Alyn didn't go to the lesson that afternoon, either. On the way back from town, Miervaldis told her he wanted her to look into the servants' records, both Lord Cassian's, if possible, and the court's, to see if there were any details of Liliya's last name, and if she had had other connections to the court.
"I suppose Brenna might know her surname," he mused, as the mare trotted up the road and the carriage jolted along behind. "But last names often aren't bothered with except for official documents. The scribes might have her recruitment documents, of course..." Alyn hadn't thought about that, but realised it was true. It was probable that Liliya didn't have a true surname, and just took her father's name. Alyn's own surname was derived from such a construction, although it was several generations old by now, lending it a bit more respectability, if not as much as a truly ancient, high class surname like her lord's. The late afternoon sun slanted through the trees and striped the carriage; the stripes flickered as it moved, making an hypnotic pattern which made it a bit hard to think straight. But she did remember that Ythilda had said Liliya had objected to being in Lord Cassian's employment, which must mean she had known a bit about him before. Where could she have found that out? Or was it common gossip in the town as well as Fifth Star Court?
When they reached the Court, Miervaldis had her drive into the stableyard, and the grooms came out to meet them and take the mare away. Alyn patted Cinnamon's neck in thanks as they unharnessed her, then trotted after her lord, who was walking fast, deep in thought. He hadn't said anything since his instruction to check out the records. She accompanied him back to the rooms, then formally asked his permission to do the research he had asked of her. He didn't even look surprised at the phrasing, just nodded wearily and tipped his head back in the chair, eyes closed. Alyn left, shutting the door quietly behind her. For all his apparent tiredness, though, she heard the lock click before she had gone three steps.
She went to Lord Cassian's scribes first, and asked them for records of servant employment and discipline for the last twenty years, hoping that would be enough. Roydon looked extremely dubious at the request.
"I don't know, my, uh, sorry." He fumbled the attempt at an honorific, and hurried on to cover up the mistake. "I've only just taken on the records, you see..."
"If you tell me what you're looking for," offered the senior scribe from across the room, "I might be able to help you." The offer seemed sincere, but Alyn felt uneasy at the idea of mentioning names, given how reticent her lord had been about it when they had spoken to the scribes before. On the other side of the room, the third scribe, Gryce, was clearly listening in. For all she knew, one of these men had killed Jaquan. She shook her head.
"We're looking for all the records, but thank you for the offer," she said. "If you find them, please do let me know."
"Oh, but -" Roydon's attempt to call her back met only a closing door. Alyn pulled it shut behind her and stood still for a moment, wondering what to do. If she could find Lord Cassian's records, what would she look for? Liliya's first record of employment, as Miervaldis had suggested? That should definitely be there, and it ought to have her full name. What else was there to look for? Liliya had likely not been in service before her first application, so presumably any connection she had with the Court would have been through a relative - an older sibling, or a parent, although there was no guarantee that the putative relative would also have served Lord Cassian. Liliya's last name might be useful in uncovering a connection, if she could find it out without giving any more away. Alyn frowned. Was there any way to do that? Maybe Brenna did know, after all.
Well, there was one place left to look before asking the surly maid. She turned to the north corridor, and made her way to the offices of the Chroniclers.
The head Chronicler acted just as he had before, peering over his monocle at her from a great height. His fluffy white hair caught the light from the big windows inside the office and made it into an indistinct halo. He didn't seem to recognise her, and when she presented her request to look through the servants' employment records, he summoned the same assistant Chronicler who had helped her before.
"What would you like to find this time?" he asked, and Alyn was relieved to realise he at least remembered her.
"I'm looking for records on servants," she said.
"You have them?" She was surprised. She had thought Lord Cassian kept his own records and no-one else had any.
"Oh yes. Well, they're not full records, of course. Anything financial or disciplinary between a lord and his servants, that's his business. But we have the records of employment, because the servants work here at the Court. Oh," he paused, looking concerned, "if you want to find out about one of his servants at his estate..."
"Oh no," Alyn said quickly. "The ones you said would be great, thank you. And... for the Court too?"
"What, all of them?"
"Um, just back twenty years."
He nodded, and headed for the book stacks. Alyn trailed after him, relieved at the relative lack of glue fumes. Maybe today just wasn't a binding day. The Chronicler pulled over a tall, spindly-looking staircase which trundled shakily on tiny wheels, stationed it by one of the shelves, and went up it, seemingly oblivious to its creaks, groans and wobbles. Alyn watched, open-mouthed, as he reached out from the tiny top platform to pull books off shelves and examine them, balancing precariously with one leg on the ladder platform and one on a conveniently positioned shelf, which looked considerably more solid than the ladder. Four times he came down with an armful to deposit on a table before heading back up again; the fifth time, he repositioned the staircase before ascending again. That was the last, apparently; he beckoned her over to the table and the piles of books there.
"These are the Court records for the past twenty years," he said, waving his hand to the two biggest piles. The records had been bound into leather-covered volumes with the dates stamped on them in black ink. "And these are the records for the hire of servants by lords here." That was the smaller pile, although "smaller" in this case still meant more than ten books. Alyn winced internally.
"Thank you," she said, and picked up the first of the lords' records. The Chronicler watched her for a moment, then went off and came back a moment later with a chair, which he pushed towards her a little diffidently.
"Thank you," she said again, with more feeling, and he smiled.
"Let me know if you need anything else," he said, but he hurried away before she could say she'd like a pen and some paper, so she turned her attention to the books instead.
For a long time, she didn't find anything. They were recent records, and just looked like the enormous catalogue she'd already ploughed through. She actually found herself nodding off just over halfway through the book, and shook her head, dazed. Then, looking at the record she'd almost fallen asleep on, the date caught her eye. 1320, it said. Less than a year before Liliya's dismissal. Six months, Ythilda had said. She looked closer to the page, finding her sleepiness had gone.
After about ten more minutes of reading, she found what she was looking for. It had been somewhat truncated, but gave a list of names of servants accepted into the service of various Lords and of the Court that hiring day. Halfway down the list, it said:
Lord Cassian Tabea Grigor's daughter
" " " Liliya Silvi's daughter
So he had hired just two servants that time, both girls. The names were interesting, though. As she had expected, Tabea's surname was taken directly from her father's name. But Liliya used her mother's name, typically an indication of a child whose father did not want to claim her. Was that at all significant? Probably not, Alyn thought. But it did mean that she might be able to find a connection with the Court through her mother, Silvi. If Silvi or one of her children had served in the Court, and if Alyn could find her records. She looked over at the huge pile of books of Court records, and winced.
In the end, despite spending hours hunched over the records, she didn't find anything further about Liliya or Silvi. Those hours had only scratched the surface of the records, and she despaired of finding anything if she had to look through all of them, although at least the Court records also had details of the lords' servants. She had worried, for a while, about having to go to each lord's personal scribes and ask for permission to root through their papers, which would not have gone down well. The one thing that did catch her eye, totally unexpectedly, was another brief notation on servants being hired. It said:
Lord Anstable Aethan Fedric's son
For a moment, she couldn't remember why the name was familiar, and then the partially overheard conversation from the banquet the night before came to mind. Aethan, apparently, had been overjoyed that Jaquan was dead. Surely that was important? She made a mental note of the date and his lord's name - the jovial teacher who had sat by her lord at the banquet - and shut the book. Standing up made her feel slightly faint, and she clutched at the table for a moment to regain her balance before making her way back to the head Chronicler. Both he and the assistant seemed a little surprised that she was there when she thanked them. She made her way slowly to the rooms, feeling absolutely exhausted.
To her relief, when she arrived, Miervaldis had had dinner brought up already. He considerately gave her time to eat, and only asked after the records once she had finished.
"There were... a lot of them, my lord. I didn't see Lord Cassian's, because the scribes wanted to know what I was looking for, and I didn't want to tell them any names." He gave her a slight nod. "So I went to the Chroniclers, and they said they had records of everyone being hired, although not the private things between a lord and a servant, like money and discipline. I had a look through some of the records, and I found Liliya's entry." She paused to take a drink. Miervaldis sat forwards, looking intent, but didn't interrupt. "Her last name was recorded as 'Silvi's daughter'," Alyn went on. "But I couldn't find anything else about Liliya or Silvi. But there were so many records, it must be in there somewhere..."
"That's as may be," Miervaldis said. "Well done; finding her name is more than I'd hoped for. That will prove useful. Oh, and by the way, this came today." He smiled, and handed her an envelope. There were a couple of heavy sheets inside, a bit crumpled, but the seal was intact. It bore the insignia of a lord of Eighth Star Court and the address on the front was only barely legible, scrawled in a clumsy and uncaring hand.
"Byran wrote!" she said, surprised.
"Your brother? I thought it might be. Let me know what he says about the funerals."
"Yes, my lord," Alyn said, and took the envelope to the fireside to read it in better light.
Dear Alyn, she read. The letters were indeed clumsy, but more legible than they had been last time she'd tried to read one of his letters.
I hope you're well, and doing all right with your studies. I heard you had gone to Fifth Star Court because some servant had died. What's that got to do with you?
Anyway, I don't know why you're asking, but I did look up the funeral records for you.I found nine funerals that were held at this Court on Holy days over the past five years. They were:
Lord Salamin Othniel (Sage's Day, 1322)
Lady Anyelle Tyris (First Emperor's Birthday 1322)
Lord Premysl Ordinson (Spring Star Day, 1321)
Lady Isra Cherevsdotter (Founder's Day, 1320)
Lady Geerta Angenamen (Sage's Day, 1320)
Lord Alystyr Kemenssen (Harvest Week Holy Day, 1320)
Lord Andry Sachair (First Emperor's Wedding, 1319)
Lord Idony Berinhard (Sun Ascension Day, 1319)
Lady Aintza Felthisdotter (Founder's Day, 1319)
I hope those are useful for you.
At this point, the letter bore several smudges and had been somewhat crumpled. There was writing beneath the smudges, but she couldn't make it out. The next page was more neatly written, as though Byran had taken the time to think about what he was saying.
Alyn, it went on, I have to write this. You must be careful serving your lord. Remember who your first oath is to. I can't say anything, of course, and nothing is known, but Lord Miervaldis does not have a good name around here. Nobody will tell me anything specific, but when I talked about who you were serving, there were comments. Please be careful. If he is doing anything, don't get involved. Nobody will blame you for dutiful service, but please don't do any more than that. There must be someone you can talk to if you are concerned about him or his orders, even when you're not at your own Court.
Take every care,
Alyn folded the letter over quickly to hide the contents, then glanced behind her, heart thumping. Miervaldis was still seated by the table, regarding the remains of dinner thoughtfully. He couldn't have read the letter from here, surely? He couldn't tell what she had read? She turned back to the fire, forcing herself to move naturally, and looked at the first page again, at the names she had scanned through. Was there anything?
Yes, there was. The last lord's name on the list, Lord Idony Berinhard. That was the same surname as Pyrrhus. A brother? A father?
She started to say something, then hastily shoved the second page down her tunic, where it sat scratchily against her skin.
"My lord," she managed, hoping he'd mistake the nervousness for excitement.
"What is it? Was there something in what your brother wrote?"
"I don't know, my lord. But one of the men who had a funeral on a Holy day might have been related to Pyrrhus. Lord Idony Berinhard."
Miervaldis, halfway towards her, froze, his eyes wide.
"Pyrrhus' surname is Berinhard?"
"Yes... my lord?"
"Ah, now that explains a lot! If I'm right, that is. Hmmm, yes. That would make sense!"
"I'm sorry." He came over to the fireplace and sat down. "It was quite infamous at the time, but that was almost five years ago. You probably weren't interested, or didn't get to hear. Lord Idony Berinhard was killed in a duel, and it was Lord Cassian who was his opponent."
He killed a man in a duel once, Bensen had said of Lord Cassian. Five years ago, Pyrrhus would have been nine. Alyn winced in sympathy.
"I thought duelling to the death was illegal now, my lord?"
"It is. Lord Cassian claimed an accident, and the Sun Court eventually ruled that it was so. But of course, people always rumour otherwise." Alyn felt stupid. If only she'd told her lord Pyrrhus' surname before, she wouldn't have spent so long over this. She wouldn't have written to Byran, and... she wouldn't feel so horribly conflicted over the other things he'd written. She hugged herself tightly, disliking the tense, knotted feeling in the pit of her stomach. Miervaldis, thankfully, didn't seem to notice.
"It's a bit strange," he went on, "to have assigned Pyrrhus to the Court to which his father's killer is beholden, of course, but this may be a motive..."
"It can't be Pyrrhus," Alyn objected, glad of the distraction. "He's smaller than me, and skinny. He can't have done anything to Jaquan."
"Does he have siblings, do you know?"
"Yes," Alyn said slowly, remembering that stiff, awkward conversation in the refectory. "He has an older brother, Kadir."
"Well, that would explain why he was so reluctant to talk to you about his father's funeral. He's probably afraid his brother is involved."
Alyn didn't say anything. She was thinking about Pyrrhus, about his fear and his stubborn loyalty. She didn't want it to be his brother. She looked up, to see her lord watching her, sympathy in his eyes.
"Just because he's worried about it doesn't mean it's true," he said gently. "But we have to find out."
"I know." It came out half-squeaked. She stood up, knees trembling, and hurried to her room, shutting the door behind her and hoping that he'd take her sudden fear to be entirely due to Pyrrhus and his brother now being the main suspects. She sat heavily on the bed, turned up the lamp, and pulled out her brother's second page.
Lord Miervaldis does not have a good name around here.
What did that mean? Why would the Emperor have asked him to investigate if this was the case? Or - she only had Miervaldis' word that the Emperor had asked him. But it had been a Sun Court carriage that had come for them, to take them to Fifth Star Court, so surely that was proof? But thinking of that journey only reminded her how good he was at hiding what he really thought, and how cleverly he had found out so much about her with just a few questions. If his true allegiance was not... was not what it should be, it would be very easy for him to hide it from her.
Unable to reconcile the evidence, she buried the letter at the bottom of her clothes chest, resealing it onto itself. She couldn't hide it well enough, not in this room that wasn't hers, in a strange Court, but at least she'd know if he read it. Then, unwilling to go outside and face him again even just to wash, she undressed and climbed into bed. It was a long and uncomfortable time before she fell asleep.
In the morning, she had almost forgotten about the letter, and only remembered when she opened the door to the main room, dressed and ready for breakfast. Miervaldis was standing by the table where a maid was putting the tray down, and as he turned towards her she remembered, like a jolt, what her brother had said. She ducked her head and yawned sleepily, hoping her face hadn't shown anything.
Miervaldis didn't speak until the maid had gone and they had both started eating.
"You said you'd found those records at the Chronicler's office, is that right?"
"Yes, my lord."
"I think I'll have a look today. You can come with me, and show me the books before your lesson."
"Yes, my lord." He looked a little miffed at her lack of an interesting response. Alyn shoved another piece of bread into her mouth as though she was very hungry.
"Well, I'm hoping I'll see something. Liliya Silvi's daughter is an interesting lead to follow up, although we have an embarrassment of suspects right now." But his mention of the Chronicles had jogged something in Alyn's brain.
"There is something else, my lord," she said, relieved to have something innocent to contribute. He looked over, eyebrows raised.
"Oh?" She swallowed.
"It was when I was looking through the records. I found Aethan Fedric's son was recruited to serve Lord Anstable. You sat opposite him at the banquet, my lord."
"At the banquet, I overheard someone saying that Aethan was relieved Jaquan was dead."
"Really? Well, well.. I wonder why. What did Jaquan do to this Aethan?" He twisted his glass, watching the water swirl inside it. "Suddenly, we seem to be overburdened with possibilities. We've gone from one to, ooh, six, I think."
"Brenna's lie to us needs explanation. Lord Isidor won't tell us where he was that night. There's this Aethan who was happy at Jaquan's death. Pyrrhus' brother Kadir has a motive, although we know nothing of his movements - he won't be at this court, after all." That hadn't occurred to Alyn. Of course, they wouldn't send two brothers to the same place. She felt suddenly very relieved, although Byran's letter still weighed on her mind. "The disappearance of Liliya's records indicates she may have something to do with this, although that does seem very remote, I'll admit," Miervaldis went on. "And of course, Lord Cassian himself remains a suspect." He smiled wryly. "Quite a lot to follow up. Perhaps I should start with one of the others. For now, though, I will investigate Liliya, and perhaps I'll have a chance to look into Aethan as well. It will be harder to find out about Kadir, but if you get the chance, do ask Pyrrhus." He stood up. "Will you show me the Chronicler's office, please?"
Alyn led her lord along the corridors and down the stairs, around the gardens and halls, to the big room by the refectory where the Chroniclers worked. Once again, the head Chronicler failed to recognise her, although the assistant in the background waved over his master's shoulder while the old scholar muttered a greeting. The assistant's eyes became gratifyingly wide when Alyn introduced her lord; they were quickly shown to a very well furnished waiting area and the assistant hurried off to find records. Alyn, watching the assistant staggering to bring over the heavy books, found the contrast quite amusing.
"You might as well go," Miervaldis said quietly. "I'll be fine here, as you can see." He made a funny face, almost amused but a bit sad as well, Alyn thought, puzzled. She bowed and excused herself, making her way to the Garden of Seven Streams for the lesson.
This morning, Lord Ronoy was teaching again, but he didn't take the time to insult her specifically, which was a relief. The lesson was both complicated and dull, featuring the genealogies of several dynasties who had all descended from the royalty of this province before unification. It was not anything Alyn needed to know, but she concentrated because that meant she didn't have to think about Byran's letter, or about Miervaldis' instruction to ask Pyrrhus about Kadir.
If he says Kadir was somewhere else, she thought, glancing over at Pyrrhus' thin, slouched figure, then it will all be all right. It will!
But what if he was around at the time? What then?
She didn't get the chance to ask because Pyrrhus bolted as soon as the lesson was over, causing Lord Ronoy to raise a sarcastic eyebrow. Alyn didn't bother chasing him. If he was running because of her, she'd never get anything out of him anyway. She slouched miserably back to the room, only to find Miervaldis was out, probably still looking at the records. She drifted to the refectory and helped herself to the food laid out there. Several of the other pages were seated around, along with some servants, sitting together on a separate table. She didn't want to sit with either, so she picked a spot with plenty of empty space around it and sat down to eat.
"Hey, what's with the long face?" She looked up to see Bensen standing behind her, also bearing a tray. He bumped it down on the table and swung his legs over the bench to sit beside her. "You don't mind, right?" he said, clearly not waiting for an answer. She shook her head, mute. He shrugged, and started eating.
"There is something wrong, isn't there?" he asked eventually. Alyn jumped. She'd been staring at her food, not eating and not really thinking either, and had all but forgotten he was there. He was looking at her sternly. "You shouldn't forget to eat."
The concept of forgetting to eat food in front of you made her giggle, and he nodded approvingly, taking another bite of the large pile of salad on his plate. "That's better," he said around the mouthful, making her giggle again. He gave her a mock-affronted glare. "Food's important. You mustn't skip it. Now, what's up? It's not those pages again, is it?"
"Oh, nothing really," she said, a little wary of his interest, but he just shrugged.
"Have it your way. How's the investigation going?"
"We haven't found the murderer yet," she said, straight-faced, and he poked her in the shoulder in reproof.
"I know that!"
"I can't tell you details. They're private."
"Oh, I probably know them all anyway," he said airily, and Alyn wondered.
"Ah, do you know Aethan?" she asked, as innocently as possible. He smirked at her.
"I was wondering if you'd ask about him."
"Oh, he's an obvious suspect."
Bensen nodded solemnly. He leaned in close to her, as though to confide a secret.
"A year ago, poor old Aethan had a problem."
"A problem." Bensen tapped his nose, and winked. "A real problem with, ah, the knackers."
"The knackers?" Alyn felt like an echo. Bensen winked again.
"He liked to visit the town girls, see. Anyway, it isn't usually a big thing, you know. You go to the physicker, and he keeps quiet, and you take the medicine and it's all fine. But Aethan, he made a mistake somewhere. I don't know how, but Jaquan found out."
"He made Aethan's life miserable," said Bensen, and there was laughter in his voice. Alyn scowled.
"You don't seem very serious," she said reprovingly. Had Aethan killed Jaquan for this, whatever it all meant?
"It's not serious!" Bensen said. "It's absolutely ridiculous! I think Jaquan probably asked Aethan for money, or something, but Aethan's a tight old geezer and wouldn't pay up, so Jaquan told everyone. Everyone! Poor Aethan, he suffered that season!"
"He told them..."
"Told them about the knackers. That's all." He gave her an odd look; she felt like she'd missed something somewhere.
"So Aethan could have..."
"No." Bensen shook his head firmly.
"But you said -"
"I know he didn't do it. Not just because it's not like him, although Jaquan telling everyone did make him hopping mad. But because I was with him that evening, him and several other cooks and under-cooks and so on. We took him out for his birthday, and you can be sure we kept him away from those girls." He winked at her again. She was definitely missing something.
"Well... thanks," she said, making a mental note to tell Miervaldis about it all. He'd probably understand.
"You're welcome." Bensen, who'd finished eating halfway through his narration, stood up from the table and picked up his tray. He gave her a wave as he headed through to the kitchen, and she smiled, feeling better.
Pyrrhus did not come to the afternoon lesson, and it made Alyn feel guilty all over again. She wondered where he'd gone, what he was doing, but when she ventured a few tentative queries among the other pages after the lesson, they were met with unconcern or hostility. She made her way back to the rooms feeling quite down. Miervaldis, on the other hand, was clearly pleased with himself. He opened the door to her with a cheerful smile.
"And how were the lessons?"
"Fine," Alyn said in a monotone, going to sit by the fireplace. He locked the door behind her and came to join her.
"I found Silvi in the records." That explained his mood, she thought.
"Which records, my lord?"
"The general Court records. She served as a maid about fifteen or so years ago, and left to have a child".
"To have a child? Liliya?"
"Presumably. Which, along with the lack of a paternal name, implies the father was someone in the court, someone she could not marry. I don't know if that has any bearing, of course. But it's still information. Did you find anything out from Pyrrhus?"
"Not from Pyrrhus, my lord. He wouldn't speak to me." Alyn looked down, feeling miserable again.
"From whom, then?" He didn't seem to notice her mood.
"From Bensen. I'm afraid Aethan is a dead end. Apparently, um, he had a problem a while back. I don't really get it, I'm sorry. Bensen said something about town girls and the, er, the knackers?"
Miervaldis made a funny noise halfway between a cough and a snort. Concerned, Alyn looked up, but he had turned away, hiding his face. His shoulders were shaking.
He turned back, a slightly odd expression on his face.
"Go on, please."
Confused, she continued.
"Apparently, normally it's easily curable by a physicker, but somehow Jaquan found out. He asked Aethan for money, but Aethan wouldn't pay him so Jaquan told everyone and Bensen said it made his life miserable. Aethan's, I mean."
"But you said he was a dead end?"
"Yes, my lord. He was out that evening, the evening Jaquan was killed, I mean. It was Aethan's birthday, and Bensen was there and lots of other people too. So he can't have done it. Although Bensen did say he was very angry."
"I'm not surprised," Miervaldis said, and his voice shook slightly.
"My lord, what is the knackers?"
That appeared to be the last straw; Miervaldis bent over in his chair, laughing helplessly. Alyn, feeling left out of the joke, scowled at the top of his head. Eventually, he recovered and sat straight again.
"I'm sorry, Alyn. It's, ah, it's a disease. A communicable disease often contracted by spending time with, um..." he tailed off, but by this time Alyn had realised what he meant, and felt her face grow hot.
"I understand!" she blurted hastily, and he didn't say any more. Thinking about it, she did understand why Aethan had been so angry. Jaquan really had not been a nice person. Not a nice person at all.
"Well," Miervaldis said presently. "I have also arranged for us to visit Cathecassa tomorrow. I'm afraid you'll have to skip lessons again."
"I don't mind, my lord!" Cathecassa? Cathecassa was Lord Cassian's home estate. They would, presumably, get to meet his wife and daughter.
"We'll have to stay overnight. We'll leave after breakfast. I've already spoken to the stablehands, but if you could sort out the luggage tomorrow morning, that would be good."
"Yes, my lord."
"Will you go down and ask for dinner now, please."
"Yes, my lord." She got up, feeling more cheerful about the whole thing, and let herself out. If Miervaldis was interested in Cathecassa and in Liliya, she thought, as she hurried down the corridor, that meant he wasn't chasing Pyrrhus and Kadir.
Who do I think did it? The question ran across her mind, and she frowned. She'd been so busy chasing her lord's suspicions, and trying to avoid holding any of her own against Pyrrhus' brother, that she hadn't thought about her personal opinions for a while. Who's my favourite suspect? The idea of having a favourite for a murder made her cringe a bit. It wasn't a nice prospect.
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