Before there was the novel, there were the stories...

by Nan Hawthorne, who also writes under Christopher Hawthorne Moss, Books and Stories b ChristopherHawthorne Moss at

Thursday, September 3, 2009

New Stories: To Expose a Murder II (Cut)

t the French knight’s request, the bailiff, a sharp eyed man, took Artur to the healer’s small cottage. It had been unused for over a year. The overhang of the door was dilapidated, and some of it came down as they forced the swollen door. Inside was the dank musty smell of straw that had become damp then mildewed. The many strings of herbs hanging from the rafters had become damp without a fire to dry the air and had become moldy as well.

It was obvious to the two men as they lit a candle that vermin had been in the small cottage and gotten into any food stores they could. A sack of grain had been chewed open, probably by mice. As Artur brushed away some cobwebs to walk to a set of rough made shelves along a far wall, a bat startled by the unexpected light and heat of the candle flapped its wings and flew out, only to take roost again higher up in the eaves. Artur swore in French.

“Eh bien, regardez, “ Artur called to the bailiff as he stood before the shelves. “This disorder was not caused by any but a human hand.”

The bailiff came over and considered the disarrangement of the packages and bottles on the several narrow shelves. “I believe you are right, sir. Someone was searching for something.”

Sir Artur gazed long at the items on the shelves, trying to see if there could have been any discernible organization before the things were disordered. He was surprised to find each thing labeled, with tags tied to bottles and bindles with simple jute string. “She could read and write then?”

The bailiff shrugged. “Evidently, sir.”

The knight peered closely at the faded labels. Fortunately they were marked with what looked like charcoal.. and though the grains of the burned wood had flaked off considerably, at least no ink had become damp and run. The pieces of parchment on which shortened versions of the contents names were written were in a block hand, a fact necessitated by the use of the charcoal.

Perusing the labels that were exposed, hesitating to handle the items and shake off what was left of the charcoal markings, Artur noticed that four items were in order by the first letter of their names, all items starting with H. But they were in front of other bindles and bottles, ones starting with B’s and C’s. “Voiçi, these have been moved up from the shelf below this one,” he observed.

Artur sighed. Even if he could reorder the items, what would that tell him? He wondered if another apothecary or herbalist could look and see what was out of place or missing. Probably, but where would he find one. This town had just lost theirs. If only Aelflynn were still alive… but that was after all the whole point of this.

As Sir Artur shook his head and turned his eye fell on something he would not have seen coming into the cottage. There was a small recess in the wall behind the door, which had drifted back to a partly closed position. The recess had been covered, he saw, with some sort of fabric wall hanging, now on the floor below it. He went over to pick up the fabric from a pile of leaves and mouse droppings mixed together with plain old dust dragons. Whatever the embroidery had meant to resemble once upon a time, it was undetectable now. He dropped the fabric on the floor again and examined the recess in the wall.

The bailiff had come over, turned up his nose at the sickly sweet smell of mouse urine on the fabric, then peered over the knight’s broad shoulder at the cubby hole. “Ah, I recall once seeing this little recess. The healer kept special elixirs and such in their. When my sister was deathly ill, she brought out a bottle of something to take with her to my sister’s bedside. She told me she kept things in there it was best someone with no knowledge or the wrong knowledge find.”

Artur turned and looked at the man. “Can you tell if anything is missing?”

The bailiff shook his head. “I am afraid that I should not know.. I do not remember it well.” He thought, then went on, “But sir, it does look like someone rifled around in there, like on the shelves.”

Artur nodded. “We must assume something was taken. Also that someone who knew or thought he knew about these things was the one to take it.” He paused. “Take me to see the brewer now.”

Next: To Expose a Murder III

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About the author

Nan Hawthorne now writes under the name Christopher Hawthorne Moss. You can contact Christopher at .