By Divine Right
The Darkwater Saga: A Novella
By Patrick W. Carr
Willet Dura ekes out a living as an assistant reeve in the city of Bunard, the royal city, investigating minor and not-so-minor crimes in the poor quarter. Ever since a terrible battle, Willet’s been drawn to the dead, and has an uncanny ability not only to solve their crimes, but even to know when one has been committed.
When a gifted musician is found dead in the merchants’ quarter of the city, everyone assumes by the signs that the old man simply died of a stroke, but Willet’s intuition tells him better. When he learns that this is the second death within the last month of one of the gifted, those with a rare inherited ability, he begins to suspect that something more is afoot, and he soon finds himself chasing a mystery that could bring down the very kingdom of Collum.
The unaccustomed fatigue that weighted my arms and legs and filled my head with sand should have warned me, but I didn’t yet suspect I’d already been in the city that morning. I stepped out of the small windowless room I shared with Gareth into early dawn in the city of Bunard. The view from my vantage point in the watch barracks of King Laidir’s tor would never compete with those higher up, but even so I looked down on most of the city. Only the towers of the four cathedrals at the north end of the nobles’ quarter rose above me.
A hint of orange, like the first tentative swipe of a painter’s fire, lit the sections of the city divided from each other according to station and income by the broad gray flows of the Rinwash River. Farthest south, I could just make out the poor quarter, a warren of wooden buildings in a constant state of disrepair populated by those whose livelihoods it was my duty to curtail.
A hint of movement, perhaps a cart hauling vegetables across one of the massive arched stone bridges spanning the Rinwash, drew my gaze north to the lower merchants’ quarter. The sprawl of modest homes was filled with simple tradesmen whose lives were defined by the goods they provided to the city of Bunard and the kingdom of Collum it ruled. Somewhere down in their crowded midst lay the home that had birthed me, but not the family. Only stone and wood endured.
Closer to the tor still, came the upper merchants’ quarter. The houses were still quite close together, but they commanded more space, and if lights burned in them at this earl hour it would be by the servants’ bidding, not the owners. The master merchants, those who often held partial gifts, had amassed fortunes large enough that their owners almost wielded power on a level with Laidir’s nobles. All they lacked was a title.
I began my descent, unable to avoid catching sight of the nobles’ quarter, closer to the tor than any save the cathedrals of the four orders, their estates here in the city only slightly less massive than their keeps perched high on the hills and mountains of the lands governed by the king. In Bunard, each estate sat on an acre or more of land, separated from its fellows by suspicion and high granite walls.
Directly below my perch I looked almost straight down to the wide stretch of the Rinwash that separated Laidir’s seat from all others, a thousand-year-old reminder of the continent’s divine order. I descended the tor and set my feet toward the guardroom, where my superior, Jeb, would be waiting to give me my duty assignment for the day.
I nodded to the guard at the door.
“Going back into the city, already, Willet?” Actus asked.
I squeezed my eyes shut and groped for a response that would conceal my ignorance. “Drawing double duty always makes me wonder what I did to displease Aer.”
“Agreed.” The answer came in a clear tenor that didn’t match the grizzled face and graying hair that went with it. “I didn’t know you had drawn it as well.”
Oh, Aer, where had I been? I nodded without answering and moved past Actus into the domed rock cavern at the base of Laidir’s tor that housed the city watch and the prison cells justice demanded.
I stopped to check my clothes for blood once I’d passed from Actus’s view, pulling my cloak around to examine the edges before I rolled my wrists to check my sleeves. I breathed a silent prayer of relief. They were clean.
“What’s the matter with you, Willet Dura? a voice called. “Hurry up. You’re late.”
I straightened myself and my clothes and reported. The question, like so many from the captain, didn’t require an answer.
Jeb looked me up and down, his huge hands flexing as they always did whenever their owner was in thought. Like the rest of us in the watch, Jeb bore scars from the last war with Owmead nine years prior. What made him different was that all of his scars seemed to be on his flesh, a fact that made me jealous enough to dislike him on a regular basis.
“You’ll be with me, Dura, since you’ve already seen the body. Congratulations—you don’t have to sneak around on this one.”
I nodded, trying not to look surprised, before I demurred. “Shouldn’t someone else go, Captain? I’ve never investigated a killing before.”
Jeb barked, a sound meant to convey amusement, but only a deaf man would call it laughter. “No one said anything about murder, Dura.”
A shock of fear went through me as I realized my blunder. As quickly as I could, I blinked and shook my head as if trying to clear the cobwebs of too little sleep.
“Someone’s dead and you’re going out. I just assumed . . .”
“Willet Dura, you are a reeve,” Jeb said. His face wore the smile of someone enjoying the opportunity to provide correction. “You can’t afford to assume anything, and you wouldn’t be investigating this if it was a murder. He died because he was old. You’re there to talk to the priest. I don’t like priests, especially from the Merum order. All those robes and chants annoy me.” He clenched a scarred fist with knuckles that had been forged from something harder than bone and the sound of popping crackled in the air.
I shook my head, not understanding. “Why does a priest need to be there?”
Jeb’s long face, his lantern thrust forward, registered the faint disgust a teacher might wear with a slow student. “Because he was gifted, Dura.”
As we left the watch, fear banished the remainder of my fatigue. Jeb didn’t know yet that the old man had been killed, but as much as I tried to deny the knowledge myself, I knew otherwise. For nine years—along with countless others both within the king’s watch and out of it—I’d born my share of wounds from the last war. Some spoke seldom and regarded strangers with suspicion. Others were assaulted by memories so real that they took up weapons to fight phantoms from the past, their war cries high and plaintive and alone. The responses to the horrors of war were as unique as the men who waged it.
But some few were like me—night-walkers, men who left their beds without thought or volition to wander the streets of the city and return before awareness dawned. Most tried to deflect the attention it brought behind jokes or offhand comments regarding sleeplessness, or even admission, but we all shard the fear that came with knowledge that our minds were in some fundamental way broken by the war.
Even there I felt a twinge of jealousy, wishing my night walks were simple enough to afford me some camaraderie with my fellows. But the morning after every night walk there would be a report of a killing in Bunard, and sometimes there was blood on my cloak or sleeves.
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By Divine Right is a free ebook novella.