitor!" Brenham shouted.
"As you are so fond of saying," Smith smiled, "the Ambassador has diplomatic immunity."
The Ambassador wasn't located. The Meridell party had left the borders of Faerieland not long before the discovery in the morgue, and the guards quietly assumed that the two had left together.
That night, Fyora called Captain Smith and Major Brenham to her throne room.
"I have received word from Meridell," she announced. "Ambassador Walters has defected to their side."
"This is intolerable!" Brenham shouted. "This investigation has been hampered from the beginning! You aided Walters in his defection, I know it! Harkdale will hear of this, there will be retribution!"
"I think not, Major," Fyora said pleasantly. "You see, as part of his defection, the Ambassador has provided details of the Harkdale defensive abilities, and most notably weak spots in what Meridell believed to be an impenetrable fortress. Although it is not an end I would have liked to see, the Meridell forces are storming Harkdale as we speak. I understand the civilian populace is offering no resistance. The Military Council will not be in power for much longer, Major."
"I imagine Harkdale will be absorbed into Meridell," Fyora added. "And of course anyone who was a supporter of the old regime will not be looked upon kindly by the new. Should I receive an extradition request for you, Major, I would be happy to agree to it."
"You are threatening me?" Brenham asked.
"No, Major, I am doing you a favour," Fyora replied. "If you leave Faerieland now, you might just survive."
In the silence that followed, Brenham supplied a lasting look to both Fyora and Smith, before retreating and leaving the throne room.
"I still don't understand a couple of things," Smith said. "How did he get out of the castle? And why did he scream if he took the poison willingly?"
"He administered the poison after I left, though I helped prepare it, so I could not say," Fyora answered. "Though, I imagine it was a painful experience, so a scream would not surprise me. As for his escape, it seems the castle's rubbish chutes are very poorly patrolled."
"They won't be from now on." Smith nodded. "For what it's worth, ma'am, I understand why you didn't tell me about the plan in advance. You thought I would have objected, that I was too set on the letter of the law, on my duty. I don't blame you, and I'm sorry for getting in the way."
"Captain, that's not why you weren't told," Fyora replied. "We needed to keep the Major occupied so that he wouldn't suspect a defection. In order to do that, we needed a thorough and genuine investigation. It's not that we didn't tell you for fear of you doing your duty. We didn't tell you in the hopes that you would do your duty. I'm sorry that we couldn't tell you, but if we had, it simply wouldn't have worked. Today, you've averted a war and brought peace to an entire region. Not bad, as days go. You should be very proud, Captain."
Smith saluted. "Thank you, ma'am."
He left the throne room, returning to the guard room to tell the rest of the soldiers and resume his patrols.
To resume his duty.