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Hello, my loves! Dear [livejournal.com profile] ladysunrope has managed to beta this, even though she is very wobbly after 27 hours of airborne travel. Bless her.

I for one will be very glad (and I expect she will be, too) when the transporter is invented.

So here it is!


Thanks to LSR for her beta, Hugses.


Part 8


We have found the gown! Nat had said, exultant, and everyone except Nakht stared at him, amazed.

"Well," Nat amended, "we found the man who made them all up, and he knows where they all went - so that's as good as finding it, is it not?" He looked about him, as if challenging the company to say 'no', but Lij soothed him. It was the first piece of real evidence the two had found, and he was not going to spoil the moment for his dear cousin.

"Of course it is! Well done!" Lij praised. "Tell us the story, from the beginning."

Nat hesitated and cast a worried look at Panshi and Aapet. "Promise you will not pass what I have to say to your colleagues at work. I would not have it known here for worlds."

Aapet nodded, but Panshi looked affronted. "Of course you can trust me, sir!" he said, frowning slightly. "I swear I shall tell no-one."

Nat looked a little more comfortable. "I'll start at the beginning," he said, settling down on the stool, ready to tell his tale.

"We had been asking questions, and poking about all morning, and it was hot, and we were tired, and it seemed we were not making the slightest contribution to the search."

"We had some food, and then I remembered that Knafra - my spouse - wished me to have several gowns made up here."

He slid Panshi and Aapet another glance. "Knafra is a man, as you will know by his name, but he very much likes to dress in women's clothing..." he stopped for a moment, unsure of himself.

"And very beautiful he always looks when dressed so," Dom contributed, hoping it would comfort Nat. Besides, it was true. Knafra was a very beautiful man, Dom thought - only not as beautiful, of course, as his Lij.

"He is...particular about his gowns, and has complained to me that the palace needlewomen know nothing of how to make a gown to properly fit a man. So Nakht and I asked about a bit, and went into a few shops that sold silks, asking if they could recommend someone to make them up."

He had not noticed his slip in mentioning the palace, and neither had the others - except Panshi. He was storing up little things such as this, in his heart.

Nat's eyes shone. "And in only the fourth shop we entered - well it was Nakht who saw it - there was the very material that the scrap came from, hanging, draped over a pole, from the ceiling."

Lij smiled at his servant. "Well done, Nakht! You have sharp eyes," and Nakht fairly swelled with pride and pleasure, at this praise from his God.

"I pretended to look for more stuff for my 'wife'," Nat went on, "telling the shop-keeper that I had already bought some materials, but was looking for more, and, by the way, could he put me in the way of an expert dress-maker to make up the gowns? He could, so I bought some nice red silk, as well as a length of the blue-spotted stuff - just to show people, if needed; I would not have my spouse dressed in a gown that reminded me of a murder." Nat shuddered, and everyone understood his reluctance.

"We went next to the dress-maker, who turned out to be a man, and I decided to trust him. He wouldn't have been as successful as he obviously was, for his premises was very fine, if he was not discreet about his customers details."

"So I showed him the materials I had just bought, gave him the measurements, and told him what I needed. He assured me of his discretion, saying that he had another customer with exactly that requirement, and he had made up that very same blue material into a gown for his customer's man!"

"Who was it?" Dom asked. Nat's face fell a little. "I did not care to ask, after requesting him not to reveal my details. I thought you and Lij could go there, as investigating officers, you know, and tweak the information out of him."

"We visited several of the other silk shops, too," Nakht contributed, "just to see if what the merchant had said about the blue silk was true - that only he had a bolt of it, as it was a rare silk, from the north. It seems to be so - we saw no others."

Lij beamed at his cousin and Nakht. "Oh, well done, indeed!" He turned to Aapet. "I will leave it to you to decide in which way the information can be got out of the man. You may both wait upon us in the morning. Dom and I are going out in a boat to get some fresh air, now, if it please him to do so. The heat is stifling, even here, by the sea. We will be back in time to share your evening meal, cousin."

Nat and Nakht and the two officers went downstairs again, very well pleased with their day's work, and left alone, Dom turned to Lij. "Do you really wish to go out on the sea, my love? I have never before known you to wish to do so."

Lij's eyes sparkled with mischief. "But how else was I to get them to leave? They would have stayed here talking over their success for hours!" he grinned, glancing at the bed.

There was no more talk of the boat.

***

Aapet arrived soon after breakfast the next morning, with Panshi in tow. Nat and Nakht, flushed with success, had decided to go about the town asking more questions, and listening carefully to any gossip they might overhear.

"Do you wish to interview the draper, yourselves, sirs? I could have him brought to my office. That might make him more - amenable to answering any questions we might care to put to him." Aapet was keen to get started.

"Yes, a good thought. But first, I think, we should interview the physician whom you asked to examine the body of...er, Ptolemy," Lij declared.

Aapet grinned at the god of the land. "You are very astute, sir. He has just sent a lad to tell me his report is prepared. He only writes in Persian, so there is no point in him sending it in."

"Lij can read Persian," Dom revealed. "He is very good at languages."

Lij glanced fondly at his spouse. "So are you, Dom. I remember how quickly you learned Kishlanin, although our friend Garmen speaks very good Egyptian." Panshi opened his eyes at this casual mention of having a king for a friend, but said nothing. He was learning.

"Well," Lij said, rising from the bench. "The physician first, and then the silk-draper. Panshi, run and send a few stalwart guards to bring the man in. Put him in a cell; it will give him cause to think when we come to question him."

Dom told the lad exactly where Nat had said the shop was situated, and the man's name, and off he loped, his long legs taking him quickly down the street.


The physician proved to be an elderly man, white haired, and clean shaven. He was mixing a potion from several jars placed upon a flat marble slab, and he looked up as they entered.
He had sharp brown eyes, which ran over Dom and Lij as if assessing their health. Evidently he did not find them wanting, but sniffed at Aapet. "You need to drink more, my friend. Your skin looks dry." He put one last drop from a small jar into the mixture, stirred it, and put it aside.

"Darius, these two men are investigating the murders," Aapet said, without further ado. "What did you discover concerning the body we sent you, and the wine?"

Darius sat on the corner of his table. "They both proved very interesting," he mused, staring up at a spider's web upon the ceiling.

The three men waited patiently, for it was clear that the man was formulating a reply.

"I examined both very thoroughly. The man, it seemed to me, had been poisoned - that was clear. But what proved most interesting was that two very different poisons were involved."

He turned to Dom and Lij. "Do you know anything about poisons, sirs?" he asked, his astute gaze lingering upon their faces.

"Yes, we do," Lij answered truthfully. "...a little. We are in a position in life where knowledge of poisons becomes...er...necessary."

Aapet could well believe it. Kings always had enemies, and these two men could be no different.

"So you smelt the almonds, then - but did you notice the peaches, too?"

Dom glanced at Lij, who shook his head. "No, I cannot say that we did. The scent of the almonds was overpowering."

The man gave his mixture another stir, before he continued. "It was very faint, in his mouth, but I detected it. He had been poisoned for some time before his death - a few days, or it may be up to a week, I would say, with the almond poison - but it was the peaches that finished him."

"But..." Lij was thinking. "Are they not the same poisons? The peach stones and the almonds are often used in a mixture, together, are they not?"

Darius cast an impressed look at Lij. "Yes, they are. But my nose is very sensitive. When the two are mixed together, the peach odour is assimilated into the almond. But when the peach is used alone, it has a scent quite distinct from the other. Besides, it works quicker."

Lij remembered very well the time when he had been poisoned by Setep-Aton, the evil physician, seeking vengeance upon him for the death of his son. He had used the peach poison, and the reaction had been almost instantaneous.

"The almond poison had been given in smaller doses over a few days. The effects would not have been immediately noticeable, especially in a man with a disturbed gut, as I understand this man had. But the peach poison - one good dose - or several small ones together - and he'd have been dead in a minute. The two combined were particularly lethal."

The man shook his head, sorrowfully. "He had fallen under the Penalty of the Peach - for a crime real, or imagined, one wonders? Or perhaps a jealous husband? Who knows?"

"Well," Aapet said in stringent tones, "his death was not ordered by me, I can tell you! What of the wine, Darius?"

The Persian reached to a high shelf and brought down the flask. "This was not how the almond poison was administered. There is nothing in this wine. I tested it on rats - nothing. Rats, being unable to vomit, succumb more quickly than other creatures to poisons. I believe it was the figs he had eaten shortly before he died which eventually killed him. I fed a rat on the contents of his stomach. It was dead within minutes."

He paused for a moment, turning the thing over in his hands. "The flask itself is interesting, though. It is Sheban."

Dom took it from the man, and stared at it. "It is, Lij. Look! Written here. 'Happy Times to the Drinker... Great Wealth to his Physician'. How odd!"

"It is an expensive medicine. It contains myrrh, but apart from that, its ingredients are harmless enough. There is not enough of anything to poison a man, even if he drank the whole flask."

He could tell them no more. They left him stirring his mixture, and sat on a low wall outside the physician's house and talked the situation over.

"I wonder," murmured Dom, in a low voice, as there were many folks passing by, "if it was the same person - or was he being poisoned by two people?"

"Perhaps we shall never know. He must have saved the figs for breakfast, and that is why he died when he did." Lij shaded his eyes from the sun, which was rising towards its zenith. "Let us see if the draper can tell us anything, now he has had an hour to reflect, poor man. He will be so relieved to be freed, I expect he will tell us everything."

Aapet had to return to his office, so Dom and Lij made their way onto the dock, to see if there was any news of Ninus's ship leaving Alexandria. There was none. Lij was slightly concerned by this; after all, if they had not had the murder cases to keep them occupied they both would have been sitting about doing nothing. And that would not suit him at all.

Lij decided to visit Ackon before interrogating the draper. He was the owner of the inn where Seth was murdered, after all, and Lij told Dom that he was very interested to know why the man had not confided this information to the investigating officers when he had met them.

He was not at home, so Lij, ever inventive, asked to see his wife, instead.

Ackon's wife proved to be a short, fat, woman, with huge brown eyes and a ready smile. She asked them to sit, and offered refreshments, which they accepted.

She introduced herself as Nefer-Titi, which made both men want to laugh, as it meant 'the beautiful one is come'. And by no means could the lady be described as a beauty. Her skin was swarthy and pitted, and she had more than a hint of a beard on her three chins. However, she made up for this lack by being a charming and interesting companion, and, as she informed them that her husband would be home soon, they decided to wait.

Lij was in the middle of telling her - in a very animated fashion - a story about his daughter, who had the same name as the lady, when Ackon was heard arriving. He seemed to be shouting very loudly about something, but the lady seemed not to be put out. "Men!" she said, fondly.

It was very clear that Ackon was in awe of his wife, for when he saw her sitting with the two chief investigating officers, it was to her he looked first, not them.

Lij, who had accepted a cup from a servant, sipped the wine, and asked, very politely, if Ackon could clarify a few points which had arisen during the investigation of his friend's murder.

"Certainly!" the man said, bluffly, sitting next to his wife.

She put her hand upon his knee. "Do you wish me to leave?" she asked of no-one in particular. Ackon shook his head. "No, my love, you stay. It may be you can jog my memory if I find it wanting."

Lij was blunt. "I understand you own the inn where Seth was murdered."

There was a pause for a moment. "I do. Has it anything to do with your investigation?" He smiled, but it did not quite reach his eyes.

"Not as far as we yet know, except that, of course, the late innkeeper has now been murdered, too."

Nefer-Titi gasped. "Silos murdered?" she managed. "How?" She grasped her husband's hand tightly, and he rubbed it gently with the other one.

Lij, keeping a close eye on Ackon, realised the man knew of this, but pretended it was news to him.

"This comes as a great shock, sirs. How did Silos die? He was, in some sort, a cousin of mine. This is dreadful news."

The man spent a few moments comforting his wife, who was clearly upset by the news. She stood up. "If you will excuse me, sirs, I must go to Cleothera. Why did she not send to tell me? She must be in need of consolation."

Lij agreed to this. "The Lady Merope is with her, but I expect she will be wanting to return to her other sister," he said, softly. "After all, both women are widows, now."

"You will not go alone?" Ackon said, abruptly, holding his wife's hand. It was plain he was very fond of his wife; it showed in his face.

"No, my love," she smiled sweetly at her husband. "I will take someone with me. Someone...strong."

His shoulders relaxed somewhat. "Give to Cleo my fondest love. I will be there as soon as these officers have finished with me."

The woman hurried out, her chins wobbling, and Ackon, hearing the door shut behind her and her companion, turned to Dom and Lij. "If I can help you in any way, I will," he said. "Ask me anything you will, and I will answer truthfully, if I can."

Neither Dom nor Lij knew whether he meant what he said.

***

"That was a waste of time!" grumbled Dom as they left Ackon's house. "He told us nothing we did not already know!"

Lij grinned at him. "That may be true, but he told me two things that he had no notion he had imparted."

Dom raised his eyebrow. "Really? What were they?"

"He knew Silos was dead, and he loves his wife. Not much, you might think, but it all helps to create a picture of the man. He knows much more than he is telling."

They walked slowly towards the cells, eating some dates on the way. They had been freshly plucked and were moist and tasty. Their appetites whetted, they decided to stop for some bread, but the first two places they saw that sold it, were not clean enough for Lij's fastidious tastes.

Eventually they passed a woman cooking flat bread on a stone in the sun, outside her little dwelling. Everything in the baskets was spotlessly clean, the linen bleached stark white by the sun, so they ate the warm bread, olives and goat's cheese, sitting under an awning out of the sun's harsh glare, and enjoyed their meal very much.

A very little while after this, they reached the cells, and went in. There were two guards there, neither of whom them men had seen before.

"Master Aapet and Panshi have gone to investigate a serious robbery, sirs. He said to assist you in any way you should wish," one of the guards reported, deferentially showing them to the cell where the dressmaker was being held.

The time he had spent there had worked its purpose. The man was eager to help. He told them for whom he had made each dress, where they had been delivered, and who had paid for the sewing.

Three, of course, they had known - but the fourth came as a complete surprise.

"Are you certain the fourth gown was for him?" Dom probed whilst Lij sat, thinking.

"Well, he certainly paid for it to be made up," he insisted. "And he said the gown was for his lover. I suggest you ask him. I have told you everything I know, sirs, I swear it! He said it was for him. Truly!"

Both men thought the man was telling the truth. They stood outside for a while, trying to think whether or not they had spoken to the man in question about the scrap of material, or even shown it to him. Neither of them could remember.

"Well, we had better show it to him, now," Dom said, a grim determination on his face.

Suddenly his face screwed up, and he clutched his belly. "Damn! I should have listened to you, Lij. Those olives were far too ripe. I should not have eaten so many of them!"

Dom sometimes had trouble with his belly, as he, on occasion, ate more than was wise for him of his favourite foods. And he had eaten, very freely, of the over-ripe olives.

Lij sent him back to the inn, and told him to rest. Dom, after having to stop twice at a roadside privy, agreed with him, and hurried off.


Very soon Lij was knocking on the door of the place to which the dressmaker had directed him

Lij was shown in, and inclined his head to the man with whom he had requested speech, who immediately put down the work he was engaged in, and asked Lij what he could do for him.

Lij brought out the scrap of cloth. "Do you recognise this cloth?" Lij asked, his face inscrutable.

The man took the scrap, and examined it carefully. "I think I have seen it before, but I am not certain where. Why do you ask?"

He handed it back to Lij, who replaced it in his scrip. "Because, Ramose - Gyasi, the dress-maker, told me that Seth had had a gown made up of this material - for you!"

Date: 2009-08-16 05:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pattilovesviggo.livejournal.com
"He had fallen under the Penalty of the Peach" LOL I`ve eaten 4 today, I do hope it`s not just the peach, but prolly the stones?
So Ramose had a gown too? Mmmm, what does that tell us? I haven`t a clue, thick as I am :D

Date: 2009-08-21 11:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ismenin.livejournal.com
The stones it is. It's what Setep-Aton was brewing up in Son of the Sun, if you can think back that far! :D xxxx

Date: 2009-08-16 05:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tristanpaulus.livejournal.com
Ooooh....I have wondered if Ramose was merely putting on a great show of the grief-stricken lover...has Lij uncovered his involvement?

Date: 2009-08-21 11:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ismenin.livejournal.com
Time will tell, my love - in fact the next chapter will tell! ;D xxx

Date: 2009-08-16 06:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mews1945.livejournal.com
Hmmm ... so Ramose bought a gown for Seth. Wonder why he didnt' tell them so. And I'm worried about Dom. A bellyache is a bad sign, since we know at least one person who's been poisoned.

Date: 2009-08-21 11:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ismenin.livejournal.com
I hope you're feeling a bit better my love.

Dom is fine, apart from a ripe olive attack! :D xxx

Date: 2009-08-16 09:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] verangel.livejournal.com
Printed and took to the pool. This was so much fun. Panshi is REALLY getting to understand whose presence he is in. The ending of this totally surprised me! I thought it was Seth the dress was for. Now Ramose? Oh what a tangled web you weave first when you practice to deceive. Hugs you tight xoxooxxoxo v

ps...You skimped on the lovemaking darnit! And Lij was in a devious mood to have his wicked way with his Dom then.
Edited Date: 2009-08-16 09:59 pm (UTC)

Date: 2009-08-21 11:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ismenin.livejournal.com
Lij was certainly up for it! But we can't let it get in the way of the story, now, can we? Winks.

I like Panshi a lot!! :D xxx

Date: 2009-08-16 11:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aussiepeach.livejournal.com
*runs around inflicting Evol Penalties*

Date: 2009-08-17 07:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ladysunrope.livejournal.com
hee, why can I imagine you doing this? :)

Hope you've recovered from the cold -got any jet lag tips?

Date: 2009-08-21 11:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ismenin.livejournal.com
Good idea. I'll run with you! :D xxx

Date: 2009-08-17 12:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] forestrane.livejournal.com
Dom!!! Is he going to be OK?

Date: 2009-08-21 11:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ismenin.livejournal.com
Dom will be fine. Just too many over-ripe olives, I assure you! ;D xxx

Date: 2009-08-22 06:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] forestrane.livejournal.com
I thought you were throwing in another twist to the story.

Date: 2009-08-17 03:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] janejanejane.livejournal.com
Aha, I didn't see that one coming - the gown was from Seth to Ramose...! An interesting twist :-)

Thanks for another fascinating chapter. Looking forward to the next and more revelations!

XXXX

Date: 2009-08-21 11:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ismenin.livejournal.com
Thanks, my love. There's always something going on. :D xxx

Date: 2009-08-31 03:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] primula-baggins.livejournal.com
Hmmm, interesting.

I enjoyed how the physician figured out how things might have happened, the techniques he used were interesting. I imagine in the days before modern chemistry they did have such ways of figuring things out.

I was wondering about Ramose. But how exactly does the dress figure into all of this?

I'll be reading more, but I need to stop for a while.

Thank you, Issi.

Date: 2009-08-31 04:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ismenin.livejournal.com
At last a comment got through! Hope lj is working now. And I trust it has cooled down a bit out there. It's darn cool here I can tll you. :D xxx

Date: 2009-08-31 03:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] primula-baggins.livejournal.com
I tried to post a comment, but it didn't take.

I read this chapter, but will wait until later to read more.

Thanks, Issi.

Date: 2009-08-31 04:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ismenin.livejournal.com
LJ playing up again? Sheesh! Thank you for trying!! :D xxx

Date: 2009-10-04 06:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/tweedle_/
Uh oh! I hope that Dom is suffering from no more than over-ripe olives. Whatever is Ramose playing at?! Doesn't he know he could never out wit Lij! :) *scuttles of to read next bit* :D XXOO

Date: 2009-10-04 06:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ismenin.livejournal.com
No, Dom is fine, except for over-indulgence! Bless him - he likes his food!

And Ramose is sweet, never fear. ;D xxx

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