A Murder in Dangarnon
By Saffia Widdershins
It’s hard having fae blood in Dangarnon.
Actually, it’s hard in Dangarnon for anyone resolutely non-fae. That’s just the way life in Dangarnon is. Brutal and short. I’m surprised anyone makes it past their teenage years, let alone into what passes among the humans for old age. Yet everywhere in the lower city you see old men begging for coppers to get drunk on sour ale, and old crones making a pretence of cleaning and a much better job of cursing.
But the worst thing to be in those dark streets in Dangarnon is fae. They hate us and fear us, and they kill us when they catch us. And it’s not an easy death either – if fae death can ever be easy. No, they like to make examples of us – to encourage the others to stay far away.
Still, the Bard Queen is … the Bard Queen. And if she wants a murder investigated in Dangarnon then, as one of her agents, it’s my sworn duty to say, “Yes, your Majesty, right away, your Majesty.”
Which is how I find myself in a crowded low bar in the dock quarter, sipping some of that afore-mentioned sour ale, my hood pulled low to disguise my features, and itching to add a protective glamour.
But – you guessed it – wearing glamours in Dangarnon is like holding up a bright shining torch and shouting, “Coo-ee! Fae here!”
So I was feeling dangerously exposed as I waited for my informer.
She slid in on the bench opposite me. Younger than I expected, with dirty yellow hair and a bruise at one corner of her mouth, hard enough to have swollen her lip. She kept her eyes lowered, reluctant to look at me, which was fine by me. If she didn’t look at me, she couldn’t describe me. I wondered why she was here – had she come of her own free will, or had someone – the man who had given her the bruise – forced her?
But when she spoke, her voice was hurried, words tripping over themselves in her eagerness to tell me.
“You’re the Queen’s man, right? I have something for you. I found it …”
“Slow down,” I said, as gently as I could. “Let’s start at the beginning. You’re the one who left the message, right?”
“Yes,” she said immediately. “By the old stones. I thought … I thought the wild magic might still be there.”
No need to tell her she was right – my presence here was testimony to that.
“So what did you find? And how did you come to know him?”
“He rented a room at the lodging house,” she said, and for the first time I saw her face clearly as she raised it to me. She was a pretty thing, if a little on the grubby side. She had beautiful eyes, a dark shade of blue, and the whites were unusually clear. “The one where I kip.”
Inwardly I cursed. How like Lankin, to stroll into Dangarnon and rent an entire room in a cheap boarding house! Too confident of his rank, of his status, to bed down with the common herd.
“So what then?” I said, keeping my voice as gentle as I could.
She looked down again, twisting her hands together on the table.
“We became friends. More than friends. Lovers. He … he didn’t mind that I … I was … “
I didn’t supply the word. It mattered little to me how she made her living.
“And you had no idea what …. he was planning to do?”
She shook her head. There was almost a violence in the gesture. “How could I?” she said. “He must … he must have been seeing that … that woman at the time!”
The last word was almost a wail. I wondered if that, rather than the crime itself, had been to her the greatest betrayal.
“So you didn’t know that he was seeing … “ What was her name? “… the nursemaid?”
Again she shook her head. “They said there was blood,” she whispered. “Blood everywhere. Blood in the kitchen. Blood in the hall. Blood in the parlour … that was where they found her … “
“The Duchess?” I said, almost involuntarily.
“And the baby.” She moved, wrapping her arms around herself and rocking to and fro. I looked around, to see if anyone was watching. Everyone seemed intent on their own affairs. But I was conscious that – somewhere in the crowded inn, someone was paying attention.
“Come on,” I said abruptly. “Let’s talk outside.”
Perhaps I did put a twist into my words, for she rose to her feet without protest at once, drawing her shawl over her head. I gave another glance around, but saw no-one looking in our direction.
We made it to the door and through into the dank evening air. In another place, the open air might have been a relief after the close fetid air of the inn. But not on the docks in Dangarnon where the stink of rotting fish and tar permeated the atmosphere. Involuntarily, I glanced to the heart of the city, the dark tower that rose up, dominating the landscape, dominating the lives of the citizens too. And there sat the dark Duke, brooding over the loss of his wife and son … at the hands of that notorious fae – Long Lankin.
Gambler. Trickster. Murderer.
by Midnight Dae
In Belfience she had been a pampered child, whiling away her afternoons in play after morning school. Their tutor had been Elven but rumours had spread about him and the younger boys. She hadn’t understood at the time, but now she knew well what had been implied. He had been dragged away, and none of the children knew if he had survived.
Dwarves accused the humans of leaving unpaid debts, even of theft. They had joined with Elves to burn the houses of the humans. She fled with her family and no possessions, huddled in a borrowed cloak as her father spent his last coin to buy a place for them on the deck of a very small trading ship. Her mother had been unable to grasp the railing while holding her younger brother, and both had been swept away before they reached land.
After that her father never spoke another word. Something inside him was broken and she couldn’t reach him. He would eat when food was placed in his hand and move when prodded, which happened often. They had been herded into a hall with scores of others and more arrived every day.
When a man offered her a full meal and a warm bed she accepted in innocence. She had one morning of waking, thinking herself saved. She made plans to bring her father out of the Destitute’s Hall. A woman helped her bathe and checked her carefully before giving her a thin robe. Less than an hour later the men started to arrive. The first was obviously wealthy and gave her coin, but she was too naive to know why and to hide it away. When he left, she was too far in shock and pain to notice the woman take it as another man arrived.
After a few weeks she was too numb to react at all when someone was brought to her room and soon after that she was out on the streets. She tried returning to the Destitute’s Hall but the doors were locked, the building empty. Freezing, she crawled behind some barrels out of the wind.
In the morning, she was pulled out from her hiding place. Too exhausted to move, she was presumed dead and thrown into a hand cart, marked on paper as “Unknown child.” Other bodies were slung onto her and her last conscious thought was of a sunlit meadow and the laughter of childhood innocence.
Discovery of Dangarnon
by Melyna Foxclaw
Upon reaching the docks of Dangarnon, I could easily see this village was, well, shall I say, in ill repair to say the least. And with such a magnificent dark tower looming overhead and stretching into the sky, I would have expected a bit more tidiness. So I wondered who would be living in the castle tower overlooking the derelict village.
I wandered the cobblestone streets until I found an open area. It was very quiet at first; then I stepped into full view and found nothing but rather large bones, a skull and spine of a long ago defeated dragon. In my amazement I just had to get closer to get a better look at it and then I heard it…. In the distance, I heard the rumblings and a low growl. It became louder rather slowly, but a lot louder as I froze in fear. I stood frozen but was able to turn myself around slowly as I gazed into the darkness of what I thought was a wall covered by fallen columns and other stones. And there, in the darkness, was something peering out at me! Its glowing red eyes fading in and out of the darkness that enveloped it, and I trembled as I thought; “I must leave…now!”
Instantly, even though frightened to death but ready to flee, I thought of a dog. If I run it may chase me…I highly doubt I could outrun this creature, whatever it was! I’d best not run so I started walking very slowly backwards out of the open area full of bones, into which I had wandered. Once I was out of the view of those glowing red eyes, I turned and ran for dear life! Down the cobblestone streets again and finding one tavern open, I entered hoping to find someone there and some place safe to hide!
I stood inside the door of the tavern and stared out into the misty walkways to make sure I wouldn’t hear the beast following me, or worse, see it coming down the streets after me. After catching my breath a bit, I turned to the noises behind me and found, to my surprise, not town folk having some ale and good times….but strange little… dare I say people? They were very short, red and had tails! OMG, now what have I walked into? The Devil’s Den?!