I touched my hand against the outer wall of the mansion estate. After checking to make sure no one was watching, I scaled the wall, catching the ledge and raising myself over the top.
I came to a quiet landing on the other on a finely-cut grass lawn. The grounds were large, and the house was another hundred paces away. The large balconied and tall-windowed room on the third floor was no doubt the Superintendent’s quarters. I looked around to see if I guess which was Mideon’s, but it likely did not matter much anyway. The night was not that late, and I figured he’d still be at the festival. I crouched in the shadows awaiting his arrival while staying out of sight of the five guards that patrolled the house.
Two hours passed, and I began to wonder if he’d come home at all.
I spent the time getting to know the layout of the house better. I learned that there were six bedrooms in the house, not including the servant’s quarters on the first floor. The guards did not sleep in the house but had rotating shifts with the barracks at the guardstower down the road.
But still, there was no sign of Mideon. Perhaps he had decided to spend the night at a brothel.
Another hour passed before I heard a loud, obnoxious group coming towards the front gates. I recognized Mideon’s voice. He was with his cronies.
“That one was cute today,” Mideon said with a drunken drawl. “She was acting all hesitant at first, but then she finally gave up the goods.”
“That’s right!” said one of his friends. “She should be grateful to be working in the Superintendent’s office. Not everyone’s got a nice job like that these days.”
“Tomorrow, we’ll go pay a visit to Lieutenant Leise!” came Mideon’s voice again. “If she doesn’t show me what’s under her armor, I’ll have her assigned to guarding carrots in my garden!”
There was a burst of loud male laughter. Then the men said their goodbyes and made promises to meet again the next day.
Mideon entered through the gates and moved quietly across the grounds once he was inside. He did not seem surprised that no guards opened the door for him as he entered. Perhaps he was too drunk to pay mind to it, or perhaps he preferred it this way as to not wake his father at this late hour.
I’d gotten a little bored while waiting for Mideon to arrive, so I spent some of the time putting the five patrol guards to sleep with five quick taps to the back of five necks. There is a nerve there that will render a person unconscious if properly struck. Not much strength is needed, but precision and technique are tantamount. Needless to say, I had it perfected.
My plan was to visit Greengrass Senior and have a little chat with him first if Mideon didn’t make it home before the sun rose. Then I’d go visit whichever whorehouse he was holed up in and pay my respects there. But luckily, Greengrass Junior arrived with plenty of darkness left in the sky.
I climbed up to the balcony of his room on the second floor just as he entered through the hall door inside. The sliding wooden doors of the balcony were not fully closed, letting in a warm summer breeze the billowed the curtains. (I unlocked and opened them earlier.) I slipped into the room, sticking to the dark shadows against the walls, and lowered myself into a seat beside the exit on the other side of the room.
Mideon did not notice me as he undressed. I was getting tired of waiting, so I said, “Hello.”
He snapped his head at me and let out an ear-piercing scream as he saw me, falling, scrambling back against the floor.
The guards were already taken care of, but I had left the servant staff untouched. It’d be a problem if a maid showed up. That would complicate things.
I sighed and stood, walking towards him. I saw that he was going to scream again, and I leaped forwards, catching his mouth in my hand. I lifted him up by the head and slammed his back against the wall.
“Do you know who I am?”
He shook his head, his breath held back by my hand, his eyes wide on the Greenfin mask that covered my face.
“Good. I like it when people haven’t heard of me. It means that my secret has been kept. It’s something you’ll be doing too if I decide to let you live.”
The muffled whimper came from his throat.
“Next question,” I said. “Do you know why I’m here?”
He looked at me with confusion and horror. It was apparent that despite all his bluster, he wasn’t much of a man for violence.
But I had a role to play. So I continued on. “I don’t like it when my men are killed. Neither does my employer.”
A guilty man would have shown more fear, but his eyes were filled with confusion. I pressed on.
“You are going to tell me why you killed him. Then you will tell me how you discovered his identity. I am going to release my hand and if anything comes out of your mouth other than what I have asked, I am going to hurt you. Badly.”
I released my hand, and the first thing the idiot did was to scream for guards.
I slapped my hand over his mouth again and hoped the servants downstairs had not heard. But even if they had, I wondered if they’d come running to the aid of a man like Mideon.
No one came as we waited, and the terror in his eyes grew.
“Now you must be wondering, where are the guards? Why is the house so silent? Have you figured out the reason? It’s because they are incapacitated. My people are in your courtyard keeping watch. Don’t worry, your guards are quite alright, though they might be experiencing a stiff neck in the morning. You see, I’m a fair man. Your guards have done nothing wrong to me, so they will walk away unscathed. You, Mideon Greengrass, however, have done much wrong to me.”
I leaned in closer. My Greenfin mask only inches from his face. “We are going to try this one more time. I am going to release my hand and you are going to tell me what you know. But before you answer my question, there is one that I must answer for you. I threatened you a moment earlier, promising you excruciating pain if you did not obey me. You did not obey me. So now you must be wondering if I am a man of my words.”
Mideon shook his head. Fear in his eyes. Pleading.
I took a fist full of the lordling grapes between his legs and tightened my grip until they were ready to burst.
He let out a muffled scream far louder than the ones before. Tears welled up in his eyes.
“Now, let’s try this again,” I said. “You are going to tell me why you killed my man and how you discovered his true identity.”
I released my hand over his mouth.
“Please, sir,” Mideon gasped. “I do not know what you are talking about. I-I beg you, I don’t know.”
It appeared he had not intended Oakdigger’s death, for he had still not connected it with my appearance. So Gerlanda had kidnapped Elsa and murdered the pumpkin man on his own accord. But I was certain Mideon had ordered Gerlanda to set the fire. In any case, I had to continue my act.
I covered his mouth again and tightened the grip in my other hand further until something crunched in my hand. Mideon wailed in agony.
“Lord Mideon,” I said politely. “I’ve already warned you not to lie to me. Since you are so fond of fire, I will burn your house to the ground with your family and servants and guards within it if you do not give me my answer. So let us stop this foolishness. Whoever you are working for, I promise you, they are not a worse man than I.”
“F-fire? H-how d-do you-?”
“I know everything, everything except for why you killed my man. I assume the fire was to hide his murder. A poor job there. You should have burned him inside. That still would not have hidden your crime, but it would have been slightly more believable.”
“Who… what man… y-you mean the market seller? The old man?”
I punched him in the stomach. He bowed over. Coughing. I leaned into his ear. “Yes! Who else do you think I’ve been talking about? Are you suggesting there are other men you’ve killed and you can’t keep track of them all?”
“No! No, there are no-” Mideon coughed a glob of red spit. “-There are no others! I didn’t kill him! I only told my man to set the fire! There wasn’t supposed to be a murder!”
“Don’t lie to me!” I brought him back up with my hand on his shirt collar and got into his face. “You ordered his death!”
“No! I just ordered him to burn the tavern! I swear! No one was supposed to die!”
“That’s not what your man said,” I said cooly.
Mideon’s face dropped. “What? Where is Burtrund?”
Apparently, Gerlanda’s real name was Burtrund.
“He’s already paid the price for killing my man,” I said cooly.
“Oh-Oh Celeru…” His legs shook as he cupped his crotch as if everything inside of him would escape if he did not hold on tight.
“But before he did,” I continued. “He told me you ordered him to murder my man.”
“No! You must believe me. I only told him to make sure there were no witnesses. I didn’t think he’d kill anyone! I swear! I’m not a murderer!”
“So your claim of innocence is that you only set fires to businesses and associate yourself with murderers. You’re not a very good liar, Mideon Greengrass.”
“It was just a one time thing… I-I have a personal issue with that tavern… but I didn’t want anyone to die!”
Mideon looked unsure of how to explain the situation. “They insulted my honor and swindled me out of money.”
Well that was close to the truth but certainly a personal spin on the situation. But not far off enough to call it a lie. It was a good sign he was taking my authority seriously now.
“So you expect me to believe you set a tavern on fire and accidentally killed one of the most prized and talented men my employer has ever had?”
I paused, pretending to be swayed. “You know nothing of Oakdigger’s mission?”
“N-no… of course not. It was an accident.”
“I would not call arson and a murder an accident, little lordling,” I spat. “I would call that a crime. But it appears that your intention was not to intervene with our affairs.”
“No… no of course not-” He pauses a moment to let out a pained rasp, clutching his privates tighter. “I-I wouldn’t—Please sir, let me go. I will not stand in your way.”
“Hmm…” I said, as if considering what to do with him.
“My father will repay you any cost you may have incurred.”
“Oh? Is that right, Superintendent?” I said turning my head.
Mideon frowned at me then looked in the direction I had turned. I was facing the cabinet.
I opened it, revealing Greengrass Senior, tied up and gagged. He was awake though, and he’d heard everything.
There was a mix of anger and fear in the older man’s eyes, though he could not say much with the cloth gag in his mouth.
“Consider yourself lucky, Superintendent,” I said. “It appears your son is a screwup, but he did not screw up as badly as I had thought. Now as for what to do with you two…”
Mideon swallowed audibly.
“Typically I’d require blood for the death of my man. And of course, your family’s station in this city would be removed and your estates and properties dismembered. But I suppose your friend Burtund has already paid for the crime. You will not miss him, will you, Little Greengrass?”
“No… of course not. There’s no room for murderers in my company.”
That’s rich coming from the arsonist. But instead, I said, “And his friends? They will not seek retribution, will they?”
“No, of course not. I will make certain of it.”
“Good. And what will you do for my man that you murdered?”
There was muffled noise coming from the tied and bound older Greengrass.
“That is a good idea, Superintendent,” I said as if I understood what he was saying. “But let us hear what your son thinks.”
“Umm… I will ensure his body is returned to you.”
“Mmm… that would reveal his true identity. Surely there’s something you could do for him? He was once in the army, you know.”
“Uh… he will get the highest military burial! With full honors… And a place in the royal cemetery. We will pay for it!”
I nodded. “I suppose that will suffice. And his family? What will they get for the early death of their dear father?”
I was actually not sure if Oakdigger had children. He had said he had daughters, though I did not know if they were living or dead.
“They will be paid of course. A full captain’s retirement commission.”
I nodded. “Does that suit you, Superintendent?”
Mideon’s father bobbed his head enthusiastically.
“Ah, you know,” I said, coming up with an idea of my own. “Perhaps your Captain Kainlin of the Ward Guard can speak at the funeral. My man Oakdigger had mentioned him before. I believe they were in the Duke’s army together. Perhaps Kainlin could speak some words of Oakdigger’s heroism in the old days.”
“It will be the most heroic speech ever given!” Mideon said enthusiastically.
“Y-yes, good, good,” I said, glad that my mask hid my face at this moment.
There was one other thing I wanted, but Charm’s words stuck with me and I did not want to give any hint that I was related to the Tipsy Pelican Tavern, despite the fact that at this moment I could have asked for the heavens from them.
I was in dire need of funds for repairs, but I had already hinted that I worked for the Duke of Meritas by suggesting that I would have the Greengrass family removed from their stations. There was no one who could do such a thing besides the Duke. But that also meant a man in my situation would not ask for money.
So it was safer to say nothing about it and let them believe they had accidentally stepped on the foot of someone with far greater power, involved in far more dangerous affairs.
“Very well then,” I said. “I hope there will not be any more interference in this ward. There are forces at play in this city beyond what you can imagine, and I will not have you foul it up with your mistakes.”
Mideon nodded like a good humble sycophant.
“You will of course not speak about my visiting to anyone,” I continued. “And if I find out you have been involved with another arson, murder, or anything else not by the book, I will return. And let me just say, if I visit you a second time, there will not be a third for there will be nothing to visit upon.”
“Yes, of course, I understand,” Mideon said, bobbing his head while clutching the spot between his pants. “There will be no more disturbances.”
“In that case, it has been a pleasure, gentleman.” I left the room through the balcony doors and leaped onto the railing. I swept an arm, hailing to my imaginary men who were supposed to be on the lookout. “Move out!”
With my cape billowing in the wind, I jumped into the air with what I hoped looked like majestic grace. It was the last flourish to my false persona and a risky move. Jumping from the third story was easy with the gate of breath open. Without it, I’d need to perfect my landing, dropping into a roll to spread out the impact.
I didn’t. I landed wrongly on my heel and limped away into the darkness, while mumbling curses before the Greengrasses could spot me.