Richard Meyers: Murder in Halruaa

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Richard Meyers Murder in Halruaa
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    Murder in Halruaa
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Richard Meyers

Murder in Halruaa


Double-Edged Blade

Pryce Covington knew he was in real trouble when he saw the second corpse.

This is not to say that he was happy when he saw the first corpse. Far from it. Exactly the opposite, in fact. His heart sank like an egg in a mug of ale, and with it vanished his fondest wish. But of all the words he thought of at that moment”no,” “it’s not fair,” and “just my luck,” among othersthe word “trouble” did not come up.

The specter of personal danger arose only when he saw the second dead body. At first glance, it seemed far less distressful than the first corpse. The youthful man with an unlined face was sitting placidly on the grassy ground, leaning against a tree trunk, his expression almost bemused. Not like the first.

No, not anything like the first body. The face of the first corpse was disturbing, to say the least, even in the pleasant rays of sunrise: eyes protruding; tongue swollen and stiff and hanging as far out of its mouth as it could go; and the visible skin a puffy, horrid shade of purple-green. Well, that’s what happens when you hang from a branch with a rope noose around your neck, no matter how handsome you were when your heart was beating and your brain was working.

Pryce Covington felt his legs wobble, and a mist drifted across his mind’s eye, a mourning mist that had nothing to do with the morning dew. “Stop it,” he told himself firmly. “You’re not a weakling.” The sight of two dead bodies wasn’t terribly unusual, but the reality of the scene was more potent than he could have anticipated.

“Stop it,” he repeated to himself. He lived in a rough-hewn world where confrontation was commonplace. How many fights had he seen? Too many. Hugely muscled men, solidly built dwarves, capable and cunning gnomes, all brandishing bladed weapons, smacking them into each other like snorting minotaurs in a gladiatorial ring.

But then he realized that “seen” was the key word. Pryce Covington had witnessed numerous fights, but he never got involved in them himself. Covington would sooner do just about anything than actually exchange blows.

Pryce noticed that he was having trouble swallowing, but at leastunlike his ex-colleague, Gamor Turkalhe could still do it. Poor Gamor, he thought, staring at his ex-associate’s toes, which swung slowly before his eyes. Then, totally against his will, the words metamorphosed in his brain into “poor Pryce.”

Defensive rationalization rushed forward to soothe his addled mind.

At least Gamor was free from any possible misery, he thought. Gamor was lucky; he was dead. Now only poor, pitiful Pryce Covington was left to stand there and try to figure out what had happened.

What’s the big deal? Pryce chastised himself, trying to get over the trauma of it all. It was only death… death, the one mystery everyone would eventually solve. Pryce had seen ghosts before… well, at least he had talked to people who said they had seen them. And maybe that was a ghost he had seen drifting through the ruins that lined the east side of Lallor Strait, which he had passed on the way to this rendezvous outside the wall of Lallor, Halruaa’s most exclusive, least-explored city.

Pryce quickly dismissed any thought of Lallor or Halruaa from his mind. The important thing now was Gamor Turkal, plus whoever this other dead fellow was. He couldn’t do that if he let his emotions run away from him.

To counter his disturbed frame of mind, he became scrupulously logical. There were ghosts, he decided firmly, and ghosts were a clear sign there was at least some sort of life after death. So what was so terrible about finding his ex-associate and some stranger dead? Be fair, he insisted to himself.

Suddenly the words his father had spoken years earlier came back to him as clearly as when they were first spoken: “Farewell, my boy. I ask only three things of you, if you would honor the man who gave you life. Be strong, be smart, and be serene. This is all the advice I can give you, Pryce, but if you achieve all three, it will be all you will ever need____________________ ”

Pryce shook his head angrily, blinking furiously. Curse his father, curse his father’s desertion of his family, curse his father for infiltrating his thoughts, and curse this damp morning air. Beads of water had formed around his eyes. Pryce used the back of his arm to wipe his face dry. Then he tried once more to control himself.

Concentrate, he thought, closing his eyes. Concentrate on what you know. And, as so often happened whenever Pryce Covington concentrated, what he knew tumbled to the fore from his subconscious in the form of gambling odds.

Okay… the odds of trouble resulting from reporting Turkal’s death seemed relatively small. Pryce knew enough about his associate, and Pryce’sown relationship with him, to talk his way around any number of rude discoveries. But the odds of avoiding trouble when reporting the stranger’s death were decidedly less favorable. There was simply too much Pryce didn’t know.

This much he did know: At this moment, he stood in the shadow of an impressive twenty-foot-high wall that surrounded the city of Lallor. The wall seemed to be made of shimmering boulders that appeared to be wet. Looking closely, Pryce noted that the boulders interlocked cleverly. Unless someone stood on the very top of the wall, Pryce and his grim companions were totally out of any city dweller’s sight. From where he stood, Pryce could barely see the esoteric tops of buildings, but he saw no telltale window from which he could be seen.

Not far from the wall stood a most extraordinary tree, a magnificent mass of barkless, smooth, almost shiny wood, rooted in a grassy incline that led up to the wall’s base. Somehow, perhaps with human assistance, the tree had grown into the bent form of a giant question mark. Against its base leaned one dead man. From the very end of its questioning curl hung another, with a rope noose tightened around his thin neck, which had now grown decidedly thinner.

Pryce Covington finally lost the battle with his weakening legs. His knees buckled and he dropped to the ground, his knuckles brushing against the grass. “Gamor, why?” he moaned miserably. “Why did you have to go and die before” Mercifully, he left the rest of the sentence unspoken, but it echoed in his mind regardless: before telling me about the cushy job for life you promised me!

A cushy job was all Pryce Covington had ever wanted. From the moment he was born, in the tiny city of Merrickarta in the basin surrounded by the northern mountain ranges, to this very moment, he had made no secret of his heart’s desire. In fact, it was almost impossible to converse with him for more than two mugs of ale without the subject arising. Serving wenches from one end of the Nath to the other could practically sing it in harmony: “All I want is a cushy job for life. Is that so much to ask?”

Nothing less could have lured him from his life of desperate certainty to this land of promised opportunity. It’s not my fault, he thought. What else could I do? He had been lying in his comfortable Merrickarta hovel, minding his own business, when Gamor Turkal’s handsome face had suddenly swum into view. His appearance reminded Pryce of dust motes suddenly taking form in a shaft of sunlight.

“Pryce,” the dusty face said.


“You must come to Lallor, Pryce.” “Lallor?”

“Yes, Lallor!” the face had exclaimed. “Are you an echo or something?”

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