Derron motioned for Niko to join him. "The missing tankard came from the Lord's office. We need to see how many are still there." AS they walked he asked, "How's the guard?"
"Uncomfortable," Niko replied, wrinkling his nose in distaste. "Making good use of the privy." He shrugged. "But he will be fine- I left a guard with him, and told him to give word if his condition worsened."
"One fact did emerge," he continued, furrowing his brow as talking about the situation inspired thought on it. "The beer was sour tasting- and smelling. The other guard said he thought it would have been bad shellfish..."
He stopped suddenly. Niko was a good improviser, and his thoughts flowed as water on the battlefield. But in everyday use, he would not be called a thinker. It was not that he was stupid- no, far from it. His talents did not lie in that direction. But, he had on occasion had intuitions that would seem incredible- thoughts so intense that he had no brainpower left for anything but thinking. The picture broke into pieces as his preconceptions were shattered.
...door is fastened - and I cannot open it...
...We kept all such things from her...
...senior kitchen staff...
...they are generally watched...
...the Lord's office...
"This will not end well," Niko said, finally, turning to the Steward. He rubbed his bare chin with his hand, trying to figure out a way to broach his thoughts. "Did anyone see Lord Draupaud leave?"
Derron said, "Not that I have spoken to." He paused but did not stop walking before adding, "I truly hope he is not the source of this tragedy."
Niko looked at Derron sharply. "Your thoughts lean that way also? I thought perhaps Ser Tomas, but his anguish and surprise seemed to geniune." He shook his head. "Should we perhaps question the stablehands? To see what time he left and perhaps his demeanor?"
Derron shrugged. "To what end? If he is behind this, we have no standing to challenge him. The Lady's family might. Besides, if he wished this end, he is smart enough to make it a more convincing appearance at suicide." He brought up his keyring so he could open the office. He also racked his brain for all who could enter the room.
There was the main door to the Keep, by which anyone could enter. But it was in a relatively public place, and the odds were high that anyone entering and leaving with a tankard would be seen. There was a second door within the room which led to the Lord's private family quarters, when Lord and Lady Drapaud lived, as well as Ranulf. But this door was generally locked.
Derron headed for the door to the office, knowing he needed to see if either of its doors were locked. And how many tankards were still inside. This matter was a serious issue, and it needed resolution. Not for the first time, Derron wished Maester Merival were there.
The door was locked - but, of course, Derron had a key.
Inside the office, all was much as had been left the previous day, including the piles of silver stags whose diembursement had been the subject of their discussions (and the fact that the stags were often stored here was a reason why the room was kept so stringently locked). There were three tankards on the table where there should have been four.
The other door was locked too - but for this Derron did not have a key.
Niko remembered, just as he remembered everything the Wall had said to him. But, that didn't mean that he took it to heart.
"We have been given a job," he said, as Derron worked on the door. "And that job is to find the truth. If that truth is a hard one- an unpleasant one- then that is still what we should find. No?"
"To do otherwise... would be to shirk the duty that Ser Tomas has given us."
Derron grimaced. "That settles that. The tankard came from here. And the only folk with keys to this room that I know of are myself, Ser Tomas and His Lordship." He said to Niko softly, "I will have to confront him about this. But after I check with the cutler to ask about any other keys. I'd like you with me, since I intend to pretend to know other keys have been made. If he denies it, I'll need you to help me decide if he's telling the truth."
Niko nodded, not unsympathetic with the fact that Derron had a hard job before him. He thought aloud, reiterating, "Ser Tomas does not seem the type to be skilled in subterfuge- I think he was truly surprised by these happenings. However, I also noted that he stayed well away from the..." He stopped midsentence as servants walked by. He noticed that they didn't look directly at either of them, but began to whisper once they were gone.
"Investigation." he continued. "I think word has started to spread," he said gravely, looking at the Steward. "I do not know if that will help or hinder our case with the cutler."
Derron nodded as they kept walking. The cutler had a small room off the kitchen, but sometimes could be found at the forge if making a new blade entirely. As the kitchen was closer, he would look there first, before trying the forge. Possibly Cook could even direct him to the cutler, though his relationship with her was still somewhat rocky. "We'll simply have to take things at face value for now." This day had begun under a cloud, and he feared it would get worse before it got better.
They were in luck. The cutler was in his room, sharpening kitchen knives on his treadle grinder. He looked up in some surprise as they entered.
Derron saw him and set his face in a grim countenance. He was about to bluff, hoping the man would convince him he was wrong. But a part of him wanted his bluff to be true.
"Morning," he began, somewhat tersely. He closed the door behind him and Niko and said, "I need a piece of information from you. And I know you won't like hearing it." He paused, he hoped dramatically, then asked, "Who did you give a key to Lord Draupaud's office?"
The cutler looked a little startled. "No-one save the Lord himself, Steward Thorne. And the mould is kept in my sealed box." Then suddenly a look of enlightenment dawned. "So ... has the missing key been found then?"
Derron almost shouted, then stopped himself. He took a deep breath and said in a very low, grumbling tone, "MISSING key? This is the first I've heard of it."
"It's was the Lord's private key that he mislaid," said the cutler. "As I saw it, it was for him to mention - or not - as he saw fit."
Derron was abrupt. "Tell me everything he told you." He would confirm the story when he saw Lord Draupaud, but this once again opened up the list of suspects. Lord Draupaud himself could be up to mischief, but perhaps he had indeed lost his key, and whomever now had it had used it. As the cutler began to speak, Derron thought that whomever was behind this had planned it far in advance. They had gotten hold of the key, either by chance or design, known they could find a tankard for their plan, and known when the guards changed posts. He truly wished he could report everything he had learned, then let His Lordship decide where to go from there. He had a forge to tend, and a house to minister.
The cutler shook his head.
"It was odd. Lord Draupaud wore that key on a chain around his neck, as it guarded a money room. But he said that one morning when he woke up, the key and chain were gone. Not from around his neck, of course. He took it off at night and set it on the dresser. And one morning it was not there. He said he could not remember taking it off, but must have done as it was an accustomed habit with him and he would have noticed if he had gone to take it off and it was not there.
"But who could have taken it? He hunted ... but there was no trace of it. In the end he came to me for a new one cut."
As far as Derron was concerned, this news became worse with each new fact. The person who had stolen the key, and committed murder so far as Derron was concerned, had access to Lord Draupaud's rooms, and had been bold enough to do so while the man slept. Possibly he had drugged His Lordship to keep him sleeping. But very few people had free run of those halls. He would have to find out the specifics from His Lordship as soon as possible, after letting the man digest the tragic news of his wife's death. In a way, that once again narrowed the list of suspects. But it also meant they needed to check that everything in that office remained as it should. They would have to count the funds, check the books, etc. He thanked the cutler, telling him to keep everything hushed up until told otherwise, then left with Niko. Once they were alone again he spoke aloud.
"Well, unless you have an idea or two, until His Lordship returns, I am not sure what we can do." He frowned and said, "Maybe I should collect Aerin and Ranulf."
"That is probably for the best," Niko responded, still mulling over what the cutler had said.
After a moment, he queried, "One would think that Lord Draupaud keeps his door locked at night." He looked intently at Derron. "Would you not think so?" He let that sink in for a moment before continuing. "And even worse. If someone took *my* key from my dresser as I slept, I would be most concerned. Would you not be?"
Derron frowned, as Niko's thoughts paralleled his own. It was quite possible the story Lord Draupaud told the cutler was a lie. But so far he had nothing with which to challenge the tale. "Aye, I would. But so far, other than that, we have nothing we can use to prove anything against the man. He can say he always let one of us open the door for him. I do not like this at all."
By questioning servants and guards, Derron ended up in the training yard, but there was no sign of Aerin and Ranulf. He sighed, then said, "She had best hope we find her before I tell her father she's gone off again, this time with the Lord's son. Come, let us ask at the main gate."
At the main gate, they were tols that Awrin and Rannulf had headed off for the water meadows. As they made their way there, there was no sign of Aerin or Ranulf, but as they crossed the meadows, they saw Lord Draupaud riding towards them.
Derron shuddered as he thought about telling Lord Draupaud the news. It would be worse if they could not find Ranulf quickly. He turned to Niko and said, "You still teach the girl, yes? See if you can get her to come out from where ever they're hiding. I'll break the news to Lord Draupaud."
[Derron continues in Unpleasant Investigation Subthread 3 ]
[Derron continues in Unpleasant Investigation Subthread 4 ]