“Morfindel has been taken ill,” I replied, watching his eyes carefully for any sign that he knew I was prevaricating. “He lies now in Houses of Healing.”

“Bullshit,” replied Imalad. “I’ve just come from the mortuary. He’s in there. It’s him.”

“I would be grateful if you’d keep that to yourself,” I said sternly. “Nobody is meant to know about it. What did the Inspector of Corpses tell you?”

“Old Megastir? Nothing. Bergil’s had him arrested. But when I heard about it I stole into the mortuary and I found Morfindel there. His body is floating in one of the marble baths. Headless!”

“If it was headless, how did you know it was him?”

Imalad came up and scowled in my face. “When you’ve been as close to somebody as I have to Morfindel, you’d recognise his body anywhere. The same goes for old Megastir. But there’s no way he’s going to tell Bergil that. So Bergil will hold him under lock and key till the world ends.”

I scratched my brow. That hadn’t been my idea at all, when I told Bergil that the Inspector of Corpses was already party to our secret. Whilst he was at liberty Megastir might have made some effort to keep things quiet. With him under arrest, there was now nothing to stop anyone going into the mortuary, as Imalad had just done, and discovering the truth of the matter for themselves. Damn Bergil!

That, I reflected ruefully, was the difference between policemen and investigators. Investigators want to leave the suspect at liberty, but have him watched to see where he will lead them. Policemen want to lock him up, for fear of what he may yet do.

“Oh don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll have a word with Bergil. He’s got no business locking Megastir up like that.”

“Oh yes he has,” replied Imalad. “Megastir told me Bergil swore him to secrecy over the whole business. The very fact he’s been telling you and me gives Bergil all the excuse he needs to stick Megastir in prison.”

“Where is he now?”

“In the dungeons of the Citadel. We could go and visit him, I suppose.”

“We’ll do better than that. When we leave here, let’s you and I go and see Bergil and thump his desk. If necessary I’ll stand bail for Megastir. If it’s even more necessary, I shall go to the King and tell him that Bergil’s hampering my investigations. Bergil needs me more than I need him.”

Imalad’s face brightened visibly.

I looked him in the eye. “The way you’re talking I’d say that Megastir was a good friend of yours—and Morfindel’s. And more than just a good friend. Good enough to recognise his naked body. Even when there is no face to go by.”

With all the innocence of youth, Imalad warmly agreed. “Oh, yes! Morfindel and I often used to go round to the mortuary at the end of the day and have fun and games among the bodies. We’d get undressed and lie on the slab and pretend to dissect each other. Old Megastir is a fund of knowledge! Living or dead, there isn’t much he doesn’t know about bodies.”

“Good thing,” I observed, “that your father is far away on the other side of the Misty Mountains.”

“What’s the matter? It’s all part of a young boy’s education!”

(That’s what I mean about muck. I don’t go looking for it. It just seems to find me.)

“And anyway,” added Imalad, “wouldn’t you recognise his naked body?”

“What you mean by that?”

“Half perian, half elf… he didn’t exactly look like everyone else you see around here. Fair-skinned—fair of form—I shall miss his funny little face.” Imalad’s voice tailed off wistfully.

“Were you his best friend?”

“I can only speak for myself. Morfindel had lots of friends. All sorts of people you wouldn’t imagine.” I agreed heartily.

“What were you looking for when I stopped you?” I taxed him.

I thought he’d be evasive about this, but he wasn’t. “A ring,” he said. “Rather a nice ring. Morfindel was into rings. This one was very precious to him, but he said that I could have it if he ever didn’t need it any more.”

“Rings? Where was he getting them from?”

“All over the place. He was buying and selling them. Well—mostly buying them. He’d buy and sell other things to raise the money.”

“What sort of other things? He wasn’t stealing from the White Tower, was he?”

Imalad’s eyes widened. “Oh no, nothing like that! It was palantíri largely, and then only second-hand ones.”

“Where did he keep his rings? On his fingers?”

“Yes, mostly. It’s the usual place. But the one I was looking for he kept in a hidden compartment in that picture frame over there. You haven’t taken it, have you?”

“No, I saw no ring. So now it’s gone? And it’s not on his finger in the mortuary?”

“No. I looked. It was a very nice ring,” he repeated.

“Describe it.”

“It was a black stone set in curly silver-work. A big square polished black bezel. I think Morfindel called it haematite. He said it wasn’t a very valuable stone, in itself. Not like adamant or ruby…”

He carefully didn’t look down at my hands, but by those words I knew he’d spotted my rings. But there—if he and Morfindel were “into rings”, then doubtless they’d catch his eye.

“It doesn’t sound a very remarkable ring.”

“Oh, but you wouldn’t say that if you saw it. The silver-work is elaborate and gorgeous. Little intertwined chains, with tiny skulls peeping out from between the links. Morfindel said he knew people who’d pay a lot of money for it.”

“Where did it come from? Did Morfindel say?”

“No, he never told me. I think there is a story there, somewhere.” He looked at me and again the eyes in his frank and open face grew round. “Do you suppose he might have stolen it?”

“That’s something I shall have to find out,” I said. “If it wasn’t stolen before, it is now. That’s if it hasn’t simply dropped off his finger on the way to the mortuary.”

I racked my brains. Mentally I cast myself back to when I was initially examining the body. I remembered thinking to myself it was completely naked. If there had been so much as a ring on the finger I should not have thought that, and I’m sure I would have noticed it.

So now I had uncovered another motive for the crime. Not revenge, or maybe not altogether revenge, but also the theft of something potentially valuable. I had not the slightest doubt that Morfindel himself hadn’t come by that ring honestly.

His father had been “into rings” too—and how! Was the son, in his own small way, following in his notorious father’s footsteps? Haematite—or ironstone—is indeed of little value in itself. What was there about this black ring which made it such a desirable collector’s item? I had a feeling that if I could answer that I’d be a long way towards clearing up the mystery.

…to be continued.