Chapter 7 Part 1 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Arren, Corland, the Second Day of Spring's Ending, 991 KY
The tidy little townhouse in Arren was filling up with strangers, unusual at this early hour but then this was an unusual day. Rodder Pawl the footman grimaced at the hallway carpet: one big track of grime. Mistress Ambleson would be very upset were she to see it. The bell rang, and he opened the door to a tall figure wearing the hooded black robes of a priest of Harla. Pawl tamped down his dread and let the priest in.
Once inside, the figure pulled off the hood to reveal a kind-faced older man, hair shorn very short--almost bald--in the manner Friends male and female alike preferred. Behind him followed two men and a woman, dressed and shorn alike. The largest man carried a pair of poles wrapped in canvas; the woman carried a folded white sheet. "Where is she?" said the lead priest.
"This way." Pawl led them from the entryway up the stairs to the room where Mistress Ambleson sat. At first glance, she appeared to have fallen asleep in her chair before the sitting room fire. On closer inspection, her skin was white and waxy as a taper. Her chin listed down and to one side; her eyes were closed. Beside her on her workstand stood a small half-drunk glass of barisha. One hand held a letter. Three bored-looking Guardsmen clustered in one corner chatting in low voices with the fidgeting, anxious cook; in an opposite corner on a footstool sat Ianna the maid, her apron over her head as she rocked and cried.
A green-clad Sister stood looking out the bay window onto the street, hands folded under her gray overdress. She turned and bowed as the group entered. "Siblings, I am Sister Dagmissa," she said.
The lead priest answered her bow. "Friend Hames, Sister. Who was this lady in life?"
"Mistress Tellis Ambleson," replied the Sister. "I've been treating her for nerves lately."
"Mr Pawl," said Hames. Pawl flinched; he'd hoped the priest had forgotten him. "When did you find her?"
"About two hours ago. I called for Ianna--" he jerked his head toward the crying maid--"and she was no help so I went for a Sister right away, and then she sent me for the Guard, and then they called for you, your honor," he said, bowing and nodding.
"'Friend' is enough, Mr Pawl. How long do you think she's been dead, Sister?"
"I'd say about seven hours or so," said Sister Dagmissa, crossing to the corpse. She took Mistress Ambleson's free hand and flexed the fingers. "She's stiff but not completely. D'you agree with that time, Friend?"
"I do. Your guess at the cause of her death?"
Sister Dagmissa flicked her hand at the worktable. "She killed herself. Tincture of poppies in her barisha. I'd prescribed it for her nerves."
Pawl gasped. "But Mistress would never do such a thing! There's Miss to think of, and Mistress always thought of Miss before everything!"
Sister Dagmissa plucked the letter from Mistress Ambleson's stiff fingers. "Did you read this, Mr Pawl?"
"No, Sister, I can't read much, and besides it didn't seem right."
"It says Miss Ambleson has eloped with an 'Adrik.' Do you know anything about this?"
Pawl fingered Mr Adrikov's gold piece in his pocket. "Not as such, ma'am. I know Mr Adrikov and Miss are very much taken with one another. Mistress disapproved, and their running off--well, it doesn't surprise me any."
"Hm," said the Sister.
Pawl wondered if she could see the guilty gold piece through his trousers. What if they blamed him? He'd never imagined Mistress might do such a thing. Mr Adrikov and Miss were so attached, and no one thought Mistress right to keep them apart--it had seemed kind to help, and he knew Mistress would forgive the couple when they came back. Then there was the gold piece, more than he made in a spoke, with another to follow on the newlyweds' return. "So...so what's to happen now? Who's going to pay me my final wages?"
"Where is the lady's family, Mr Pawl?" said Friend Hames.
"I don't know, sir. She never spoke about where she was from or who her people were. She and Miss have lived here in Arren close on a year, if that helps."
"Not in the least," said Friend Hames. "Captain," he called to the head Guardsman, "with no family to inherit, I believe the contents of this house are now forfeit to the government."
"But I said I didn't know her family, not that she didn't have any--what about Miss?" said Pawl.
"If a relative steps forward, the proceeds from the auction will be given to him, minus the tithe to the Hill and taxes. Miss Ambleson is the responsibility of her new husband, assuming the rascal married the poor girl."
The thought had never occurred to Pawl. What if Mr Adrikov didn't marry her? If she came back in shame to an empty house, what would become of her?
The Guardsman motioned to his men. "Thank you, Friend Hames. I'll report back to the Accountsman's office, and he'll send his men round to pay off the servants and begin the inventory. I leave the body to you, then." He bowed to the Friends and the Sister, and left with his men.