ragr writes "Life flies by and when it does, Greyhawk waits for you.
Long time in coming, but we return to The Harbour where ropes entwine and tempers fray as surely as worn cord.
Bray realised his mistake as soon as he’d opened his mouth. His mind briefly floundered about searching for a way to recall the words, but they were in flight, had gained elegant and efficient wings and there was no turnabout. He thought of an archer, letting loose the bowstring, sending the arrow toward the target, the arrow arriving with a bloody burst of red. There was red appearing now on the target of his inadvertent, habitual question. This was the red blood of burgeoning fury, however, not that of a mortal wound.
The colour continued to rise in Councillor Caoul’s face until Bray began to worry about the man’s well being. He had heard tell of the Councillor’s occasional furious outbursts from those about The Harbour that had the temerity to cross verbal swords with him but, so far in his tenure as Chief Constable, Bray had yet to have the privilege. There was always a first time, however, and popular wisdom held that you never forget your first time at anything.
Pott’s had stiffened at Bray’s side but the dark bulk of Garth, standing over by the chamber’s doorway, appeared unmoved by the less than subtle change in atmosphere within the room.
“And there was I assuming that you had called upon me to give my expert opinion, Constable,” Caoul snapped, in a tone containing anger of the barely controlled variety and a very strong emphasis on the expert.
Bray’s mind offered, “Chief Constable if you don’t mind. After all, you appointed me. Do you recall that?” But, this time his mouth did not follow through on his mind’s mischievous suggestion.
“Apologies, Councillor,” he humbly offered instead. “It is a force of habit in my position to check each answer, I meant no offence.” Did the colour reduce a little in the Councillor’s face? Bray couldn’t be totally sure but he had no intention of offering more than a simple apology in any case.
Councillor Caoul was a squat man, verging on bulky, with a slightly dishevelled mop of thinning, white hair adorning his head. His dress was the complete opposite of his thatch, however. His cloak, shirt and breeches were of the finest weave and did not originate in The Harbour. His clothes were dry despite the rainstorm whipping up outside the Watch-station; the falling droplets of rainwater pooled beneath the highest quality leather overcoat which hung from a peg on the office wall. Bray had noted how Caoul had appropriated the peg without a question.
“That is, I suppose, a good trait in someone holding your position, Chief Constable,” Caoul conceded with little evident good grace, the angry red colour now definitely in retreat. “All of which serves to reminds me that it was a wise choice to appoint you Arden’s successor. It is vitally important that the lower echelons of our town’s society realise that there is a man devoted to thoroughness at the helm of the law.”
Caoul handed the ring back to Bray who looked again upon the design. He had a bad feeling that this discovery was going to add a layer of complexity to this case he didn’t need.
“You can leave now,” Caoul told Garth and Potts. “I must have words with the Chief Constable in private.”
Garth turned without delay and opened the office door but Potts glanced back at Bray quizzically. Bray nodded at him and the Sergeant turned to follow Garth into the main room of the Watch-station. Bray felt a sense of anger rise within him at Garth’s bland acceptance of Caoul’s order and his eyes followed the big man back to his chair. Bray looked back to the Councillor and realised that he too was following the departing Sergeants although his narrowed eyes were following Potts’ departure instead of Garth. Bray’s anger dissipated as he observed Caoul’s annoyance and he wondered again whether he had seriously underestimated Potts over the past few years. The councillor lowered himself into the chair on the opposite side of Bray’s desk while Bray closed the door.
“I hope you realise just how delicate a situation this is, Chief.” Caoul asked. Bray looked again at the ring and its emblem, the symbol of The Merchant’s and Trader’s Union of The Free City of Greyhawk. He felt a blade being delicately slid into his chest at the mention for the distant city; the place was unfamiliar to him except by reputation, and that was no good reputation by any means. Why did it have to be Greyhawk? He turned the ring over in his fingers and his mind drifted again to the past. He was standing in his kitchen pulling on his boots while Nuell stood before him, tears appearing in her eyes, pleading with him to come with her on the trip. He was adamant that he would not be able to procure leave before the end of summer but, when autumn arrived he would be able to go with her to Greyhawk. To go to her father, an important man with no time for his daughter until he was struck ill and needed to seek forgiveness or, more likely, to salve his own conscious after years of separation. A final act of selfishness, pleading for a deathbed reunion of convenience that would ultimately claim Bray’s wife and son as surely as the old man’s life slipped away. Bray glared at the ring, anger rising…….
“Chief Constable Braydon.” The harshly spoken words snapped Bray from his reverie. “You seem distracted, is something ailing you?”
Bray shook his head, partly in denial but also to snap himself back to the present time. He placed the ring back on the table swiftly as if it had been the cause of his recollections and that it was in some way possessed by an evil power apt to stir up waking nightmares in its unwilling owner.
“No, Councillor, please continue,” he said.
Caoul moved his mouth ruminatively, as if sampling a cup of fine wine. He then shook his head and sat back in the chair.
“You know, I can well remember the times when I would sit down by the lakeside, surrounded by peace and quiet, watching the merchant ships from the west passing by on their way to Leukish. Not so long ago either. Do you know how many of those vessels stopped here in those days, Constable?”
Bray shook his head. He wondered why the Councillor had become so wistful and had gained a faraway look that Bray himself had probably been in possession of a moment before. It seemed that memories were not the curse of Braydon Flynt alone; a fine guild to be a member of, the Guild of Dreamers and Regretters.
“None,” Caoul continued. “They would pass by, riding down low in the lake with their rich, taxable cargoes to be offloaded in the capital; or Nyrstran, which was the worse insult by far.” Caoul looked like he was chewing an onion. “But now they stop here.” The Councillor accented the last word by firmly tapping his right index finger on the table.
“Years of hard work, negotiating with the Baron and his advisors over taxation and road improvement; speaking with the merchants in Greyhawk and beyond; persuading men to live and work here and provide services to the merchantmen. And now, some of the vessels go no further east than here. They turn about in our bay and return back to the west. They unload here knowing it is cheaper for import of goods than the capital. Do you know who put that hard graft in, Constable?”
Bray knew exactly who was responsible because although Caoul was a shameless self-promoter he was also a fanatical adherent to the cause of The Harbour’s furtherance within the Duchy. Say what you will about the man, and many did so when he was out of earshot, but he was a man with a tenacious work ethic.
“I believe the whole Harbour is grateful for the sacrifice you’ve made, Councillor,” Bray said, inwardly cringing at his own subtle sycophancy.
“Our progress is my reward,” Caoul replied, with little evidence that he realised his statement sounded more pompous than humble. “However, there is one other thing that we need to consider about our visitors, Chief Constable.” The man leaned close across the table towards Bray, indicating that he was making the Constable complicit in what was about to be said, that it was a secret shared with a trusted ally.
“What is just as important is that our valued visitors feel that The Harbour is safe for them to conduct business. This is not a place where pilfering and corruption is tolerated. Further still, certainly not a place where a man of quality can be stabbed in the streets for the content of his purse. Do you understand the importance of this, Constable?” Caoul stared intently at Bray. Bray held his gaze and decided that it was to his benefit not to withdraw from the intimacy of the conspiracy, to let the Councillor remain in control, for to withdraw now would imply a complete surrender to what came next, whatever that was to be. Caoul held the gaze for a few seconds more before settling back into his seat with a pronounced, and not entirely genuine, exhalation of breath. They were on the same page after all and it had been agreed without a word spoken. Caoul continued his speech.
“This merchant, if indeed he was such and not a thief with a stolen ring, was not conducting any business in The Harbour as far as I can tell. I also was unfamiliar with him which makes it unlikely that he was anyone of particular importance. Merchants can easily go missing on the road south if they do not make prudent travel plans and, I suspect, this fellow went missing on just such an ill conceived journey. If people come looking for him we can direct them south but offer little in the way of helpful solace. Meanwhile, we should bury the body expeditiously, and the ring with it, and resolve not to speak of the man again. Advise your Sergeants accordingly,” Caoul nodded his head in the direction of the main office, “and persuade any others that you have spoken with as to the truth of the matter.”
Bray frowned deeply and considered the Councillor’s words at length. The Councillor allowed Bray the time to weigh up his options and sat back with a mask of patience.
“What of the killer?” Bray asked after a minute’s reflection.
Caoul shrugged as if the answer to the question were an obvious one.
“Find him of course, but without mention of the merchant,” Caoul replied, as if it were the easiest task in the world. “Find him, and punish him appropriately with little ceremony.”
Bray shook his head and sat back in his seat, rubbing two fingers across his forehead.
“What you ask goes against all principles of justice,” Bray objected.
Caoul made an amused grunt, followed by a sigh of resignation.
“I have no doubt that you have the right of it, Braydon, and such a philosophy serves you well” Caoul acceded. “However, should the merchant traffic dry up shall we reward the folk of Salt Harbour with justice? Shall we feed all of them on the theory of the law? Will any of them thank us, the men burdened with such hard decision making, when we explain how we followed our principle above their well being? You must follow your own judgement on this matter, Braydon, but remember that the picture is broader than you or I.”
The Councillor rose to his feet and retrieved his still dripping overcoat. The wind lashed a gust of rain against the side of the Watch-station which served to bring Bray around from his reflections and underline the Councillor’s words about a wider world.
Caoul turned at the door after sweeping on his coat and tying it securely.
“Keep me informed as to your progress in this investigation, Chief Constable,” he said, formal once more. “As your sponsor and superior it is I who report to the Baron and, in this case, no news would indeed be good news. Good day.” The Councillor strode from the office, across the Watch-station and left the building hurriedly. Bray noted that Potts was looking across at him while Garth seemed to be buried deep in writing; curious, as Bray knew well that Garth’s grasp of literacy was more than a little lacking and that most of his reports, when any were required which was seldom, were written by Potts.
“Potts,” Bray called to the constable and indicated he should come to the office. As Potts passed Bray in the doorway he noted that Garth had looked up expectantly. Bray held the look for a split second before turning and shutting the door; petty, he realised, but a necessary snub for the big man to ponder.
Bray indicated that Potts should sit and raised both palms outward in an effort to silence any questions Potts may have.
“I have an unusual task for you, Potts, and not necessarily a particularly pleasant one. Take a couple of the constables and dispose of the body of the big man and try to do it without drawing much attention to yourselves. I would suggest you get on this right away given that the weather will be keeping most Harbour folk inside. If you encounter either of the diggers at the boneyard chase them off with my orders. To emphasise, if they question you, use my name strongly as these are my orders that you are merely following.”
Potts had a troubled expression on his face, knowing that this was unusual indeed. He kept his own counsel, however, glancing to look across at Garth, who had returned to his writing.
“I’ll speak with Garth,” Bray spoke before Potts could ask. Bray looked down at the ring which was still sitting on the centre of the table; he could see that Potts had turned his attention that way too. Bray reached across and pocketed the ring. “That was buried with the body,” he said firmly to Potts.
“Chief,” Potts replied affirmatively.
Bray indicated with his head that Potts should start his task and the sergeant responded quickly. After Potts had left the office Bray took a deep breath and considered his options. He knew deep down that he should have told Caoul about the murder being a deliberate act rather than a robbery but was pleased now that he had kept those thoughts to himself. He had no idea why he had chosen to withhold the information at the time and it had taken an act of will to do so, but he now gave it some thought. Covering up a random act of violence was one thing but an act of assassination or the like, was another altogether. Plus there were in all likelihood two killers not one; or possibly one killer and an accomplice. Bray would not, could not, let this lie without some effort to investigate why this had happened. His other problem was trying to cover up the man’s demise in The Harbour. This would mean speaking again with Venn to sow some more seeds of doubt. It may be that Venn would prove a valuable, if unwitting, ally in covering up the death. A ball of something nasty began to burn in the pit of Bray’s stomach as he stood and began to put plans in motion.