Tag – Part III The Body – Chapter 17

Hello again.

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.

Previous chapters here


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.

Ha.

Tardiff the Fool? All this for walking around ringing a bell?

Ha!

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.

“Well?”

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.”

“Oh?”

“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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Mani He (part 2) now on Bewildering Stories Issue 948

Continuing the success of Mani He (part 1) in Bewildering Stories Issue 947, Mani He (part 2) appears today in Bewildering Stories issue 948.

Mani He originally appeared in Magic 1995, Crumb Elbow Publishing’s Read ‘N Run Anthology 1996, and my self-published Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires in 2016.

It’s wonderful to know a work is so appreciated it’s anthologized again and again, and again and again.

 
Many writers contributed to Bewildering Stories Issue 948 and I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading them all.

Please be sure to comment.

It means a lot to us.

Tag – Part III The Body – Chapter 16

Hello again.

In real time, I’m coming up on the close of Tag. It seemed to me I’ve been working on Tag since the earth was young, but checking my notes I see I’ve been actively working on this version since Dec 2021, which means I’m producing first draft novels about every six months, a schedule I can accept.

The operative phrase in the above is “this version.” Tag grew out of a short story which I originally wrote in 1994 and which no makes the rounds as Blood Magic, so if it seems (to me) I’ve been working on this story since the earth was young, that’s a close enough statement for me to accept as true.

In any case, continuing here with Tag – Part III The Body – Chapter 16.

Previous chapters here


Tag – Part III The Body – Chapter 16

Bonk! Bonk!

Nory kept his eyes on Thomas.

Bonk! Bonk!

Thomas sat under the elm holding Nory’s hammer. He pulled a piece of bread from his pocket, crumbled some and tossed to some wrens who watched him carefully.

Bonk! Bonk!

Nory ran to Byell’s orchard after seeing the body and ate the Tinker’s food.

As much as he could, anyway.

He ate so much his belly rebelled and brought it back up.

Plenty more, though. Plenty more. Eat slowly, Grnadmother Dire told him. That way the food stays down.

Bonk! Bonk!

Nory returned for his hammer and found Thomas sitting there. He stayed behind a broad oak with a split trunk covered with red, flowering persian pea vines. Nory quietly entwined himself in the loose ones and didn’t move.

Chickadees chirped and fluttered around him. He was too near the peas for them and they told him so.

Nory put a finger to his lips and frowned at them.

They found another vine and grew quiet, only when a new one arrived did they chirp their displeasure.

Nory waited.

He wanted his bright, shiny hammer.

If Thomas found it, he’d tell. He knew Nory was here earlier in the day.

Thomas would tell people Nory hurt the girl with his hammer.

Grandmother Dire would be angry at him.

Grandmother doesn’t get upset often, only when Nory makes trouble or doesn’t know what he’s doing. She gets upset to protect him. She is Nory’s friend.

Footsteps on the road.

Nory pulled back even more, not to be seen.


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Mani He now on Bewildering Stories Issue 947

I so enjoy my work being appreciated. And when my work is both appreciated and serialized (so it will appear over several issues. Mani He part one appears todau), even better.

More eyeballs on it. More chances for someone to read it and go, “Hey, this kid knows how to write.”

So do the wonderful folks at Bewildering Stories and me a favor; go read the issue. Feel free to read my story first, I won’t mind.
.

 
Many writers contributed to Bewildering Stories Issue 947 and I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading them all.

Please be sure to comment.

It means a lot to us.

Tag – Part III The Body – Chapter 15

Previous chapters here


Tag – Part III The Body – Chapter 15

Verduan and Patreo pulled the Tinker’s cart into the village. The body lay on the bed and the cart’s top kept it from village eyes. Ide and Patreo covered the body further with cloths found in the cart. Tardiff walked in front and shooed people out of their way. Ide walked behind and wept. One hand rested on the body or made minor adjustments to the covering clothes when the cart jumped over a rock or bounced over a rut. Eric stayed at her side, his steps shortened to match hers, and comforted as he could. Father Baillot walked a few solemn step behind mumbling prayers. Thomas remained in the wood where the body and cart were found, hidden less anyone return.

Baillot guided them to the sacristy. He moved vestments and wine goblets from a table and lit candles all around. Verduan, Patreo, and Eric lifted the body and lay it there.

Tardiff pointed to the door. “Verduan, stand outside and make sure no one bothers us.”

Verduan nodded and closed the door as he left.

Patreo carefully pulled back the cloth covering her and began to remove its clothes.

Ide stopped him. “I’ll do that.”

Patreo bowed. “We must be careful how we remove what is worn. I will assist you.”

Baillot nodded and Ide stepped back. She turned Eric to face her. “Go, bring my husband.”

Eric looked past her and caught Patreo’s eye. “I’d rather stay.”

Patreo nodded slightly. He wet a cloth and dabbed matted blood from the dead girl’s hair. “Let him stay. You, mother, you will know best where your husband is this time of day. It is best you bring him, please.”

Baillot motioned her away with a wave of his hand, his eyes fixed on Patreo’s ministrations. Ide snorted and left.

Patreo proceeded. He turned the head and quickly directed Tardiff’s eyes. “See this? Touch it gently. It yields. The skull is cracked. Eric, wash away the rest of this blood until the wound is visible.”

His fingers massaged behind the ears then the neck. “And the blow was fierce enough to snap the neck.”

Tardiff inspected the wound. “The blow to her head killed her then?”

“Surely.”

“So the violence done to her. It was after death?”

“Yes, but not long after. Or while dying. These marks on her face, either her heart still beat enough to send blood there or it was moments after she died and blood still ran through her veins.”

Patreo continued exploring. “Her eyes were removed by someone who knew what they were doing. Someone skilled in torture.”

Tardiff crossed his arms over his chest. “Removed because she saw something?”

“Or someone thought so.”

“Why cut off the hand?”

“A Gourdin punishment. For theft. Brought here from the Crusades. So someone who’s served, knows those who served and knows them dearly, or a Gourdin themself.”

Eric stood back, his eyes closed. “Not punishment for taking the hand off the witch?” He crossed himself.

Patreo frowned down upon the body. “The witch’s retribution would be so clean? She would want to cause pain as well as damage. The bones would be shattered before the hand was taken.” He lifted the arm with the missing hand. “See? The arm itself is whole.”

He held the arm up in one hand and felt along its length with the other. Coming to her chest, he cupped a breast and lifted it slightly.

Tardiff watched. “What are you doing now?”


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