“If you have the slightest doubt, Madam, you should bid Bergil vouch for me, or even the King. It is essential that I enjoy your fullest co-operation. Your help, indeed, if I dare beg for it.”
Éowyn made her decision without going to any such lengths. “Well, Goss,” she said, “how can I help you?”
“Firstly, by encouraging everyone in your charge to maintain the strictest confidence. The longer we can keep this quiet, the more freedom I have to investigate. It’s not often I can pursue a murder inquiry with hardly anyone knowing that a murder has taken place. But that cannot be relied on for long.”
“I can’t promise you that, for the reasons I’ve just given you. But I’ll do whatever I can. What else?”
“Secondly, if I may ask you a few questions…”
“Yes, of course. Do you want to know where I was on Thursday night? I was here, doing the ward rounds—and there are plenty of people who can vouch for that.”
I held up my hands. “My lady, that will not be necessary. You have chosen to accept my word. It is only right for me to do the same for you. But quite probably you will know of things which have a bearing on the matter. Maybe you could name people who might be able to help me with my enquiries?”
Lady Éowyn put her finger to her cheek and thought for a moment. “Names come rushing to mind,” she said. “If this had been anyone else I should have looked at you blankly and confessed that I was unable to help. But when it comes to somebody wanting to murder young Master Morfindel, why—you have your pick of suspects.”
“That is how it seems to me too. But one advantage of confining knowledge of the murder to a handful of people is that whoever is responsible will know about it already. And they may let the fact slip.”
Éowyn’s face made her opinion clear about that. “On the other hand, like me, they may simply guess it for themselves.”
“Yes, alas, and maybe discuss it with others, whom they imagine are also privy to the secret. Such as the Inspector of Corpses. Has he said anything to you?”
“No, but the good Megastir keeps his opinions to himself, unless he gets the opportunity to tax you about your own in private. Does he have any suspicions then? If he does, how is it that you know about them?”
“Precisely because he has already ‘taxed me in private’. I’m reassured to hear from you that you consider him a man of confidence. Perhaps he won’t go spreading it around.”
“I shouldn’t think so. Though there is no knowing what confidences he utters to the bodies he’s cutting up. Did you confirm his suspicions?”
“I wasn’t sure of him, so I tried to dissimulate. He wasn’t having any of it. Somehow he knew already.”
“Well,” said Éowyn briskly, “that puts him at the top of your list of suspects—or it serves to convince you that your precious secret is as leaky as a sieve.
“I have a bad feeling it’s the latter. But a public announcement would awaken all manner of wild speculation. It’s better if people don’t go talking about it, even if the circle of those in the know grows larger than any of us might care to let it.”
Éowyn’s voice was solemn. “How did he die?”
“Most cruelly, my lady. The Inspector of Corpses made his report to Captain Bergil and myself this morning. When I first saw the body I could see no mark upon it. But it appears that someone stirred Master Morfindel’s entrails with a white-hot poker.”
Éowyn wrinkled her nose and frowned deeply to express her loathing. But, being a nurse, nothing could shock her.
“I’ve just thought of someone who could possibly help you. Quite apart, that is, from the people you and I can both think of without the slightest effort. Why don’t you go and have a word with young Aelvsson in Minas Ithil? Hangs out in the Headless Horseman, I’m told.”
“Thank you, Madam,” I exclaimed. “I know it well.”
“Do you now! What a thrill for you. It’s not a place I’ve ever had the slightest inclination to go in. Quite apart from the fact that my face is too well known in Ithilien. And I’d like to keep it to just my face!”
I grinned at the old battleaxe. Only a person of her standing could get away with saying such things.
I said “I won’t bother trying to convince you that I don’t go there for my health, or my pleasure. Though the beer is good I must admit. But the matters I have to investigate dictate the company I keep.”
“Haugh!” She barked a token laugh. “No, I don’t envy you. Not in the least. I don’t envy you the company of crotchety old women, cheese-paring policemen, and the corpses of people who are never so good than when they’re dead.”
…to be continued.