The knocking was soft and uncertain at first but by the time Dunn was awake and on his feet had grown more demanding. Tarin’s room’s were still empty, the swordsman still out on his job and the light seeping in around the cracks of the curtains showed dawn was close but not yet fully at hand. The knocking came harder and Dunn unlocked the door carefully. A dozen different situations came to mind but the sight at the door wasn’t what he expected.
On the other side stood a young man, not yet twenty and dressed in a plain shabby style that pegged him as one of the students that had moved in next door. His nut brown hair was pulled into a neat braid at the base of his skull and hung down his back below his shoulder blades, his features were boyishly charming but not overly handsome. He stood wide eyed and uncertain, with almost a frightened look to his face. Dunn understood the look as soon as he noticed the young man leaned heavily on a cane, his left leg strapped tightly in a wood brace.
“Can I help you?”
“Mis…mis…mister Dunn?” The boy stuttered out, eyes wide and frightened.
“I, I was, it’s just, I was up and well, it’s… well you see…” The boy stumbled over his thoughts, his eyes watching the older man uneasily.
“We’re going to be here until the sun sets if you don’t calm down.” Dunn warmed his voice and smiled gently. “Now, take a deep breath and just tell me what’s on your mind.”
The boy nodded and drew a deep breath. When he spoke again it was slower, softly and with his eyes down. “I moved in next door, I get up early, the light you see, it’s different.”
“Out with it lad.”
“Yes sir, a man came to our door by mistake. He thought I was you in the dim light and told me the message meant for you. I came right over here.”
They stood in the door way with the damp early light of dawn surrounding them, watching each other for a moment.
“What was the message?” Dunn prompted gently, afraid too harsh of a word would send the boy scurrying for cover.
“Oh!” He blushed suddenly, understanding how stupid he’d been acting but quickly recovered. “There was a message from a Mr. Vic Loyds, he’s asked you to come to his home. Your nephew’s been hurt.”
“Jeses sake! How badly hurt?”
The boy flinched from the suddenly harsh tone but held his ground. “I don’t know, sir, the man didn’t say and didn’t wait to be questioned. I’m sorry.”
“Never mind, it’s okay, it’s not your fault. Thank you for telling me so quickly.”
The tone was one of obvious dismissal and the boy nodded and backed away. He leaned a great deal of weight on the cane, his bad leg unable to fully support him even with the well crafted brace. Without another word he made his slow and careful way back down the steps, leaving Dunn to hurry inside to pull on his boots.
By the time Dunn reached Vic Loyd’s home on the other side of the river the sun was fully up and people were bustling about the city. Only, near Mr. Loyd’s house, people didn’t hurry about their day, they stopped and stared at the ruined front lawn.
Dunn pushed himself past the whispering gossips and had to pause a moment himself. The home was several blocks away from the river but not far enough away to be a high class neighborhood. It was respectable, a small private home with a nicely maintained yard around it. Only, this house’s front yard and flowers lay in withered ruins. The grass had curled and blackened from a small fire which now had been fully extinguished. Shards of glass winked back the sun from where they lay scattered about the paving stones of the walk way and the clumps of ruined grass. The glass had come from an upstairs window, now broken out and looking blankly out to the street below.
It wasn’t the black remains of fire or the broken glass window that made Dunn stop in his tracks. Laying half on the paved stone walkway, a handful of paces from the wide steps that led to the front door, was a blanket draped body. The thin sheet showed the twisted outline well and blood stained darkly in several spots. City guards stood watch at the entrance to the yard and hovered near the body and door, they spoke softly to each other and glanced from the body to the window with shakes of their heads. In that moment Dunn wondered if he’d been called here to claim the body and he feared stepping forward.
If it was Tarin, they’d send for Shelee soon if he didn’t arrive. That was a pain he’d spare the woman if he could, she shouldn’t have to do such an unpleasant task. Dunn had buried many men, far too many of them friends, he’d see to Tarin if it was him.
He stepped toward the walk way and was instantly stopped by the guardsman.
“No one’s allowed entrance.”
Dunn drew his years of command about him, and raised a single eyebrow. “I was sent for. Mr. Elorin Dunn, Tarin Morris’ uncle.”
The guard glanced quickly to the blanket covered body and back to the handsome middle aged man standing at the gate. “We’ve been waiting on you, come in.”
Dunn didn’t look too closely at the body as he was lead off the path and fully around it. That would come soon enough, there was no need to rush it now. The doors were opened ahead of him and more guards waited inside, they led him down a hallway and to a parlor.
The small room faced east and with the lamps and morning sun was bright and airy. It was packed with guardsmen, most appeared to be officers. They clumped around a small settee where an overweight man sat holding a sobbing woman. Both were still wrapped in robes, hair in disarray, and Dunn assumed they were Mr. and Mrs. Loyd.
A guard moved from his line of sight and Dunn caught a clear glimpse inside the secondary clump of guards. It made his heart leap and he shook his head. Tarin sat on a stool, bloodied and stripped to the waist but very much alive. His left arm hung forward at an awkward and obviously dislocated angle. A surgeon hovered near his right arm, carefully stiching closed a long gash. The man must have been working for quite a while because several other cuts on the same arm had already been washed and stitched shut. Tarin’s chest was wrapped in bandages and he cradled his nonfunctioning arm close to his body.
“You can’t be in here.” A guard officer said as Dunn approached.
“It’s okay, he’s my uncle, I sent for him.” Tarin spoke up.
“What happened? I thought it was you out there.” The officer stepped aside and let Dunn pass.
Tarin shook his head. “It was a few hours ago, I got up, he didn’t.” He flinched away from the surgeon’s efforts but that made his shoulder move and he flinched again.
“What happened, are you okay?”
“I will be if I can ever get my arm to work again.”
The surgeon, a middle aged man with a sour look and warm, welcoming eyes, looked up from his work and frowned. “You won’t be so eager when I get to it.”
“What happened?” Dunn asked for the third time and found himself loosing patients.
“Tarin was just being dramatic again, he’s trying to become a living myth.” The surgeon muttered.
“Jot here patches me up too often, he’s cyincal and annoying but his skills keep me from killing him.”
That made the surgeon chuckle warmly. “I’ll answer your question because my pin cushion won’t. It seems Mr. Loyd’s concerns over an assassin were well founded. The man on the lawn broke in and was going to set the Loyd’s on fire in their bed.”
“I jumped him, didn’t know he had a hood lamp and a jug of oil. When I smelled the oil and figured out what he was going to do I pushed him out the window. Ow, bloody hell, Jot, gently!”
“Pushed him out the window,” the surgeon went on and ignored the protest, “and followed him as well.”
“Out the window?”
Tarin nodded. “With the oil spilling everywhere too. Which is how the front lawn got redecorated.”
“Are you okay?”
“A few cuts from the window, a burn on my side and I landed on my bad shoulder, popped it out again. Hey!” He called out as a guardsman walked by, “I want my knife back from the body.”
“Yes sir, as soon as we’re done with the investigation.”
“No, now, that cost me good coin and I won’t have it becoming a souvenir. Get your commander on it, I want it back before I leave.” His tone and eyes made the guardsman back down. With a muttered agreement he continued on his way. “When I was sure I hadn’t died I had them send for you.”
“It almost didn’t get to me, the message got delivered to one of your new neighbors. Can I help with anything?”
“Brandy, or something strong, before this butcher puts my shoulder back in.”
It took only a quick glance around the room to spot the glass decanters and fine glass tumblers set around it. Dunn opened one of the bottles, sniffed it and replaced the stopper. The second bottle he tested smelled strong enough to burn his nose with one whiff. This was the one that he splashed a double dose out into a glass.
Tarin took it when it was offered and held it loosely in his right hand. The bottom of the glass resting on his knee because the surgeons work had him feeling light headed and his grip felt weak. He held still and waited for Job to finish his careful stitching, a skilled surgeon that could be trusted was worth his weight in gold to a swordsman. Tarin may not show it but he deeply respected the other man’s skills.
That didn’t mean the moment Job let go of his arm to line up the bandages Tarin didn’t down the mouthfuls of strong drink. It instantly burned, spreading fire down his throat and making him cough. “What was that?”
Dunn shrugged casually. “You said something strong. You want more?”
Tarin sputtered and nodded gratefully. He was exhausted, both from pain and injury and from not sleeping. Once he’d calmed down and really understood that he’d not snapped his neck in the fall, that the killer was dead and the Guards had arrived, everything had instantly started to hurt. Jot had tried to get him to have some brandy, knowing how much pain the swordsman was in but he’d been turned down. Tarin refused to risk getting even slightly drunk without someone he trusted near by.
That didn’t mean he was foolish enough to refuse it now. He held still while Jot began the careful job of wrapping the fresh wounds in clean bandages. The second offering of rough drink was sipped slower, as he was able to move his arm from the surgeons grasp. It was spreading a numbness and the pain was slowly receding.
“Mr. Morris, I’ve been told you were badly hurt.”
Tarin looked and his eyes didn’t want to focus properly. “Mr. Loyd, are you and your wife unharmed?”
“Yes, because of your fast action. We never dreamed he’d go so far, the guard has the letter of hire on the killer. They’re bringing charges up against my partner. None of this would have been possible if not for you. Are you badly hurt?” Loyd was a good man, a merchant that practiced fairly and was well respected in the community.
“Nothing that won’t heal. Thank you for your concern. I would recommend you and Mrs. Loyd leave for the country this afternoon, just to be safe.” Dunn plucked the glass from Tarin’s numb fingers.
“We shall, don’t worry about that. I’ll see to it my agent sends the other half of your payment down to you, there’ll be a bonus with it. Ah! No protesting, I know you like to stick to your contract but your contract didn’t include going out the window to save us. You’ve earned it. If I can do anything for you?” He looked from Tarin to Jot to Dunn and back again.
Tarin shook his head. “You’ve already been kind enough to send for my uncle and Surgeon Jot.”