The Prophetess's Tale: Part Eight
Audley put on his most solemn face for the crowd. Really, only the king and his original group of advisers and noblemen should have been in the room to hear about the culprit, but Audley preferred larger audiences. He performed better with them. He liked them. He needed them all to see what he was about to say.
Off to his side stood Cheyenne, shyly averting looking into the crowd. "Confidence," he murmured to her, and she straightened her back, just as she'd seen him do. He would have patted her on the head, if they had not been in a room full of people. She was a good pupil, even if she was only working with him to prevent whatever horrible vision she'd seen.
"Your Majesty, ladies, and gentlemen," Audley started. The speculative crowd noises dissipated. Audley leaned over the makeshift podium toward them. "It is unfortunate that Prince Linus is still not in our company. King Tristan has sent a group to the desert to find him, and they have not reported back as of yet. I think that, however, with my information, it should be easy to locate the Prince and bring him home."
The crowd applauded politely.
"We may never know why the prince was kidnapped," Audley continued, "as no one has stepped forward to demand ransom for him. If only that were the case," he said, and he put all the sincerity he could muster into it. "We could have our beloved prince with us here, and the criminal apprehended. It is not a weak mind which takes on such a bold task. It is someone with a lot of pomp, arrogance, and a large sense of power. Not just a sense of power, either—someone with actual power."
Audley let the silence roll in. He noted that the king, sitting in front of the crowd, had his head in his hand in a mildly irritated, unprofessional matter. He just wanted Audley to spit it out. Audley would not let him have that satisfaction.
"I have gathered evidence over the past week or so—and, mind you, this is not much time at all, but the amount of effort I have put in is tremendous—and I have come upon enough evidence to point to one person in particular. I'm going to take you through each step of the way to reaching this conclusion, so you do not think I am being irrational in my accusation.
"The kidnapper had to have easy access to the prince. The prince was in his room at the time of the kidnapping, and the window was left open. Because of the guard's disappearance, we must assume that either the kidnapper entered through the window, took the prince, and then the guard interfered and the guard was taken too, or..." The audience leaned forward in their chairs, other than the king and a few in the back.
"The fact that the windows have locks, and are locked before the prince goes to bed each night, and the fact that the window was entirely untouched in terms of cracks and break-in evidence, leads to the conclusion that the kidnapper must have gone through the door of the bedroom. Another indication is that, even if the kidnapper had mysteriously come in through the window, there is no sign of a struggle, and the guard placed outside the door would not have entered the room without evidence of a struggle.
"So, our kidnapper came in through the door. This means he had to be someone who could go around the castle, even at night, without attracting improper notice. There are no odd reports from other guards on duty that night which relay a notice of a suspicious character. The kidnapper had to already be in the castle during the event, and because of the lack of struggle, he either had a quite menacing threat which the prince was bound to adhere to his will for, a bribe worthy of leaving the castle, or a very convincing argument. All three of these factors, regardless of which one was used, lead to the same conclusion: the kidnapper is a good speaker. He is good with people, and he is clever.
"This is, truly, nothing other detectives and inspectors have not discovered. My real information lies in the facts provided to us by the anonymous informant, before I had officially taken up the case. The informant provided us with two things: the prince's location in the desert, and the familiarity with the sea. Many of the inspectors have disregarded this information because of the lack of evidence—that is, to say, the prince has not been found in the desert. I bring before you a rare witness, found by the scouts in the desert mere hours ago, who has been painstakingly brought here with the help of a faerie Grarrl. Ladies, Kings, Gentlemen..."
Charlie walked into the room from the side door.
"...I present to you the guard on duty that fateful night."
The crowd gasped. One of the servants ran forward to hug Charlie. He was clearly distraught, dressed in rags and with sand matted in his fur. He shook some out as the servant hugged him.
Audley glanced sideways at Cheyenne; she tried so hard to hide the surprise on her face, but it wouldn't do. He wiggled his eyebrows at her. He had succeeded. She was impressed.
"Mr. Gloss, is it true you were found in the desert?" Audley asked.
"Of course he was found in the desert," the king belted over everyone. "Even Penko brought him back. We believe you, Audley. Go on."
"Do you care to explain what happened, Mr. Gloss?" Audley asked.
Charlie wrung out a ripped piece of cloth between his hands and his leg trembled as he nodded. "I'm sorry, everyone, it was just so traumatizing..." He took a deep breath. Sympathetically, Audley nodded to him. Charlie let out the breath with a sigh. "I was guarding the door when he came. He told me the prince had asked to speak with him. The prince does have odd requests sometimes, you know, so I opened the door to ask him, and then he just ran in there. I was terrified; I didn't—I didn't know what to do." A tear rolled down his face.
"There, there, Mr. Gloss, take it easy. One step at a time. What did you do?"
"I'm sorry, sir, I really just came in a few minutes ago. Really." He looked up and batted away the tears. "I chased him, of course. I yelled and I ran in, but the prince and him were talking. It was all soft-like, with the prince being all happy and him being all sweet. There was something about an adventure, a promised adventure, and we all know the prince can't say no to... to those..."
Some people in the crowd nodded, and the king had stiffened.
"Anyway, they climbed out the window together, and I had to follow. I kept following and following until they got to a ship, and then I hid on board. It was him and a few others. They found me, of course, and brought me up with the prince. I'm—I'm glad we each had someone. I don't know, it would have been so lonely. I kept him company and he told me adventure stories he loved. He never really saw it as a threat, but oh, it was awful.
"We eventually came to the desert, and then they kept us underground and wouldn't let us out. It was only then that the prince started to panic, and miss his father, and his nurses... That's... They moved him somewhere, only a day before the scouts came and found me. I'm grateful, and if you don't mind, Your Majesty, I will be resigning today."
A weak laugh emitted from a few members of the crowd. The king nodded his consent. "But who was 'he'?" the king asked.
"Well," Audley interrupted, "we've confirmed the desert part. As many of you know, this is the on-duty guard from that night. He knows who the culprit is, as do I. I can only hope they are the same person."
Audley scanned the crowd. A spotted Meerca and yellow Quiggle stood out to him as being especially grumpy. He flashed them a very, very quick grin which he hoped most other people would miss. It was worth the risk.
"We have our evidence: someone clever, with castle access. I happen to know someone who fits this criteria, who actually worked in the desert last year. He solved a case there, officially documented as the case of the glyphs. And, if you would believe it, he has a very extensive collection of bottled ships—familiarity with the sea, I would say. The kidnapper behind Prince Linus, and the one who knows his location, is someone who had just collected an award at the castle that very night for another solved case—bless his clever mind—around the time of the kidnapping. The kidnapper—if you would do the honors, Mr. Gloss—the kidnapper is..."
"...Detective Sherman Wentworth," Charlie finished.
To be continued...