Excerpt: Darkling Mine
“Leave the Garthings matter be,” Petrok muttered in a low tone as he set a breakfast plate down with a tiny flourish before Lord Bjorn Darisson, Viscount of Pearling.
Bjorn gave no indication Petrok had spoken into his ear. He fussed with his silverware and napkin, the movements perfect for casually turning his face away from the table to murmur secretly under his breath, “Do you know anything about it?”
“Look into the reasons the fops have been getting robbed than in the robberies themselves,” Petrok suggested and gracefully –if this were possible—set out a little loaf of grain bread on Bjorn’s side plate, then added a pat of butter. He paused politely, as usual, before moving away.
“Later,” Bjorn whispered back, indicating the matter was not over. Raising his voice as Petrok whisked away, “So, my marshals,” he offered his usual people-placating smile, all grace and patience to hide his aggravation, “Tell me more about these… incidents, if you please.”
“Of course, my lord,” Marshal Vertis smiled widely and openly, still as smarmy as ever in trying to attract Bjorn’s attention. A badly-kept secret it was that the lord of the manor preferred his own gender. “It appears that Barons Clancy, Hildrene and Tarren each have been accosted on the South Highway just into Garthings.” Vertis, at this point, had the discipline to drop the attempts to endear himself and give the current matter of discussion a measure of seriousness, “Their entourage each describe a rapid drop in temperature, cold that made the carriage bells stick and fall silent, their breath to fog. As they began to realise magic might be at work, the horses stopped for some unknown reason. Then the darkness itself appears to flood them, drown out the lights save for the moon, almost as though it… comes alive.”
“Comes alive, you say?” Bjorn commented, managing to find that perfect pitch between inviting interest and disbelieving doubt. It helped cover his rising temper, too.
“Yes, my lord.” Vertis shifted in his seat, glancing across the table to a scowling Marshal Bort—a barrel of a man rarely given to words. “And before you ask, none had indulged in spirits or herbs. And yes, we checked with the usual spells.”
“Continue,” Bjorn instructed.
“They say,” Vertis glanced down at his notes, “That the darkness seemed to hold them in place, that it moved but remained close to its centre, a creature who seemed to wear the darkness itself like a great cloak. They describe the creature as seemingly cut from the dark itself save for its white face. It descended unprovoked upon the carriage door, tore it off, and robbed its occupants.”
“And afterward?” Bjorn narrowed his eyes, careful to keep his gaze on the marshals.
“Always the darkness melted away suddenly,” Vertis replied quietly, “Retreated swiftly, leaving only the cold. Save for missing monies and jewels, no one is harmed, all weapons are untouched, and the horses are calm.”
Bjorn gave a small sigh. Leave the Garthings matter be, indeed. He fired off a discreet glare at Petrok, who stood innocently by the buffet with his hands overlaid artlessly before him, uniform pristine, his long, curly, chocolate brown hair tied neatly back, hazel eyes sparkling and not meeting Bjorn’s gaze.
Petrok looked every inch the disguise he wore, a harmless part-time servant at Pearling Manor. Except for those impudent eyes, Bjorn thought and had to resist a snort… why, that little…
“You said ‘occupants’ there, Vertis,” Bjorn said quietly, reaching for his bread and ripping off a piece. “Have you verified it was all the occupants who were robbed or just the Barons themselves?” He lowered his head to butter the piece, hoping the action disguised his eyes –the window to a view of his infamous temper.
Vertis traded another look with Bort before replying, “We suspect the others, the friends of the Barons, were not robbed at all. They cottoned on to the opportunity to claim robbery just a breath too late whilst we were interviewing them.”
“Look into their finances and determine the losses definitely.” Bjorn popped the buttered bread piece into his mouth, his temper a little better in his hold. “But I want you to focus more on looking into their financial backgrounds and finding for me what they have in common, the Barons with each other and each Baron with his companions in the carriage at the time of the robbery.”
“As you say, sir.” Vertis hesitantly reminded, “And the robberies themselves?”
“Hold off. Explain we are investigating the matter and they will be contacted at the investigation’s conclusion.” He drained his water cup and spared another smile and nod of thanks when someone silently refilled it.
Vertis made his notes and replied, “Yes, my lord.”
Frowning lightly, Bjorn searched out Petrok once more only to find the little scamp had disappeared. No matter, he thought, returning to his breakfast. He’d pin that little miscreant down in more ways than one later. More ways than one, he considered, dreamily contemplating the ruby-red silk ties just arrived that morn.
And at that consideration and the mental images it conjured, his bad mood began to melt away.