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An Incident At Clearwater: Derron and Niko

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(Split from An Incident At Clearwater)

"It's my Lady," said the Septa. "Her door is fastened - and I cannot open it! I have called and called but she does not answer!"

Her voice quavered with dread.

When they reached the stairs in the tower they saw that the Septa was right - the door was fastened fast.

"Can you open it?" Ser Tomas asked the brawny Steward. "Or will it need us both?" He glanced too at Niko, to see if he had any suggestions.

Derron looked at the door. He said, "Alas, one of the most recent repairs was to these hinges. It would take me several minutes to take them apart. If you wish to enter quickly, we'll need to put our shourders or boots to the door."

Niko moved forward to help. "Just so," he agreed with the steward. "Lets see if it will give," he added, preparing to shoulder charge the door on signal from the other two men.

Ser Tomas nodded.

A good hard shove altogether and the door flew wide.

They burst into the lady's solar and saw her, in the room filled with soft cushions and tapestries that Lord Draupaud had bought for her, long ago, when they were first married and he still had hope.

She was dressed in her usual white, filmy garments, and she was lying across the bed, her head towards them, hanging over the edge, so that they saw her face upside down, her lips parted and her eyes wide open ...

She was quite dead.

Words being inadequate, Niko stepped aside mutely to let Ser Tomas and the Septa enter.

The Septa moved into the room, looking dazed.

"But ... my Lady ... what has she done? We kept all such things from her ... no dagger, no poison ... "

And, indeed, a swift glance around the room showed nothing that might have ended the Lady's life.

Niko surreptitiously looked for windows, moving towards them to make sure they were closed and locked.

Derron pursed his lips, but kept silent. He saw Niko checking the doors and windows and decided to ask for his thoughts later. For now he simply stood aside so the Septa and Ser Tomas survey the scene.

Niko's search yielded nothing; the windows - which had glass, an expensive commodity, in them - all seemed to have been secured from the inside.

Unable to find anything of help, Niko left the room. As he did, Derron said, "If you see any servants, keep them nearby. They'll need to be questioned, and kept from gossiping as long as possible."

Niko merely nodded, his mouth set in a grim line as he stepped from the room, standing guard outside to make sure that noone approached, and that privacy was maintained.

Outside, a scared young maid came towards Niko. "What's happened?"

Niko remembered himself, and realized that his demeanor would tell more than his words if he were not careful. Relaxing his face, he shrugged. "The Septa is in with her- woman's business, if I hazarded a guess," he said. "You should wait with me, in case the Lady or the Septa needs someone, they will not have to run looking," he added, holding up a hand to forestall any argument. "I insist. You won't get in trouble- the steward will see to that."

"The Steward?" faltered the maid. "Is he here too?" She looked worried, as well she might. Only the most serious infractions warranted the Steward's involvement in women's affairs.

Niko was just as worried as the maid, but for different reasons. He was no good at this... No good at talking to people. Especially women. Well, she would see him soon enough if he came out, so he supposed no real harm had been done. "He's here, yes- but for what reason I do not know," he said at last. "But I suppose we'll both find out soon enough, right?" he finished lamely, hoping his distress was not evident on his face.

Meanwhile, inside Ser Tomas and the Septa debated.

"We should send for the Silent Sisters," said Ser Tomas. "Septa ... if you go, we can keep watch."

The Septa hesitated, clearly reluctant to leave her Lady alone with two men, even in death.

Derron said softly, "Septa, please. We'll be respectful."

She hesitated, then gave a short nod.

"But help me to set her on the bed," she said, a catch in her voice. "To arrange her so that she looks seemly."

She looked pleadingly at the Steward.

Derron thought it over, then said, "We will attend to that while you fetch the Sisters." He wanted to make sure that they moved her carefully. No doubt when Merivel returned he would want a complete picture if possible. This way he might even be able to make a basic sketch of the position of the body. It would be crude, but he had some ability to sketch when planning some of the more elaborate pieces he created at the forge. Also, if foul play was the cause, there might be signs they would find when moving the body.

The Septa hesitated, and then gave a curt nod. "But one of you will inform his Lordship?" she asked. There was a note of entreaty in her voice.

"We shall," agreed Ser Tomas. Although he will want to speak with you, Septa.

She sighed, but gave another nod and departed.

Ser Tomas walked over to look down at the Lady.

"I see no marks of violence upon her," he said. "No sign of a struggle, nor marks around her throat. The Sisters will see any marks on her body when they wash her, so perhaps we need not ... "

He looked up at Derron Thorne, obviously reluctant to do anything so indecorous as remove the Lady's clothes.

Derron felt the same unease, but said, "There may be signs hidden, or even something hidden in the folds of cloth. I fear we need someone we trust. I wish the Maester were still with us. But if you prefer not to, I will do it." He suddenly thought that maybe he would be demoted from Steward by His Lordship for such a transgression.

Ser Tomas winced. "Do what you must," he said, and turned his back, the colour rising in his weathered cheeks.

Derron took a deep breath, then began to shift the body to the middle of the bed. He tried to move her gently, depite the fact the dead felt no pain. He looked beneath where she had lain for anything unusual, then began to open her clothing, despite feeling very self-conscious.

There was nothing unusal on the bed beneath her. Nor, when he loosened her clothes, was there anything to be seen there either - beyond the facct the se wore nothing beneath her kirtle but a simple shift, and that her pale body was piteously thin - as thin as Derron remembered the staving smallfolk who had been pushed from their land to beg on the roads in the War of the Usurper.

As he bent close to the body, he seemed to small something unusual ...

A strange, almond aoma.

He made a mental note of the smell, intent on telling Merival all about it.

He then settled her clothes back into place. He straightened and said, "She is covered once more, Ser Tomas."

Ser Tomas turned round, relieved to see her placed decorously on the bed.

"Did you ... ah ... find anything?" he asked, a little hesitantly.

Derron hesitated, then said, "There's a scent of bitter almonds about her mouth. Ohter than that, nothing I would deem unusual." He stepped back. "We will have to question her maids."

Tomas frowned. "You think it might be poison? But ... was there any sign of a vessel?"

Derron shrugged, "None that I saw. And I have no idea if it was poison. I am simply planning on presenting every observation I can to the Maester when he returns. Though we could search the room as well as question the servants for more information."

"I suggest we do so," said Ser Tomas. "If we find the vessel - it may be prove that she ended her own life, as she has tried to do before. If not ... "

He looked significantly at Derron Thorne.

Derron nodded and said, "Start looking." He stuck his head out and beckoned Niko over.

He said softly, "Gather all the maids to Her Ladyship up, and start asking what they may have seen. There may have been poison involved, and we need to know if she took her own life, or not."

Niko nodded, grim-faced. "What should I tell them? And where should I bring them? Here would seem to be a bad place if you still want to keep them quiet."

Derron said, "Tell them that we need to keep everything from all the other servants for the moment, and take them all to my office. Impress upon them we need to know where all the servants for this part of the castle are. Learn what you can. I'll be along shortly, no doubt."

Niko nodded. "Did you want to keep here here with you?" He said nodding towards the maid, raising his voice just a bit so that she could hear. "Just in case you need anything in my absence, she'd be available."

Derron said, "Ask her questions first, then take her with you. If we need anything, we'll get it. This is going to be all over the manor soon, but I want to keep it quiet for the moment."

The maid looked nervous but ready to be questioned.

(Split to An Incident At Clearwater: Niko)

While Derron was speaking to Niko, Ser Tomas was commencing his search. When Derron Thorne returned, Ser Tomas had already lined up three of foue vials and pots that contained either the medicines that Maester Merivel supplied or perhaps the perfumes that might have been bought from some trader or another. Now he was looking under the bed and turned, somewhat red of face, to report, "Nothing here. I wanted to make sure nothing had rolled from her hand as she ... lay down."

Derron nodded and said, "Good idea." He thought for a moment and recalled how Lady Draupaud had been sprawled uncomfortably, then said, "If she did it to herself, why not put herself in a comfortable position? Unless she thrashed about." He sighed, then said, "I fear that there may have been foul play. But we need to search the rest of the room. If we find the poison, if poison it was, then depending on how fast Merival says it acts, we can say for sure. But if it were poison, and we do not find the vessel, we know it was murder."

"Quite," agreed Ser Tomas grimly. "Will you sample those bottles and see if any of them match the aroma you smelled on her breath? If they do, we'd better round up some stray dogs and start tests."

Upon investigation, one of the pots smelled of sweet almonds - it contained a white, slightly gritty cream. But none had the bitter almond aroma.

"What next?" said Ser Tomas. "We need to tell his Lordship, and we should summon home the Maester, I'd say. And there are the servants to question."

Derron sighed. "We'll have to send a raven to Holdfast for Merival to return immediately. But first we should find His Lordship. I will join Niko and the servants. Do you wish me to come with you first to see His Lordship?"

Ser Tomas shot him a pained look that said, quite clearly, "Yes."

"We should do something about Ranulf too," he added. "It would not be fitting for the boy to learn of his mother's death through servants' gossip."

Derron nodded. "Aye. We should have him close by, but let his father tell him." They closed the door on their way out. They headed for the dining hall, where he expected to find Ranulf, and possibly His Lordship.

(Continued in An Incident At Clearwater: Aerin and Derron)

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Page last modified on October 02, 2006, at 02:22 AM