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A Man Lay Dead in Winter part 8

The rest of the parts can be found linked at this page.

Horace nodded. “But it is all no more than conjecture. There is not a scrap of evidence except for the sketch.”

Johannes shrugged. “Let me tell you about what crossed my mind as we tended to the beasts. Cerys is a very placid mare and she will do aught that Kenwyn asks of her; I have seen her take a ditch that many a gelding would have baulked at. We had such creatures on the battlefield and they were invaluable for keeping their heads and their riders’ seats despite the flying limbs and gore. She might have made very little fuss over being witness to a stabbing. And if someone wanted to hide the fact that his mount had been spattered in the process, what better than to offer her to carry the body for a while? Any blood which Hywel Dinmont might notice on Kenwyn’s saddle or his clothes might be explained by the corpse having left its mark. And we would be witness to that fact.”

“He did not wear his cloak.” Horace stretched his long finger to point outside to where the three had stood and talked the day before. “I know he is a hardy soul but he had it on earlier in the day and I had to remind him to put it on again. It was folded into one of his saddle bags I think…”

“Well we can tell all this to Hywel when he comes,” Johannes suddenly paused, “if he comes, Horace. It occurs to me that we have no way of knowing whether he ever intended to go to Gloucester. If he committed the deed then he could be half way into Wales by now.”

“No, I do not think he went that far last night. If he did not go to the city, either as innocent man ill accused or guilty one brazening things out, then he stayed close by, either from fear of the law or the weather. There are two many imponderables in this matter. We should not speculate further.”

“Then let us wait patiently to see what this morning brings us.”

The morning, barely an hour later, brought Hywel Dinmont and one of his men. They knew of the body and had come with a horse drawn litter to carry it down to the castle where the men who worked for the Sherriff could begin to help him solve the mystery. Of Kenwyn there was no sign.

“I thank you, my lords, for keeping the body safe. This is bloody murder indeed and if wild beasts had got to the corpse then any evidence which remained might be spoiled.”

“Is my groom not with you?” Horace had expected this development, really. If he and Johannes had been correct in their assumptions then he’d little doubt that the man had gone to ground, like the game he was so talented at tracking. He wondered whether Dinmont would be as capable of flushing Kenwyn out, at the very least to let him speak his part and establish his innocence, assuming he was blameless.

“Were you expecting him to be? He told me he had been given orders to return to you immediately he had delivered his message. We tried to restrain him, the snow being so heavy, but he would not be gainsaid. He left clear instructions as to where I could find you and I was anticipating meeting him here. I hope that he has not fallen foul of the weather; I would not seek to have another corpse to find and another mother to bring sad news to.” Hywel regarded each man in turn. He’d known Dumanoir for many years and was aware of the favour he found with the old duchess. Fitzrichard he’d met and liked well enough, impressed by the tales he’d heard of the extreme valour the man had displayed in the Holy Land, both in fighting and in kindness. They were neither of them good at hiding the truth. “Gentlemen, what troubles thee? There is more to this story than I have heard.”

“What did Kenwyn tell you?” Horace was loathe to commit himself until he saw more clearly what events had happened between his groom leaving the cottage and then disappearing.

The Sherriff related what the man’s report had been and they could vouch for the truth of it. The finding of the body, its conveyance to safety, were all as they remembered, the only outright lie being Horace’s instructions to his groom to return forthwith. “And what will you add?” Hywel’s suspicions were becoming aroused now and he was keen to have the truth and have it soon.

“That he had no such order to return; we had expected him to come back with you. This morning we are less surprised at the fact he is not in your train. We have had time to think.”

“And your thoughts, you will impart them to me?” Dinmont was used to men protecting their own, seeking to mete out their own form of justice rather than let the King’s law take its course.

“I would never seek to impede your duties, Hywel, but I would add that much of our thoughts are mere speculation. We have one thing of substance to show you and that is all.” He gestured to Johannes, who produced the sketch of Arthur’s seal and explained where he’d found it and the significance they’d seen in it. Soon the whole of their theorising had been shared and each point had been met by Dinmont with a thoughtful look, especially when they touched on the matter of the mare.

“I noticed the blood on your groom’s cloak. He could not have avoided wearing it by the time he reached us or else he would have been half frozen. He even joked as he spoke of bearing the body on his mount and how he would have not have offered had he known the mess it would have made. I thought that it was black humour. I see it often on the occasion of sudden death but now I wonder if it was covering his tracks. Certainly his disappearance speaks more of guilt than misfortune.”

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