Have I mentioned that I thought Tag was a medieval murder mystery?
Now I’m wondering if it’s more a medieval thriller or simply another one of my cross-genre shifting stories of which my regular readers say, “Your genre is Joseph.”
Continuing here with Tag – Part III The Body – Chapter 17.
Tardiff gazed at the proclamation nicely framed upon his cottage wall. Someone told him the frame was “ornate.” “That is ornately carved,” they said.
He didn’t remember who said it. Probably one of the gentlemen who brought it to him. He remembered wanting to ask, “Who is Ornate?” and realized before making a fool of himself that “ornate” was how it was carved, the intricacy of the design, not who carved it.
The frame remained nicely carved after many years on his cottage wall, the vellum it framed not so. Baron Bassus made him UnderSheriff of Nant, a reward for faithful service in the Baron’s guard, but so little happened – and perhaps that was Bassus’s reasoning? Give the title to Tardiff the Fool because nothing happens there and no one cares if it does? – none called him UnderSheriff any more.
No, now it was Tardiff the Bellman. What had been patrolling the road and questioning travelers unknown to him became walking through Nant ringing the bell announcing the canonical hours of worship, making sure people were about their business and nobody else’s, and finally walking through every six hours, same bell in hand, to summon help if a fire burned unattended or a sheep or goat wandered from its flock.
Tardiff the Bellman. The job paid for his cottage, wood for his fire, food for his table, and the cup or two at the Red Fox now and again.
Tardiff the Fool? All this for walking around ringing a bell?
Oh, but let there be a body found and everyone runs to get Tardiff because he’ll know what to do.
Ha. Tardiff knew he was given this office because he knew how to keep his mouth shut when he overheard the Baron’s business, knew it’s better to have a full belly in the Baron’s guard than to be a body loosed through the Baron’s privies to the cesspit’s outside the castle walls.
Now Tardiff collects the Baron’s taxes and sends them once a year to Melia, to the Baron’s coffers, and with my regards, Lord Baron, all is well in Nant and its surrounds.
But a body?
Of an unknown girl? Not of the village?
Where did she come from?
What was she doing?
Why was she wearing Julia’s clothes?
Tardiff knew three words and he wrote them as precisely as he could, first making sure his ink flowed and his scroll rolled and unrolled without cracking. He wasted one whole scroll practicing the words until they looked as he remembered.
Satisfied, he put on his boots, hat, scarf, slung a wineskin over his shoulder and shoved a piece of pigrib rich with meat into his pocket.
It would be a day’s journey to Turo and back, the next town, to where he could pass his message on and be sure it reached the Baron’s hand.
It is how each year’s taxes went. It must be safe.
He stood inside his door and unrolled the scroll one more time to make sure his message was written clear.
“Lord Baron, Help.”
He’d attached the seal he used to send taxes so the Baron would know from whence it came.
He opened the door.
Father Baillot stood there.
Baillot glanced at the open scroll as Tardiff absently rolled it up.
“Father Baillot. Is there something you need? Whatever it is, can it wait? I have something I must do.”
Baillot stood silent, his dark eyes darting about under his saturno’s rim.
Baillot kept his eyes steady on Tardiff’s face. “I have business in Turo.”
Baillot smiled when Tardiff’s eyebrows rose.
“I’ll be gone…not long. Only a day.”
“I was wondering…if you could watch my parishioners for me. While I’m away.”
Tardiff became magnanimous. He walked Baillot into the street without closing his door. “Of course, of course, Good Father. And perhaps there’s something you can do for me, as well. It will take you no time. You know the Sargeant there? Good, good, good. Perhaps you will hand this to him for me? Nothing to be concerned with. One of my regular messages to the Baron, to let him know all is well. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you, Good Father, thank you.”
Baillot set off towards Turo. Tardiff reached into his pocket, pulled out the pig’s rib, put it between his teeth, went inside his cottage and closed his door, satisfied his obligation to the Baron and the Baron’s taxes done.
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