Steed's Tale - "A Conspiracy of Silence"
Journal of Prince "Major" Jonathan Steed of Amber:
Based on a Scenario by Jeremy Stock during Ambercon VIII, 1997.
A preliminary journal to "Age of Ragnarok" by Jeremy Stock and Brad Foreman.
Written by: R. Cal Westray, Jr. in 1997.
Steed's history was written in 1994.
"Extraordinary crimes against the people and the state,
need to be avenged by agents extraordinary..."
Mother: Flora of Amber
Grandmother: Dybele (deceased) Grandfather: Oberon (deceased)
Great-grandmother: Unicorn Great-grandfather: Dworkin
Personal History Time Line:
Time conversion: 4 Amber yr. = 10 Earth yr./4 Earth yr. = 1.5 Amber yr.
>Ages 0-10: (1922-1931) (2369-2372 d'L)
Born Jonathan Steed, on February 6, 1922.
Shadow Earth: in Berkshire, England.
>Ages 11-14: (1932-1935) (2373-2374 d'L)
Shadow Earth: Boarding school in Winchester, England.
Amber: Walked the Pattern at 12.
>Ages 15-18: (1936-1939) (2375- 2376 d'L)
Shadow Earth: Eton College, student.
>Ages 19-28: (1940-1949) (2377-2380 d'L)
Shadow Earth: British Royal Navy, title Major.
>Ages 29-32: (1950-1959) (2380-2384 d'L)
Amber Army, title Major.
>Ages 33-50: (1960-1977) (2385-2390 d'L)
Shadow Earth: Ministry of Intelligence, independent agent.
>Ages 51: (1978-1979) (2391 d'L)
Return to Amber after the Patternfall War ended.
>Ages 52: (1980-1981) (2392 d'L)
In Chaos for exchange program.
>Ages 53: (1982) (2393 d'L)
Present, as royal agent for the crown
Episode A0-1 - False Witness
In which Steed investigates a disappearance
... and finds a recipe for vanishing.
I am pouring through several massive tomes in Castle Amber's Library. I enjoy relaxing in the Library, being within the warmth of the walls of books. Lately, I have been spending a great deal of time in research. It has been all but relaxing. Something that has eluded me in recent weeks and I hope to find the answer here. This book has the most promise of those I have seen so far. "Treatise on Manipulation" by Dworkin Barimen. In Dworkin's own handwriting centuries ago, it supposedly explains in detail about techniques for finer control over Pattern usage.
Unfortunately, there are gaps throughout the book, crucial information is missing on every page. Also, words seem faded or incomplete; some pages are completely blank. The text and diagrams are done in different inks. It looks like an incomplete and jumbled manuscript, with possibly faded or disappearing inks. Something about the style seems familiar but eludes me at the moment. Given Dworkin's unstable past, it wouldn't surprise me if it is a treatise on 'family' manipulation more than it is about Pattern manipulation.
I decide to 'borrow' the book for awhile and leave it in my room, until I recall something that I saw like this before. I was in Paris after the war, and I saw similar designs and styles of structure in the Louvre. What was it?
I can't remember. It's no use, I will have to mull it over. I close the book and massage my temples. The effect the book has on my eyes is painful. A glass of wine will dull the ache.
As I get up to leave, I see King Random approaching. He is wearing his casual wardrobe of orange and brown. With several guards in attendance, he seems to be making a personal visit. Probably just to get out of the confines of his office. "Steed. Good day, nephew. I was told that you would be here."
"Good day, my liege. You look well, Random. I am honored that you came to see me, instead of sending a guard for me."
"Thanks. I was feeling claustrophobic and decided to get out for a few minutes. Is that one of Dworkin's tomes?" He points to the book.
"Yes, I thought that I would try to make heads or tails out of it. It seems to have faded with age. In its current condition, it seems to read like utter nonsense."
"It has been that way, longer than I can remember. I gave up trying to understand any of his books. If it had anything important to say, it was lost ages ago. Walk with me, Steed."
I leave the book and follow. "Certainly, my lord." I follow him out of the Library, to the stairs, down the hall, and to the Great Hall. Our footsteps echo down the hall as we enter the Great Hall.
Random and I walk to the wine table. He picks up a bottle of Chardonnay and pours us drinks. I wait patiently for him to speak. We find comfortable chairs and relax. He motions for the guards to leave. The hall is relatively quiet, it will be hours till dinner. He hands me a glass.
"Steed, you're needed."
"How may I serve?" I sip and listen attentively.
"Frankly Steed, I am embarrassed. One of my palace guards are missing. I can't send 'any' of my palace guards to investigate. All inquiries have turned up nothing, no one will talk about it. It appears as though he just vanished. His name is Lieutenant Charles Redbridge. I have considered asking Fi for assistance, but it would be bad form to mentally scan everyone. It is also bad for morale, if they think they can't be trusted. So, I would like to initiate a standard investigation, and you came to the top of the list."
"Thank you for your vote of confidence, I will do my best. Was he on duty at the time?"
"No, it was between shifts and he just failed to show up for duty."
"Does he live in town or in the castle barracks?"
"He lives in the castle barracks."
"I will start with the barracks. Someone may know when and where he was last seen. Also, his belongings may provide some insights. I may be able to use the Pattern to help track down his whereabouts. I will report any findings."
"Here is a key that will unlock most secured areas upstairs. Good luck, Steed." He raises his glass, takes a final drink, and gets up to leave. Soon, his guards are back in tow and he is gone.
I head upstairs back to the Library on the third floor and pick up the book. I walk around the corner to my room. Once in my room, I place it down on my roll top desk and close the cabinet. I pin my ever fresh white carnation on my lapel and gather my tools of the trade. I tap my bowler in place and hook my brolly on my arm. Now to head upstairs to the barracks on the fourth floor.
Investigations like this are common, but not to investigate a Royal guard of Castle Amber. A disappearance of this nature can be narrowed down to a few likely possibilities: desertion, suicide, abduction, murder, amnesia, or incapacitation. The clues I find, should narrow down the possibilities. If foul play is involved, someone must be brought to justice. If not, he must be found and returned.
I approach the guard on duty who maintains the shift rotation schedule. Raymond recognizes me and is obviously nervous, but cooperative. He takes the time to explain the log entries and corrections. There have been many corrections made in the log; apparently to adjust the schedule for the missing guard. He doesn't offer anything about the personality of Redbridge, sticking to a professional assessment.
This boiled down to what 'seemed' to be a fairly reliable assessment. He reported for duty regularly, he was rarely late, and he was an average guard. This is an interesting observation. Castle guards are the elite, the crème de la crème. Anyone who falls below strict standards, gets shipped out to less luxurious duties. Average is not a favorable review, possibly Raymond wasn't consciously aware of the slip.
I jot down a few notes from the schedule log. I note who was on duty from the time of his last two shifts to the present. This includes the names of all the guards on duty in the castle. I note which guards were on duty with him. I have quite a list of names to check. Starting with, of course, Raymond.
He tells me that the last people to see him were those he played poker with, between shifts. It is a favorite past time of the palace guards. He gives me the names of those he knew were in the game, others he wasn't certain. He is not aware of where Charles went after the game. It is a start. I ask Raymond where Redbridge's quarters are and where the personnel files are. He gives me directions to the barracks and escorts me to the file room; locked of course.
He tells me that I need proper authorization. I smile and show him my key to get in. "I'll lock up when I am done, Raymond. Thanks."
"Yes, my lord." He bows and leaves.
I use my master key to enter the file room and secure the door, I don't want any eavesdroppers. I note items of interest from his file, including his wife's name and address. She lives in the suburban area of Amber. Letters from his superiors note that he has a history of heavy drinking. He has missed or been late for guard duty several times, from being out drinking. However, he has never been missing for more than a day. He has even faced disciplinary action, but not expulsion from the guard. I jot down some other items that may fill in some gaps later. Why did Raymond not mention his drinking? Possibly, word of that would make the guards look bad. After all, image is everything. Well, almost everything.
Next, I want to examine his quarters. There may be some clues to his disappearance. I use the master key to unlock the door to his quarters. I concentrate for a few moments to bring the Pattern to mind. The image of the Pattern, a fiery blue elliptical oval design, provides enhanced sensitivities to a broad spectrum of energy sources. With this active, I look for something that may have been in his possession for quite awhile, to detect traces of his personal energy. It is like an echoing aura, which becomes more substantial, with more exposure. By eliminating other images, I get a good impression. It is as individual as fingerprints. I hope to use that energy as a way to track him or identify him. I establish enough of a signature from his clothing, bedding, and other items. Enough to compare personal energy for identification, but not enough to reliably track him down with Pattern.
I developed this method from something I learned from my mentor. When someone of the blood of Amber walks the Pattern, it inscribes itself in the Pattern initiate's genes. However, each person is imprinted differently by the Pattern. So, while viewing someone's Pattern imprinting through my Pattern ability, I can identify that person with absolute certainty. Of course, I had to know and remember that imprinting earlier. I have used this scanning before, and it even works at a distance. This comes in handy when you want to know who is on the other side of a door. It is best not to use this a lot, especially if you don't want others to know about it.
I used a variation of Pattern scanning to develop a scanning for personal energy. It does require a bit of time and concentration. It is also dependent upon a lot of personal items, with little interaction with others. The main drawback is duplication in Shadow. If I encountered a person's Shadow twin, the images may be indistinguishable. Also, if a shape shifter took on the complete form of another, the images may be indistinguishable. Therefore, it is not foolproof; just very reliable in most cases.
Continuing my search, I find no notes or letters that gives any clues or indications of suicide, desertion, or other reasons for his absence. The quarters are quite organized, a few things are missing that give the appearance that he left. There are no weapons in the room. In the closet, there are many hangars without clothing. There are no signs of a struggle, everything is fairly clean and organized. There are notes from his wife in a drawer. Since he is staying in the barracks, there may be problems in his marriage. I plan to visit her very soon, when I am done here; right after I visit the stables. I want to check to see if he was seen taking a horse.
So far, the clues point to a voluntary departure. Unless someone went to the trouble of making it look that way. However, something was overlooked. On the wall is a small portrait of a couple, who I would later learn is Charles and his wife, Claire. This is important. It is unlikely that he would have left it, unless he planned to return. If he planned to return, he would have faced charges of desertion. If someone wanted it to look like he left, it would have been taken as well. I take the portrait along, and I commit the faces to memory. If Charles is not found, the portrait will go to his wife with his other possessions.
I lock up and head for the game room. I want to repeat my search where he played cards. Rumor has apparently reached the game room that I was making rounds, because no one is playing cards. I bring up the Pattern and search for any Pattern, Logrus, Trumps, or magical energies. I find nothing that would explain a magical means of spiriting someone away. That leaves mundane measures. I find some comfort in that. That seems to eliminate family or Chaosian involvement. Chaosian involvement would have hinted at attack, aimed at our guards. Random might have known and alerted me, if he was aware that family politics are involved.
I did detect the same personal energy I found in his room, but it is combined with the auras of others; as would be expected in a common room. Scanning the game room and along the hall for magical energies, I find none that would explain a magical departure using Pattern, Logrus, Trumps, or magical spells. This supports what I found in his room, still no magical involvement. I will interview others soon, but I first want to check something. Was he seen leaving Castle Amber?
Minutes later, I reach the stables. I show the portrait to the stable master and others. After questioning them, I learn that no one has seen him for days and no horses have been stolen. There have been many guards coming and going, but no more than on typical days. I ask young William to prepare Andrea. She will be ready when I am.
Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice. That means: he rode off with someone else who got the horses, he is still in the castle, he walked away, or he was spirited away. Nothing conclusive yet.
After interviewing a few guards, including his superior, I learned that he stays in the castle when he goes on a drinking binge. However, he was not found in any of his usual hiding places. The guards have already completed a thorough search of the castle, with no luck. It can be presumed that he is not in Castle Amber, departing with or without help.
It is time for a ride into town. Possibly his wife, Claire, may know something helpful.
William has Andrea ready and tethered. He is using a curry comb for a last touch up. I present Andrea with an apple I took from a table in the Great Hall on my way out. She munches it greedily and is anxious for a ride. We head down the road to the suburb of Amber.
The ride into town is uneventful. I have no trouble locating the house. I tether Andrea to the hitching post and walk to the door. I knock and a lady opens the door. I tip my bowler, introduce myself, and explain the purpose of my visit.
She invites me in and frantically begs me to find her husband. "Milord, I have no idea where he is, but I know that he would not run away. Please find him."
I ask her what might have happened to him.
"I know he had a drinking problem. He wasn't the soldier he once was. He has been having problems with another palace guard. He is an officer named Rock. Charles fought with Rock, but Charles wouldn't tell me why. Please find him, Lord Steed."
I reassure her that I intend to find him and I will return with news about him.
Andrea and I return to Castle Amber. After temporarily leaving Andrea with William, I head for the file room, to see what I can learn about this chap. The file is impressive; Lieutenant Joshua Rock is a model guard: impeccable record, always there when anyone is needed, commendations for bravery, and a natural leader of men. The kind of man specifically chosen for the palace guard. Time to talk to Rock about his fight with Charles. I also want to find out if anyone left the castle, after the card game. I learn from Raymond that Rock is in the game room. He describes Rock as tall, muscular, tanned, dark hair, square set jaw, and intense green eyes. He should be easy to find.
Rock is by a card table, he stands out like a proverbial sore thumb. I approach him and tip my bowler. "Good day, Lieutenant. Do you have a few minutes? I would like to ask you some questions."
"Certainly, Lord Steed." He has done his homework, but more likely he is familiar with all the royal family.
"Let's go some place private." I lead the way to an unoccupied game room. "This should do. Have a seat Lieutenant."
"Thank you, sir."
"I'm sure you have heard about the disappearance of Lieutenant Redbridge. What can you tell me about him?"
"To be frank, Charles is a sack of shit. He is the worst officer we have. He is never on time for duty, he is constantly drunk. He doesn't deserve to be in the Amber Army, let alone the palace guard."
"I see. I appreciate your candor. Do you know of anyone who wanted to remove him from the palace guard? By any means?"
"In all honesty, sir, all of us. He makes us look bad."
I try to look sympathetic, after all I do give the 'appearance' of an elitist. "That is understandable, we 'do' have standards to maintain. Have you seen Charles since he left the card game?"
"I was playing cards with Charles and others. He seemed tipsy, like normal. After he left, I stayed to play awhile longer."
"Did he give any indication of where he was going?"
"No, I just assumed that he left to continue drinking."
"Was there anyone he socialized with after hours?"
"He has some friends, Dane and Dwayne. But they are all right guys, excellent soldiers. It is just Charles who is a disgrace, I don't know why they put up with him."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. You were very helpful. It supports other facts I found out about Redbridge."
"Certainly, sir, anytime." He rises, stands at attention, does an about face, and leaves.
I check the scheduler desk to see where Dane and Dwayne can be found. They are on duty at a nearby post with a view of Forest Arden. I walk to the post. There is enough cover from scattered trees to approach unseen, moving around to their side. I have had some experience in stealth, let's see how alert these guards are. I work my way around them, I can hear them and they haven't seen me yet. I eavesdrop for a moment to see if I learn anything.
One guard says. "It's been three days and Charles hasn't returned. This is the longest he has been gone. We've had some good times together, but I think he blew it this time."
The second guard agrees and changes the subject, pointing to an area off to the west. He thought he saw something, they now have their backs to me. I move silently and step behind them.
"Good day, lads. A quiet day on the post?" I tip my bowler in a greeting.
They spin around, not expecting anyone. The second guard has his blade nearly clear of his scabbard before he recognizes me. "Oh, sorry sir. You gave us a start."
I tap my bowler back in place. "I was just keeping in practice, I couldn't resist since you were both distracted. You would have heard me long ago if there were leaves on the ground. I came to chat with you both. I'll help watch while I am here, I wouldn't want to impair your effectiveness."
"Thank you, sir. That is not necessary, it has been rather quiet today."
"I am checking into the disappearance of Lieutenant Redbridge. I know he has been gone for a few days. Do either of you have any idea where he might have gone?"
The first guard, Dane, volunteers. "I don't think we can help. Charles is his own man, he doesn't tell anyone where he goes. He left after the card game without a word. We were closest to him, but we weren't that close."
"Do you know of anyone who would have wanted him gone?"
Dwayne speaks up. "Have you heard about Lieutenant Rock?"
"I spoke to him earlier."
"They were almost enemies. Well, they didn't get along, I'll leave it at that."
"Any idea where he would have gone?"
"There is no one place he goes, we searched every place we could think of. We don't want him to get in trouble, sir. But, it looks like it is too late."
"Excluding Lieutenant Rock, did anyone else have any serious problem with Charles?"
"No, but there are two guys that hang out with Rock. But they don't give Charles any trouble when Rock is not there. Rock is the leader of their little group, he can get them to do anything."
"I would like to speak with them as well, what are their names?"
"Trevor and Guy."
"Are they in the Castle?"
"No, they are on leave. They have been gone for three or four days. I don't know when they left."
"Did they mention where they were going?"
Dwayne offered. "They said they were going hunting in Arden before going to Bayle's vineyards, to help with the harvest and sample the wines. They planned to stay there for the rest of their leave."
"Thanks gentlemen, you were both very helpful."
Dane salutes. "Our pleasure, sir. Please find Charles. I know he screwed up, but he isn't a bad soldier."
"I hope to. Good day, lads." I tip my bowler and return to the castle.
Back to visit Lieutenant Rock, he failed to mention about Trevor and Guy. I wonder why. It seems quite a coincidence that they left around the same time that Redbridge disappeared. I locate him in the game room, playing chess and doing quite well.
"A moment of your time, Lieutenant."
"Certainly, sir. Would you care for a game of chess while we talk?" The other guard excuses himself, giving up the game.
"I always enjoy a good game." We get set up. Rock gets first move, he plays an aggressive game. Advancing his front line and giving them adequate protection. I like to go around the sides, looking for openings and protecting the royal pair.
"Do you know where I might find Trevor and Guy? They are on leave and I may need to question them."
"Yes, they are staying at Bayle's estate for the harvest. As you may know, Lord Bayle is always looking for help with the harvest, Trevor and Guy help every year. They are good men, always willing to help others. Also, Lord Bayle is such a good man to work for."
"I can understand that. I've done a bit of work there myself. That's all I needed. Thank you, Lieutenant. I appreciate your cooperation. By the way, checkmate in three moves."
He looks at the board. "I'll be damned, you're right. You seem to focus upon the knight, sir."
"I like his nobility. The unfettered freelance of the board. I see that you seem to rely heavily upon your pawns."
He tips his king over, frowning at the observation. "Thank you for the game. Good day, sir." He gets up to leave. Did I strike a nerve?
I head for the Great Hall. It is getting to be mid-evening. It will be dark when I reach Bayle's. In the Great Hall, I locate a snack table. I help myself to some meats and cheeses. I also have a small brandy to wash it down, smooth and warm. I pocket an apple on the way out and head for the stables.
Andrea is still tethered and grazing. She hears me coming down the lane and begins pawing at the dirt and snorting. I feed her the apple. "Ready for another ride, my dear? Good, we're going to Bayle's. Perhaps he can spare a few grapes for you, not too many of course." She whinnies and moves into position. I undo the tether, lead her to the clearing, climb into the saddle, and nudge her sides to go. She starts off on a walk and picks up the pace into a full trot.
Just before dark, we reach Bayle's estate. The vineyard is bursting with activity. Dozens of people are picking grapes, loading crates onto wagons, and driving the wagons to the presses. The grapes will be unloaded, cleaned, inspected, graded, sorted, and pressed.
I have participated in the entire process from planting grapes to pouring wine. It is a labor of love.
I ask around for Lord Bayle and find him at the presses. After a warm greeting, he invites me to sample the grapes. I believe that these grapes will yield an incredible wine, possibly better than last years crop. I ask him about the guards who came to help with the harvest.
"They have been excellent skilled help. Eager and reliable. Although they do enjoy their fair share of wine."
"Understandable, you produce the best in Amber. I need to speak with them, do you know where I can find them? I won't take up too much of their time."
"They are in the east field, picking."
"Thanks, old friend. Congratulation with the harvest."
I walk to the east field and locate the guards. "Good day gentlemen, I am Steed. I would like to ask you some questions. You may not be aware of it, but Lieutenant Redbridge is missing. Do you know anything that may help in locating him?"
"My name's Trevor. Guy and I were in the card game with Charles and the guys, playing poker. Charles left and we continued playing." He seems a little nervous. Guy is fidgeting. Their body language speaks volumes, no one else has been edgy about the disappearance.
Interesting, I believe I am heading in the right direction. One of the advantages of being one of the blood of Amber is the use of mental contact, primarily via the Trumps. I hate using direct mental contact in investigations. For one thing, it is invasive and the person is aware of the contact. Cooperation tends to end there and it becomes a matter of will. There is no contest and it is not pleasant to have information ripped from your mind.
However, I developed a little trick years ago. I bring up the Pattern as they are talking. I focus my vision inward to monitor my vital signs. I have used this before to check for internal damage or for invasive organisms, it saves time for diagnosis. I now extend my awareness to include Trevor and Guy, monitoring their vital signs. This has also come in handy to diagnose physiological problems of others. It also uses my vital signs as a base line and provides a means for comparison of others. This little trick utilizes the Pattern, so I can become a living lie detector. Not mentally invasive, just monitoring physiological changes.
I get the impression from their answers that they are hiding something. It may not be something they had to do directly with the disappearance, but they 'do' know something about it.
"I heard you both went hunting in Arden before coming here."
"We never made it to Arden, we came here directly to help and have a good time." Nothing, so far.
"Did you come straight here, or did you stop along the way?"
"We came straight here." Still no variation.
"Do you know where Charles went?"
"No." Major reaction, getting closer.
"Look gentlemen, I'll be up front with you both. I was sent by King Random to locate Lieutenant Redbridge. You know where he is. It is quite likely that he came to harm. I am guessing that neither of you harmed Redbridge, but you both would be implicated. If you come clean, I am sure King Random will be quite lenient. If you do not cooperate, it is likely you will be charged with complicity and withholding evidence from the crown. This is something that will be looked upon rather badly. Amber cannot have soldiers who are not completely loyal to the crown. I am also certain that you are both excellent soldiers who 'know' your duty to the crown. So, gentlemen, what is the story?"
They become agitated. Trevor looks at Guy and Guy nods in agreement. Trevor tells me the story as I continue to monitor their responses.
"Rock was tired of waiting for the upper echelon to remove Charles from his position in the palace guard. So, he came up with a way to eliminate Charles. We don't know what he did or how he did it, but Rock ordered us to bring Charles' body here for burial." He motions for me to follow. We leave the vineyard, walk through a wooded area, and into a clearing. There is a freshly dug area, partially covered with loose grasses. "Charles is in there. We didn't know what to do. Rock threatened to implicate us if we didn't help. He also threatened to ship us off to a remote outpost to be forgotten. He told us that he would be believed over us and he had us over a barrel. We were supposed to bury him and stay here for the duration of our leave. He seemed to think we would be in the clear by then."
They drop their heads and are near to tears. "We are willing to accept any punishment, but we don't want to lose our post in the palace guard. Can you plead our case?"
"When I file my report with King Random, I will note your complete cooperation. That will go a long way in his determination. Besides, exemplary guards are hard to find. Your liege is a fair man."
"Thank you, sir. We appreciate that. We haven't slept well since this began. Charles didn't deserve this."
"You lads can return to the harvest. Expect to be contacted later to provide a written report. I will finish up here. Thanks for your assistance. For the duration of your leave, please stay in the vineyard or in your rooms. I may need to see you again, it will look better if I don't have to search for you. Have faith."
"Yes sir." They both snap to attention, turn, and walk back to the vineyard.
They are sincere. I stopped monitoring them and shifted my attention to the grave. I push my awareness into the soil searching for the body. I locate the remains of a body. There is some deterioration, but most of the internal organs have hardened, almost petrifying. This is not a natural occurrence. What could cause such a condition? I then compare the personal energies of the body to the energies of Redbridge's possessions. There is a match, but there seems to be a fading of those energies. This is curious. Alive or dead, the personal energies would remain with the body; after all, the energies of a live body would have saturated the corpse much more than his possessions.
I withdraw a silver case from my inside jacket pocket. I open it and sort through my deck of Trumps. I stop when I see the image of King Random, my uncle. I push my thoughts into the image, to make contact, it becomes cool to the touch. Nothing, something, something, there.
:Who is it?:
:Steed here, uncle. I have discovered the fate of Lieutenant Redbridge.:
:Bring me through.:
I reach through the rainbow shimmer and clasp hands. I draw him through and he stands before me.
"We are on the edge of Bayle's estate. The vineyard is beyond those trees. This grave contains the remains of Redbridge. One of the officers in the palace guard had some serious personal problems with the Lieutenant's life style. When their superiors took no action to remove Redbridge, he took his own actions."
"I see, continue."
"He used his authority and spotless record to bully two other guards to dispose of the body. He threatened to ship them off to a remote outpost to be forgotten. He also threatened to implicate them, and be believed over them. They felt they had no choice but comply."
"This is intolerable. Go on."
"I have verified their story and their sincerity. They brought me to the graveside and were willing to face any punishment you decreed, they only desire to remain in the palace guard to serve the crown. I believe they want to prove themselves to be worthy of the guard. They could have refused to cooperate, protecting the officer. We would not have found the body and there would be no evidence to implicate any of them. It would have taken a mental probe to gather the information. They wish to throw themselves at your mercy, and accept your judgment."
"They sound like very wise young men, however foolishly they may have acted."
"I have not confronted the officer yet. So far, I have: motive, desire, and opportunity. I lack a confession or the means he used to kill Redbridge. I want to show you the body." I extend my Pattern awareness like before and Random touches my shoulder to see what I see through the Pattern.
"How odd, that shouldn't happen."
"The petrifaction? I agree."
"Also, there are some chemicals that are foreign to the human body. Whatever it is, has permeated his body. I will have the medical staff do a chemical analysis during the autopsy. Don't worry about the body. I will send men over to dig him up. After the autopsy, we will give him a proper burial."
"Thank you, sir. Is there anything else?"
"Get a confession from the officer or enough evidence for a trial. I want a solid case. When you complete the investigation, see the court recorder to file a full report. Keep me informed. Good work, nephew."
"Thank you, sir." I tip my bowler, spin on my heel, and stroll back to the vineyard. I catch a glimpse of Random concentrating on a Trump. I pick a handful of grapes to take to Andrea.
I feed her one at a time, taking care not to give her any stems. I alternate, one for her and one for me. Soon, they are gone and we begin out ride back to the castle. On the way back I work out a plan to finesse a confession out of Lieutenant Rock, or gather enough evidence on him. It is a great waste for someone to have committed such a crime, jeopardizing a spotless career.
It is early evening when I reach the castle. I instruct the stable master to put Andrea in her stall and prepare Lucian for travel and have Lieutenant Rock's horse ready as well.
I search for the Lieutenant and find him relaxing in the Great Hall. I missed the evening dinner and the kitchen staff is cleaning up. A place is set for me at the head table, the elders have left and I am the only of my kin in the hall. I casually observe the Lieutenant as I eat. I worked up quite an appetite and thirst with all this running around today.
As I finish my meal, I top it off with a quality brandy. I rise and walk over to the Lieutenant. "Good evening, Lieutenant. Join me for a drink?"
"Of course, sir." He takes a glass of wine. "How's the search coming?"
"Fair. I went out to the vineyard. Your friends have skipped town, no trace of them. Some witnesses saw some men in the woods near the vineyard. After a search, we found a grave. It doesn't look good for Trevor and Guy. It looks like your friends murdered Redbridge, dumped the body, and ran. They are being hunted down, to be brought back dead or alive. The body is being exhumed now. Would you be interested in going to Bayle's to identify the body?"
"You could do that from the portrait you were carrying earlier. If you wish, I will come along. First, I need to have Raymond schedule a guard to cover for me until I get back. It will just take a few minutes, I will be right back." He leaves.
I finish my brandy and wait. If Trevor and Guy follow my instructions, Rock will not see them. Then he will think that he is off the hook. Shortly he returns and we head for the stable. He is surprised to see that his horse is tethered next to my Andelusian.
"I took the liberty to have your horse ready. It will save us some time." It is quite dark out, the moon is in the first quarter. My eyesight will be sufficient to see the way.
We ride out to the graveside and find a crew of men digging up the body. It was a shallow grave, so it didn't take them long. They have torches staked out around the graveside.
Random was there, observing, and possibly making sure everything goes well. He comes over. "Everything is under control, Steed. You don't have to be here."
"I just wanted to examine the body. Random, this is Lieutenant Rock, a fellow officer of Lieutenant Redbridge I mentioned earlier. I thought he could assist in identifying the body." By my inflection, it is clear to Random that Rock is the prime suspect.
We move closer to examine the body. I visually confirm what my Pattern sight told me earlier. It most definitely is, the 'late' Lieutenant Charles Redbridge. There is extensive petrifaction. Through my Pattern sight, I examine the internal organs. Some of the internal organs have begun to liquefy, didn't notice that before. His skin looks rippled, hanging loose on the hardening body. He must have felt some discomfort, his face looked quite pained and his hands are clenched tightly.
Random turns to Rock. "I understand you had some problems with Redbridge. I would appreciate it if you would help us out with anything you know about this. If you don't cooperate fully, it could look bad for you." I've seen Random give that look before. It all ready looks bad for Rock.
Rock looks nervous and agitated. He looks up at Random. "That 'is' Charles. You have your identification. Can I go now?"
"Yes. You are dismissed, Lieutenant." There is menace in Random's voice.
Rock mounts his horse and leaves. He is not heading for the castle or to Bayle's. He is heading for the town of Amber, specifically the lower harbor area.
"He is up to something, Steed."
"Understood." I mount Lucian and we follow his trail. I keep him in sight. He doesn't look back. He is riding like a man possessed.
I prompt Lucian to pour on some speed and he bounds forward.
Rock stops his horse and tethers it next to a small bungalow in the north harbor district. It is quite dark, but there is candlelight from the windows of the group of bungalows. He charges into the bungalow without knocking.
As I approach the hut, I see a sign on the front, 'Enchantments, Magics, and Potions of your Desire'. I ride around the hut to the rear and dismount. I loosen the reins and let them fall, so Lucian will stay near. I run to the side window. It is broken and there is a torn blind on the inside. I hear a conversation, the voice of a woman is trying to calm Rock down, there is shouting, glass breaking, and sounds of a struggle.
I move the blind out of the way to see Rock strangling the woman. I move the blind away and fling my bowler at Rock's head. He hears movement from the window as the bowler makes contact with his temple. The drops like a puppet with the strings cut. I dash around to the front door and charge in.
The woman is on the floor. A quick check reveals that I am too late. She is quite dead. I put handcuffs on Rock and check him as well. He will recover to face charges. I retrieve my bowler.
I light a few more candles to illuminate the room better. I check Rock's pockets and find a note with a recipe written on it. Not a recipe for food, but a recipe for disaster. I search the room and find a shelf with rows of chemicals and a book. The recipe has chemicals that are on the shelf. The book is full of recipes for various potions and poisons. I locate the recipe that the note was written from. This must be the chemical that Random noticed in the body. The notation in the books refers to this formula as a potion of poison, petrifaction, and dissolving. First it kills, quite painfully. Next, it causes the body to calcify. Finally, it causes a chemical reaction, causing the internal organs to liquefy. The chemical process spreads throughout the body. Within a week, the body is completely disintegrated.
A very effective and ghastly method of killing someone and removing all traces, Rock never expected anyone to find the body, until it was too last to find anything. Rock would have soon been in the clear; even if the men turned him in, there would have been no body.
Since we found the body within four days, the body was only partially dissolved. That explains why the skin was loose on the body, the tissues underneath was dissolving.
I don't feel sorry for the woman who provided this recipe for murder to the Lieutenant.
I retrieve the saddlebag from Lucian. In the saddlebag, I place the book; using the note as a bookmark on the proper page. I carefully take the chemicals listed in the recipe, wrapping them carefully, and placing them in the bag.
I withdraw Random's Trump and concentrate upon it.
:Steed here. I have Rock. I don't have a confession yet, but it won't be necessary. I was unable to prevent him from killing a woman from the lower harbor region, who specializes in potions and poisons. There are a group of bungalows on the north end of the harbor. Rock is handcuffed and unconscious. In his pocket was a note with a recipe for a noxious brew, the chemical you detected in Redbridge. I put the note in a book I found. In the saddlebags I put the book and the chemicals used to make the potion.: I pass it through to Random. :Make sure no one touches the body, unless they are wearing industrial quality acid resistant gloves. I don't know how unstable this chemical is. This potion kills, petrifies, and liquefies. It will dissolve the body within a week, without a trace. Our good Lieutenant has committed two murders.:
:Excellent, Steed. I will send some men over to clean up. Bring him in. We will take care of the evidence. Oh nephew, thanks for the report on the chemical, this will make it safer for others to handle the body.:
:I will wait for the men to arrive then I will file the report in the castle. Tomorrow morning, I have to ride to the suburbs.:
:Oh yes, Mrs. Redbridge. That is the job I hate the most. It's hard enough to lose men, but it's worse trying to explain it to the spouse. I will have a letter ready for you to take to her, with the usual condolences. Damn! At least, she will be receiving a stipend from the crown, probably more than she got from Charles. I will talk to you later, Steed. Thanks.:
:Good night, Random.: We break contact.
Shortly, some guards arrive to do the clean up. I briefly explain the incident. They gather the bodies and put them into a wagon. They take notes, do a search, then put various items in the wagon as possible evidence. They secure Rock with ropes and I remove my handcuffs. I tie his horse to the wagon.
On the ride back to the castle, he regains consciousness. He tries to pull free and stops struggling. He sees the woman's body and nearly screams. He goes limp, realizing it is over. "What happened?"
I ride along side and hit a metal support rod with my bowler. It responds with a loud clang. "'That' is what happened."
His jaw dropped.
"I suggest you don't say anything until you have been appointed court counsel. It would have gone easier for you if you didn't kill that woman, in front of a witness. Tsk tsk. I can understand your impatience with the status quo, but Redbridge would have eventually been sacked or deserted. Just suppose that the upper echelon wanted to find out who were the loyal soldiers, those who trusted their judgment. Next, suppose that they never expected a soldier to take serious action, let alone murder another soldier."
"I expect that you think you were doing the palace guard a favor, out of loyalty. I can understand loyalty. Loyalty, among other virtues, was something they impressed upon me in Eton. Under other rulers, your actions may have been expected or rewarded. Under the current ruler, these actions are deplorable and punishable."
The rest of the ride was in silence. He has a lot to think about, he may decide to plea bargain. Charles' death is a military court martial offense. The murder of the woman is a criminal and civil offense. The courts will be fighting over him, possibly for a long time. It will be a moot point. There is enough evidence that Random can do whatever he wants to do to him.
When we reach the castle, we turn Rock over to the guards on duty. They secure him with shackles and take him to his cell. A palace recorder follows him to take his statement, in case he wishes to make a statement; i.e. a confession.
Another palace recorder has been ready for my return. A familiar very attractive young lady, with shoulder length blonde hair and penetrating green eyes.
"It has been weeks, Laura."
"Are you ready, milord?"
I smile broadly. "Certainly, my dear." I stop and snap my fingers. "I almost forgot! I haven't had tea yet. I'll be right back." I turn to head for the Great Hall.
I spin to face her. "Yes?"
"There is tea, coffee, and a splendid Claret waiting in your room. That 'is' where we are going to record your report, aren't we?" She smiles shyly.
"Capital idea, my dear. Then, we better get started." We head down the hall, up the stairs, and around the library balcony.
In my room, I pour two cups of tea. "Let's see. You take two sugars, don't you?" I stir them anti-clockwise.
"You have a good memory, milord."
"Only for important details." This may take awhile. We both find a comfortable chair. She gets a pad and pencil out. "Where to begin?"
I lost track of time when I finished the report. We both had a Claret and decided that the report can be filed in the morning. We talked awhile until there was nothing further to discuss.
When I woke, Laura was gone. Sweet girl, boundless energy.
Looking outside, it appears to be late morning. Time to get up and prepare for another long day. After my morning ritual, I am ready to go to the Great Hall. A sealed letter was slid under the door, addressed to Mrs. Redbridge. I prepare a large pouch of personal effects that belonged to the Lieutenant. I put the letter in the pouch next to the portrait.
I reach the hall. I take a seat and have a light breakfast. Coffee, orange juice, English muffins with cream cheese, and some fruit. I pocket another apple and have another cup of coffee.
Random comes in and sits down. I pour him a cup. "Should I taste it first?" I smile at my little jest, since his taster is not present..
"You've had two cups, I'm not worried." He grins. "Thanks, John. I read your report, good job. The two guards, Trevor and Guy cut their leave short. They reported in this morning to provide their statements. They look like hell. The poor lads have put themselves through hell over this. I think that anything I do to them will only make them feel better."
He chuckles and continues. "You should have seen Rock's face when he heard of their return. I decided to be the one to tell him. Sometimes I enjoy being a prick, especially after I lose a lot of sleep."
I fail to suppress a smile. "It's good to be King!"
"Don't you believe it."
"I don't. Better thee, than me. By the way, I am heading out soon." I motion to the pouch. "And thanks for assigning Laura as my recorder."
"I didn't. She volunteered!"
I nearly dropped my cup.
"Is there something I should know?" He grins evilly.
I raise my eyebrow and smile. "She is completely dedicated to her work."
He slaps me on the back and laughs. "Steed, you are a liar, a scoundrel, and a fraud. You're positively roué and totally incorrigible."
"Thank you, sir. I always considered them as positive qualities, to go with my genuinely optimistic nature."
"It shows. Well, nephew, I expect to see you at dinner tonight. I just wanted to let you know what happened this morning, before you left. Adios."
"Ciao." I finish my cup and head for the stable. Lucian is ready for the ride into town. I place my two parcels in the saddlebags, feed Lucian an apple, and head for town.
I reach the suburbs and find the house of Mrs. Redbridge. I tether Lucian and walk up the lane, a dog is barking from the back of the house. Odd, there wasn't one yesterday. I take out one of the parcels. I see someone peering through a blind and someone opens the door before I knock.
"Good day, milord. Come in."
"Hello Mrs. Redbridge. Thank you." When I come in, I notice that there is another person in the house.
"Lord Steed, this is my brother, Richard Snowden. He came to visit and keep me company for awhile."
"Hello, Mr. Snowden. I promised your sister that I would return when I found out what happened to Lieutenant Redbridge. Maybe, you should both sit down."
She put her hand to her mouth and trembles. Richard helps her to a chair. "He's dead, Richard."
"I'm sorry. I don't know how much you know about his work at the castle. A fellow officer and your husband had a few disagreements. The details are unimportant, but he conspired to murder Charles. This officer forced two soldiers to bury the body. When I located the soldiers they directed me to the body. They were remorseful that they couldn't do anything to stop him, but they helped me identify and capture the killer. Without their help, Charles' body would never have been found."
Richard leans forward, putting his head in his hands. "Damn."
Mrs. Redbridge leans forward and sobs.
"The killer is in custody. He was captured after he killed a woman in the harbor area last night. The woman provided him the means to kill Charles, she paid for that with her life. Charles' killer will pay for his crimes." I hand her the parcel. "These are your husband's personal effects. There is also a letter from the crown. He shares your sorrow. You are welcome to visit the castle if you have any questions and want to help with the decisions on the funeral. Someone will be in touch later."
"Thank you, milord. I, we, appreciate that you came to tell us." She looks at the items in the parcel. She runs her hand over the portrait. She ignores the rest except the letter. She opens the letter and reads it. Her brother comes over, puts his hand on her shoulder, and reads the letter with her. "Oh, my." She trembles and smiles through her tears.
Richard gasps. "I don't believe it."
"Is there anything wrong?"
"No, the crown has taken care of everything. We will be O.K., thanks."
"I will leave then, fare well." I turn to leave.
"Sir?" Richard calls out.
"Yes?" I turn.
"Thank you for everything." He reaches out his hand.
I shake his hand. "You're welcome. I hope everything works out well."
"I think it will, milord."
I depart and direct Lucian to head for Forest Arden. It is time for a side trip home.
On the outskirts of Arden, I reach the area where I can begin to shape Shadow. I bring up the Pattern and force my will on the environment. I begin by changing the ground vegetation to a deeper green with narrow grasses. Next, more clover and buttercup. Then, shift the path to a gravel lane that leads to a paved road. Finally, alter the flora and fauna to that of St. James Park, near the lake. With this final shift, I appear near the lake by Queen Anne's Gate. I have reached London in Shadow Earth. To be more precise, Westminster.
I find a stable nearby who can board Lucian for a short period, just a few hours. I retrieve my parcel and locate a cabby. I instruct him to take me to a photography supply shop. After a few purchases there, I have him take me to a novelty store. I find what I am looking for and I instruct him to take me to my Westminster Mews apartment. Once there, I get his number so I can call him for a ride back to the stables. I give him an extra fifty pounds to forget seeing me, I don't want to be disturbed. Some old 'friends' may realize I am back home and call on me. I don't want to remind them that I am retired.
I reach my flat and find it clean, but undisturbed. The agent maintaining my estate, keeps everything in order while I am gone. Shortly, I have everything set up. On my working desk I have a black light mounted to the back of the desk. From the parcel, I bring out Dworkin's tome. I plug in the black light and a row of lights with different colored bulbs. Next to the book, I have several transparency sheets of different colors. This should do it.
I open the tome to the first page with missing information. I begin a battery of experiments. I begin by bringing up the Pattern, darkening the room, and step by step trying different lights and filters. Soon, I find the that combination works. It becomes apparent that a strange formula of invisible ink was used. It is visible under an amber color filter and black light, showing up as brown ink. Some images are seen only after viewing it through Pattern awareness.
That is the good news. The bad news is that it was a waste of time. There is no important information to be found, it was designed as a pointless exercise. It was another of Dworkin's little mental diversions, originally for Oberon, then later for his offspring who were looking for power. There are no secrets to be found in the book. There may be no secrets to be found in any of the books. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I put my toys away and call for the cabby. Soon, he picks me up and takes me to my attorney to pick up any mail and sign any important papers. I put my mail in the pouch, nothing important. Then the cabby takes me back to the stables. After I pay for the boarding, Lucian and I head back to the lake. I have a quicker method of returning home. I pull out a Trump of Amber, an outpost that a Trump artist once thought a safe place outside of the castle. Once there is no sign of observers, I concentrate on the Trump and the rainbow portal opens. Lucian and I ride through.
We come out by the outpost at the front gate. The guards startle when they see me, but stand down when they recognize me. They have become accustomed to Trump Gates. I ride through the front gate and head for the stables. After leaving Lucian at the stables, I head for the castle and go directly to the library. I put the tome where I found it with a little note.
'To whom it may concern. If you are curious about this book, you may find the answers using amber colored transparent sheets and ultraviolet lighting. I have enclosed a sample sheet. To get the full effect, view through Pattern awareness. Good luck. - J. Steed esq.'
I know that this is not the type of conclusion I expected, but I didn't expect much. I remembered what I saw in Paris. It was manuscripts done in invisible inks, under colored glass. Different colors displayed different printing. These inks were used extensively during the war, until the secret was uncovered. Good Dworkin, being a consummate Trump artist, has been experimenting with inks for centuries. If there were any secrets in the book, only Dworkin can tell them.
Maybe, one day I can find Dworkin's private library.
I leave the library and head for the Great Hall. Just minutes before the evening meal. Maybe there will be an evenings diversion tonight. Possibly Laura has the evening off...