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I have just got a pill stuck in the back of my throat. It will not shift. Ah! That's better - orange juice (with bits) has moved the darn thing.

I spent a bit of time yesterday - in between writing and reading - in looking for a house I would buy if I won the lottery. I found a couple of nice ones. Well, one can dream!! No harm in that, I say. :D

I am very grateful to [livejournal.com profile] ladysunrope for betaing this before she left for NZ. I can't wait to hear how she got on. Wibble. Such fun. At least it is less rainy here than it has been. Hope it lasts. One does require some sun in August in the UK.

I ordered RED shoes off the internet - a company that sells shoes for folks with tender feet. RED! Nice! If they fit, a pic will be forthcoming. ;D


So, without further ado

Mega thanks, as I said, to LSR, for beta.


Part 7


Dom and Lij were taking breakfast in the morning, grateful that the day was cooler, and talking quietly about what their children and grandchildren were doing at the river palace at Phatkept, when a man came up to the table, and bowed.

"Forgive me, sirs. I just want to discover if you are indeed the two men given the task of investigating Seth's murder. I will wait for you outside, if that is so, while you finish your meal. I have something to tell you."

He was a large man, well-muscled and broad. He looked longingly at the food on the table.

Lij smiled, and waved him to a seat. "Join us, please. Our friends have already left, and there is enough food, and to spare. You are welcome to help yourself."

The man sat down with a grin. "I am hungry, indeed, sirs, for I came here as soon as I had visited Sese's wife...widow...poor girl." He was not smiling now.

"I have been away, escorting a merchant to Memphis, and I knew nothing of my colleague's death. But I had news for him from a man in Memphis, who wished to hire him to carry some valuables to a ship here, and I went straight to his house, on my return, where I heard the sad news."

"You have something to tell us?" Dom prompted, interested to know what is was.

The man stuffed what seemed like half a quail into his mouth, so it was some moments before he could answer. He nodded, then when he was able to speak, said, "Sese's wife told me of the death, and said several people had been to visit her asking what it was that Sese had remembered that he was going to tell you. Well, I know what it was, if it'll be of help."

Another mouthful followed the first, and Lij pointedly poured him out a cup of pomegranate juice, which he drank, washing it all down.

"It was the night before he died. We were sitting in a wine-shop drinking beer, and talking. I was leaving the port in a short while, so he was telling me about Master Seth's death, and asking me to keep my eye out for any work that he might engage in. There was little to be had here. Every merchant has his guards, and both of us had come to the port in recent times."

"He told me that you were investigating the case - he paid for our drink out of the money you had given him, and he said that he had remembered something that might be important - or might not. He said he was going to tell you the next day. He was angry at the beating he had been given. He saw no point to it. As he was asleep, they could have searched his bag, and him none the wiser, he said."

Both Dom and Lij were itching for him to get to the point, but he was obviously one of those large, slow men. Nothing would be gained by pushing him.

More meat was consumed. Then, his immediate appetite satisfied, he swigged his drink down, and said, "he told me one of the men that attacked him said something in Greek. Only two words. He told me what they were, but I can't remember. He said they meant 'that's enough!' They were said to the two men beating him up. He'd worked for a rich Greek lady some time before, and he knew the language fairly well, he said. That's what it was, sirs. I don't know if it'll help you find the bastards that killed him - for a few slates falling on his head wouldn't have done it, I can tell you. He had a head like a stone block."

Lij had been thinking much the same thing, so he paid the man five silver debens, and he went off rejoicing.

"Well," Dom said, reviewing the wreckage of their meal. "What does that tell us."

Lij scratched his chin. He often did this, Dom noted, when he was thinking. "There are Greeks involved in this business, Dom, I have known it from the beginning. Well, nearly the beginning. I think we ought to have another word with Ptolemy."

"Of course!" Dom hissed. "Ptolemy of Macedon!"

"Exactly!" Lij rose from his seat. Just then the landlord's wife came towards them. She bowed. "Do you have any objection if I take his medicine to my husband? He has a weak stomach, and the stress will make it worse. As it is blended with wine, I thought I'd better ask you, first, sirs, as you had forbidden him strong drink. However, this is only a mouthful, three times a day, so I thought you might consent."

Lij was still thinking, so he nodded, absently, and gave his permission, and she walked quickly away. "Dom, let us first visit Aapet, and tell him what we have just discovered. It may be he will have news, and we can take Panshi with us, too, if he'll spare him."

Aapet was very interested in what the guard had told them. "Greek, eh? Well, there are a few Greeks living in the city, I know that. What do you make of it, sirs?" asked the epistates. Panshi stood beside his chief's chair, listening closely to all that was being said.

"What I find odd," Lij volunteered, "is that Tawaret has a sister called 'Merope' - which is as Greek a name as I have ever heard. Do you know why this should be so?"

Aapet shrugged his shoulders, and gave it some thought. "I do not. It may be, of course, that she is a half-sister, or was adopted. That is all I can think of."

"Yes," Lij responded. "I thought that, too. After we have visited Ptolemy..."

Hardly had he spoke the words the thunder of feet was heard on the outer stair, and an officer burst in. "Forgive me, sirs," he said, "but it is not our fault. Truly..."

"What is not your fault?" asked Aapet rising quickly. "Out with it, man!"

"Ptolemy, epistates. He is..."

They did not let him finish, but brushed past him down the stairs into the cells. Ptolemy's wife was crouched in a corner opposite the cell door. Ptolemy was lying inside the cell, gasping his last breath through blue-tinged lips. A leather wine flask lay upon the floor, some of its contents leaking out, and a smell of almonds pervaded the air. Both Dom and Lij recognised it immediately. Poison.

"Take her out, Panshi. Take her to the office, and give her some wine. Keep her there until we return," Lij ordered, and Panshi thought nothing amiss that this man had commanded him do it, and not his superior officer.

The guard who had informed them of the tragedy, and his watch partner stood uneasily before them, unsure if they would be punished for allowing such a thing to be administered.

Ptolemy's last breath rattled in his throat, and then there was silence. "Open the door, if you please," Dom ordered, and the guard did so, allowing the three men to enter.

Lij examined the body to see if there were any marks upon it, apart from that left by the poison, but there were none. Aapet spoke, quietly. "It seems his wife poisoned him, sirs. But why would she do such a thing in full view of the guard?" He turned abruptly to the two quaking officers, standing outside the cell. "You were in full view, I sincerely trust? Tell us what happened!"

"Yes, epistates," they both said at once, standing to attention, then one continued. "We were here all the time. The woman said that she had had permission of the investigating men to bring him his medicine. Perhaps we should have checked that this was so..."

He stared at Aapet with real trouble in his eyes, but Lij interrupted. "She had our permission - you are not to blame. But in future it may be best to check on such things, before you permit them. Go on!"

The man continued. "He was very grateful to her for bringing the medicine. He had been complaining of his belly all night, the night-guards told us. He had slept very little, they said."

"Anyway, she asked us if she could give it to him, and passed the flask through the bars, telling him to only take a small sip, because it had to last until she could get more from the physician, who was visiting a sick relation at Wadjet."

"Then he took a sip, and was telling his wife to prepare something mild for his mid-day meal, as he had a bad pain in his belly, when he started coughing, then choking, and we came for you, sir."

Aapet waved them away, and they gladly escaped to another part of the building. "What do you think, Lij?" Dom asked, examining his spouse's face.

Lij had picked up the flask, and carefully sniffed at it. Then he handed it to Dom, who did the same thing. "Very odd!" was Dom's comment, as he handed the flask to Aapet. "The wine does not smell of the poison we detected in this place as we entered. The smell comes from Ptolemy's body, and the piss-pot, not from this," said Lij coming away from that receptacle

Aapet agreed. He placed the stopper in the flask to save the wine that remained in it.

"Have the wine sent to a competent apothecary or physician, if you will, Aapet, and have the priests collect the body. Tell them they must not go to work until the physician has examined it. We will speak to the widow now," Lij ordered, glancing once more at the dead innkeeper before they left.

Aapet bowed and left with the flask. Dom and Lij had not reached the top of the stairs before he was climbing up behind them. He had wasted no time implementing Lij's orders.

The widow was found seated in Aapet's chair, shivering violently from shock. It was not assumed, Dom realised, at once. "Are you able to speak to us?" he asked gently, whilst Aapet reached into a niche and drew out a cloak, placing it gently about her shoulders.

"Who would do such a thing? Was it I who killed my husband? Did the medicine contain poison?" she whispered, horrified, her voice pleading with them for enlightenment.

"We do not as yet, know what happened, lady. Do you go home, now, and rest. Have you a woman who can sit with you?" Lij asked, realising that questioning would have to wait for a more appropriate time.

"My...sister..." she managed as another spasm took her.

"Take her home, Panshi, and send for her sister. Then come back as soon as may be. We have things to organise.”

***

Dom, Lij, together with Aapet, sat in the man’s office, going over the happenings of the morning. They had spoken to the guards again, to no avail, and sent for the night guards for questioning.

They were still mulling over which area to investigate next, when Panshi returned, full of important news.

He was almost bouncing with excitement, and the three men had to hide their smiles from him. "You will never guess, sirs, who her sister was..." he began. Lij had a good idea, but did not wish to spoil the moment.

"...Merope!" he revealed, grinning, as excited as a small boy with a long-awaited gift. "Tawaret's sister! I sent one of the inn servants for her, and then I was sorry I did not go myself to see in which manner she took the news. I waited for her to come before I left, though. She seemed just as shocked as her sister."

"It seems you were right, my lord," said Aapet, not realising his slip. However Panshi noticed, if the other men did not. He gazed at the two visitors with even more interest.

"Yes," Lij rested his head on his fist, both his elbows on the table. "If Tawaret had been her full sister, she would have said 'sisters', would she not?"

"What is her name, the innkeeper's wife?" Dom asked. Panshi was just answering that he had not thought to ask, when Lij spoke.

"Cleothera," he said, his mind obviously elsewhere, and Dom stared at him in amazement. Really! He found out things in the most astonishing ways!

"Is it?" Aapet shrugged. "I had never before heard that. They were always host and hostess. I never heard either of their names mentioned. Except that the inn was called Ptolemy's, I would not have known his name."

Lij raised his head. "Have you not thought that the late innkeeper was not Ptolemy, but merely someone working for him, who answered to the name for convenience sake?"

It obviously had occurred to none of them.

Dom shook his head as if to clear it. "Why do you think it is so, Lij?"

"I am not sure that I do think it. It was just something that occurred to me. There seem to be too many loose ends involved in this case. We must gather some of them up."

"We are going to see Ramose. Panshi, you will come with us. Aapet, do you visit Tawaret, and see how the land lies there. We will meet together after the evening meal, with Nat and Nakht, who are still asking questions for us about the port and town."

Before they had risen from their seats, the night guard presented themselves. They had been told of the prisoner's death, and had had some time to think it over before they arrived.

"The prisoner had been quiet all evening," explained the guard who had been chosen to speak, "as he had been complaining of his belly. He asked us to send to his wife for his medicine, but sirs, we did not immediately do so. If he had anything to do with the murder of little Seth, we wanted him to suffer a bit. We liked Seth. He was kind and generous to the poor, and always carried sweetmeats for our children, having had none of his own. I am sorry to say that I did not deliver the message to the inn until I finished my duty early this morning."

"Anything else?" Aapet asked.

The guard shuffled about on his feet, not knowing how to continue. "A young man brought a basket of food for the prisoner, sir, last night. He said it was from the prisoner's wife. He ate it. It was a roast fowl and some sort of mess - something milky that he said might settle his stomach. And some figs." There was a pause.

"But there was something odd about it, I realised, when I heard that he was dead. I wouldn't have noticed it otherwise." The other guard nodded in agreement.

"The man didn't leave the basket. He sat there while Ptolemy ate it, then gathered up everything and took it away. Ptolemy asked him to leave the fruit, in case he felt like it later, but the lad said he'd had strict orders not to leave a mess in the cells, and to clear up after himself. He did give him a couple of figs - although I could see he grudged them. Perhaps he wanted them for himself."

"Did you recognise the lad? How old was he, for instance?" Aapet asked, very interested, now, in what was being said.

"Not sure, sir," said the spokesman. "Good looking lad, though - in his twenties, I'd say, but he might have been much older. He had one of those faces - much like yours, sir," he said looking at Lij, and blushing slightly. "It's hard to tell with some folks. Could be twenty five, could be forty. I'm not sure, I wasn't paying him that much attention. I noticed nothing odd about him."

The other guard shook his head vigorously, and Dom hid a smile. It was as if he had no voice of his own.

They had nothing else to say, except that the prisoner had groaned a few times during the night, and had not slept well. Aapet went to the inn, before visiting Tawaret, to see if anything was to be learned there, and Dom, Lij and Panshi went to the workshops to show Ramose the dagger that had been found at the inn.


"No," said the smith, as he examined the knife carefully. "I cannot say I have seen it before. This is a little small for Seth's taste. He liked a big knife," his smile went somewhat awry. "It made him feel safer. Was one not found on him when he...died?"

Panshi shook his head. "No, Master Ramose. No knife."

"Odd," Ramose's brow furrowed. "He always carried a knife. I never saw him without at least one."

Dom flicked a glance at Lij, which fortunately was missed by Ramose, still examining the knife. It was clear they had formed a conclusion at the same time, and sent a warning glance to Panshi, who was rapidly catching up with them.

Seth might have been slain with his own knife.


***


The three of them left the workshop, and sat under a shelter, for the day was very warm, and talked about the case. The one thing that seemed clear to all of them, was that there seemed to be Macedonians at every corner. But none of them were sure what it meant.

They spoke about the scrap of cloth. Clearly there was some other woman who had received a dress made out of the length of silk - but whom? Lij asked. It seemed too delicate a gown for an innkeeper's wife. Panshi was ordered to check on her clothing when Dom and Lij questioned her, later. "For you never know, do you?" Lij remarked, pouring himself more juice. "Come, let us eat. We will not go to the inn, it is too far. Panshi, is there a place you know nearby that serves good food? I must admit to feeling hungry after the morning's activities."

Panshi did know of one, and they ate a very fine meal there. They saw Nat and Nakht as they walked back through the streets, but they had nothing completely new to offer.

"It seems that most of the guild-masters are from Macedonia. The gold-smiths and the silver-smiths. Seth was not, nor is Ramose, but most of the others are. Do you think it could be a reason for him being murdered?"

"I do not know, cousin," Lij said, thinking over, carefully, what Nat had just said. One thing seemed to have been revealed, in any case, if only to him. He would think on it later. "So far there seems to be no motive. I would be happier if there were."

"Dom, Panshi and I are going to the inn to question the newest widow. You two carry on asking questions. One never knows when luck will strike."

The inn seemed as it normally did, except that there was no sign of Cleothera, or her son. They found them both in a large apartment at the back of the building, the woman sitting stunned, the boy pale and shocked, and Merope hovering about, trying to help her sister to calm down.

She had been partially successful, Dom noted, as the new widow was not trembling so violently.

"Lady, do you think you are well enough to answer a few questions, now?" Lij asked. The woman nodded, but the boy looked angrily at the three men, and Merope put her hands on her hips, ripe with indignation.

"Can you not give her more time? You see how she is! It is cruel to..."

Cleothera put up her hand. "They must ask, sister, or else how can they find out who killed my Silos?"

Dom was not surprised. Lij had been right about the name.

Lij jerked his head at Panshi, whilst the others were looking at the widow, and the boy, being quick-witted unobtrusively left the room.

"What do you want to know?" the widow asked. "If it is in my power to tell you anything, I will."

"Who owns this inn?" Lij looked carefully at Cleothera as he put the question, but she was not discomposed by it.

"It belongs to Ackon, the silver-merchant. He leases it to Silos," she revealed.

Lij wanted to ask why he had chosen the name Ptolemy's for the inn, but it was not important just yet.

"I see. Now I want you to think carefully, because it is important. Did your husband say anything to you when you went to him this morning?"

She did not answer at once, but gave it some thought. Merope tried to give a cup of wine to her sister, but she waved it away.

"Not really," she said in a dull voice, devoid of any expression. "He said his belly had been worse after supper, but that was all. He was most anxious to have his medicine. He had eaten a couple of figs, he said, with his morning meal. They helped him, sometimes. I had only been there a very short while when he..." She could not finish the sentence.

"Did he say what he had eaten for supper?" Lij continued.

"Oh, I know what he ate. I sent one of the girls over with some lightly poached fowl, and the figs."

That interested both men very much. "Did she say he'd eaten it?"

She shrugged. "I did not ask her. A large party had come in from Haswet, and I was busy with them most of the evening."

"Which physician or apothecary dispensed the medicine for Silos?"

She told them, but seemed to be far away, in a world of her own. They left her, then, thinking that they could interview her again, when she had her wits about her.

Panshi met them in the passage and shook his head. No sign of the blue-spangled gown in Cleothera's clothing, then.

Lij strode off to the kitchens, the others followed him, wordlessly. "Which is the girl who took the master his supper last night?" he asked from the doorway. A thin, small girl detached herself from several women clustered about the table, preparing food, and came towards them. Lij beckoned her to follow him outside, and took her in to a side room. He wasted no time.

"What happened when you took the food to Silos?" Lij probed. "Do not bother to lie - we know he never received it."

The girl started to tremble, and Dom pushed her gently towards a stool, where she sat uncomfortably. "I ate it," she whispered, her big brown eyes filled with dismay. "As I was walking out of the back door into the lane, with the basket, a young man approached me, and said that Ptolemy did not want his meal, as he had already eaten. No, I didn't know him, sirs. He said I looked as if I could do with a good meal. It is true. I am the youngest and newest, here. I get what everyone else leaves. It was very nice to have nearly a whole fowl to myself, instead of bits of left-over fish."

"Will I lose my place here, because of it? I have no-where else to go." A tear ran down her cheek, and she wiped it off with the back of her hand, sniffing loudly.

"We will tell no-one you had it, do not fear. Come back with me." Lij took her into the kitchen, and asked who was the head cook, there. Lij's air of authority was unmistakeable. A big man raised his hand. "I am, sir."

"Very well," Lij said. "This young girl needs feeding up. Food should be distributed fairly amongst all working here. Anyone can see she is nothing but skin and bone. See to it that she is better looked after, and that all members of your staff get at least two or three good meals a day. I shall be keeping a close watch upon the situation, I promise you."

Dom, standing behind Lij, could see that several of the workers were nodding in agreement. He felt the girl would be better fed, now. Lij cared for all their people, it was what Dom particularly liked about his spouse. No-one was too insignificant a person to fall under the Little Father's tender care.

They went back into the big dining room, where Aapet was waiting for them, and met Nat and Nakht coming in through the door. Nat's face held a look of suppressed excitement, and he and Nakht almost dragged Lij up the stairs, and into his room. Panshi, Aapet and Dom followed, wondering what can have occurred.

"Remember that scrap of material Panshi discovered in the murder room?" Nat nearly exploded with excitement, as Lij sat on the bed.

"Well, we have found the gown!"
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ismenin

April 2011

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