2. The Inspector of Corpses has his say
The only other person there was the Inspector of Corpses. Bergil sat at his desk and the Inspector of Corpses stood towering over him, like a withered old tree which had lost its bark. There came a rattling sound behind me as the guards barred the door.
“We waited for you,” said Bergil, “because I want the Inspector to say what he has to say but once. Thereafter he is on oath to reveal to nobody what has passed here between the three of us.”
The Inspector cleared his throat. Belying his appearance, his voice was full and throbbing. I imagined his buttons drumming on his ribs as he spoke.
“I examined the body personally. It was of a young man, one scarcely out of boyhood, seemingly. Yet by virtue of his kinship he may have been as much as fifty years of age. Prior to death his state of health was excellent. His muscles were small and his limbs delicate – no warrior this, but a scholar maybe, even a courtier. I am of the opinion however that in life he was far stronger than he looked.”
He paused, staring at me keenly, intending that the full import of those words should sink in.
“Therefore, in view of the hideous and painful death he underwent, I found it surprising that there was no evidence that he had put up a struggle. No scratches, no bruises or abrasions, no skin or hair from his assailant (or assailants) under his fingernails.”
“How – ?” I stopped and cleared my throat, resuming in my quietest voice, “how came he to die?”
“The head had been severed from the body by a single blow from a sword. It is deeply to be lamented that when the body was delivered to me, the head did not accompany it. I might have discovered much from it. The expression on the victim’s face. The last image ingrained upon his eyeballs. The very last thoughts in his brain. All these could have been distilled from the flesh and would have told us much.”
“And is that how he died, by being beheaded?”
The Inspector looked me up and down with withering scorn.
“No, Master Goswedriol, that is not how he died. The body was decapitated as late as eight-and-three-quarter hours after death. Whoever found the body, or left it to be delivered to me, was of a mind to prevent me from recognising the victim. It is hard to avoid the suspicion that it was assumed that I personally might have been able to identify him.”
The Inspector’s eyes were boring into me. Mustering deep reserves of willpower I prevented myself from shifting uncomfortably from one foot to another. But it is impossible to address all bodily signs of discomfort at one and the same time, so I harboured no illusion that I was fooling the Inspector one little bit with my affectation of nonchalance. It was on the tip of my tongue to propose that the Inspector and I change places, he clearly being a detective himself of remarkable talent. But an inner voice warned me that the range of ripostes available to him were ones I might not care to hear.
I spoke again in my quiet monotone. “How then did he die?”
“He died through the agency of an instrument, neither sharp nor blunt, heated to white heat and thrust deep into his anal orifice. Which was then vigorously dragged round and round. Sufficient, if I may quote the common speech of my young halfling assistant, to make kebabs of his guts.”
I permitted my mask to slip, raising my eyebrows and emitting a long low whistle. By his expression the Inspector made it clear that he was as little impressed by my show of surprise as he had been by my studied coolness.
“It is egregious,” he said, “to mimic here the sound this would have made.”
I lowered my head and mumbled apologies. The Inspector sniffed and resumed his narrative.
“His screams would have been both agonised and deafening, assuming he had not been gagged, which is of course a possibility, which the absence of the head leaves open.”
The Inspector turned to gaze unseeing beneath hooded eyelids over Bergil’s head. “A supposition which the worthy Captain might wish to bear in mind when he comes to making inquiries in the City. Assuming of course that the body was found in the City.”
It didn’t escape me that the Inspector was careful not to ask where the body actually was found. He knew Bergil as well as I did. The answer would have come back pat: “We are asking the questions, not you.”
Ignoring the Inspectors’ gimlet eyes I resumed my professional monotone. “And what sort of murder weapon are we looking for?”
“Not a sword, nor a dagger, nor any weapon of war, but a humble fireside poker. Though not so humble that pokers of a similar type are not to be found in the apartments of the King’s retinue.” He stressed the word “retinue”.
“The instrument will be discovered to be made of steel, of square cross section behind a substantial tip, of a shape somewhat resembling a carrot. It will be of sufficient length to have seared the heart, ruptured the liver and scored the diaphragm, in addition to the extensive damage it inflicted on all abdominal organs.”
Bergil took a deep breath. “Is there anything else you want to ask the Inspector, Master Goswedriol?” He was trying to copy my flat monotone, which was a voice he never used.
I cast my eyes down. “No, not for the present.”
“Since I have already sworn the Inspector to secrecy, I must warn you that there will be no second chance to confer with him on the matter.”
“There’ll be no...?” I blurted out. Then I recalled it would be no use protesting. Bergil owed his position not to any great capacity for imagination, but to his ability to implement with zeal the most pettifogging ordinances of the Ancient Realm of Gondor.
Bergil rose to his feet. “Then, Master Inspector, that will be all. This matter will not be spoken of again, till you die, or are released from your oath, or the world ends.” He inclined his head.
The Inspector returned the courtesy. Then, turning on his heel, he strode to the door beside which I stood, never letting go my gaze the whole time.
“Guards!” boomed Bergil. “The Inspector of Corpses comes forth!”
The rattling sound was heard again and the door opened. Two helmeted guards, facing each other and looking at nothing, held up both hands in the raised-palm Gondorian salute.
I nodded to Bergil. “I fear that I too must rush away. I left my horse in charge of the ostler with little ceremony. He appeared to me to be a man without initiative and I wish to ensure my horse has been adequately cared for.”
“Is there nothing you would say to me about what you have just heard?”
“Oh yes. Lots. But not this instant.”
What Bergil intended as a shrewd look passed across his brow. “If you’re hoping to catch the Inspector up and have further words with him I must warn you that it will be no use. The men of Minas Tirith are punctilious over matters of duty. They keep their vows.”
Without a word I turned and strode past the guards and through the door.
The Inspector was standing in the front entrance looking outwards, as if he was a man with all the time in the world.
“Excuse me, Master Inspector,” I said, with all the courtesy I could muster. Impelled by my voice, but affecting to ignore me, the Inspector stepped out into the Sixth Circle and, without any prompting from me, set his feet towards the stables. I quickly caught him up and walked alongside him in silence.
“Were you waiting in the entrance to talk to me?” I said eventually.
“My lips are sealed,” came the reply.
“Nevertheless, might there not be something which you would ask of me?”
“Yes. There is.” The Inspector spoke slowly, choosing his words with care. “Why is it, Master Goswedriol, that a man publicly proclaimed to be a great lover of truth should utter such prize porkies?”
“I do indeed love the truth, when spoken by other people. On occasions, however, I am disinclined to speak it myself, when silence is the better counsel. But back there in the Captain’s office, did I utter a single untruthful word?”
“Not all utterances consist of words,” observed the Inspector. “Some utter counterfeit coinage. Some utter forged documents. Some even utter corpses, intending to deceive therewith.”
“Please clarify your meaning.”
“I imagine you think you’re being frightfully clever. How long do you suppose you can keep this up?”
“I really must confess, Inspector, to being at a loss to know what you mean.”
“Whither are you heading now?” he said. I thought he was changing the subject, but I soon discovered he wasn’t.
“To the stables, to ascertain the welfare of my horse, which I left behind with unaccustomed haste. After that I go to the Houses of Healing.”
“I will go with you as far as the stables,” he said. “I would have words with you.”
“I should be glad of your company.” I said it in my most professional monotone.
“That remains to be seen. And I suppose you are going to tell me that your errand at the Houses of Healing is to visit Master Morfindel, who lies within: having been conveyed thence through your good offices?”
“And all the time Master Morfindel, the greater part of him, lies cold upon a marble slab. Yet you profess yourself at a loss to know what I mean.”
“Master Morfindel lives!” I protested.
“In the memory, no doubt. And he will continue to live in the memory for many a long year. The memory will be sweet to some, if not to others.”
He stopped and turned to face me full on. “Your solace for his poor state of health is misplaced. In every sense of the word.”
“I must remind you of the oath you have sworn before Captain Bergil,” I replied, with as much dignity as I could muster. He laughed his dry booming laugh. His buttons I imagined were buzzing fit to fly off.
“I am sorry,” I said, genuinely ashamed of myself. “What I meant was: please keep your voice down and keep to yourself whatever may pass between us.”
“You have my word, Sir,” he said. “As one man of honour to another.”
That dry laugh again. I held out my hand. Gravely, to my surprise, he took it.
Letting go I said, “The true condition of Master Morfindel is known only to Captain Bergil, myself and the King. How then do you presume to share in this knowledge?”
“That I choose not to reveal,” he said. But he said it after a pause, suggesting that he was on the point of telling me something, but bit it back at the last moment. He still did not trust me, I told myself. Just then I could not really find it in my heart to blame him.
We were now outside the stable and I went in to see my horse was properly cared for. It was as well that I did, for the fool of an ostler has left neither straw in the manger, nor water in the trough. When I came out, the Inspector of Corpses was no longer to be seen.
In the southernmost sector of the Sixth Circle stand the Houses of Healing. Grass is a precious commodity in Minas Tirith and most of it seems to have ended up here, around the wards and the operating theatre, the surgeries, treatment rooms and the enormous smokestack. You pass notices saying “Pray Be Silent!” and “Horses may not Pass this Point”, and you’re at the gate house of the complex, which serves also as the house of Lady Éowyn when she resides in Minas Tirith.
Which she does most of the time. For although she dwells with her husband, Lord Faramir, in a stately mansion within sight of Henneth Annûn, it’s rare that she can tear herself away for a day’s riding on the fair slopes of Ithilien, so absorbed she is in the work of being Matron of the Houses of Healing.
Her selfless devotion to the cause of tending the sick ensures that she is well beloved in the City, albeit in a respectful sort of way, because she is a mean woman to cross. I was dreading my interview with her.
I knocked on her office door and opened it diffidently at her peremptory “Come in!”
“Oh it’s you! What you want?”
It was going to be every bit as bad as I feared. “I came to pay my respects, Lady Éowyn, and to thank you for...”
“I wonder you have the gall to come within a mile of me, after your escapade of yesterday. What on earth do you think you’re playing at?”
“It was no escapade, Madam, but the King’s business, a matter of the highest importance...”
“You’re talking just like Morfindel! I would have expected you of all people to know better than to go running around at the beck and call of that – young fellow!” I guessed she was going to use another word, but checked herself. Even Lady Éowyn had to worry about what other people overheard her saying these days.
“My abject apologies, Madam. I came to offer you some explanation.”
“I’d be very surprised if you could! Not content with playing the most objectionable practical jokes on all and sundry, the son of Gollum now gets other people to play them for him! People you wouldn’t expect it of. You don’t suppose for a moment, do you, that the admission of a crude dummy of cords and wrapped cloths, masquerading as the person of Morfindel, wasn’t immediately brought to my attention? And as for ordering my staff, in the King’s name, to attend to the dummy in conditions of the utmost secrecy as if it were a real person – that indeed is something to take exception to!”
“Madam, I must request most respectfully that the order be carried out...”
“I shall get up and hit you in a minute! To start with I thought you were out of your senses! So I straightaway checked with Captain Bergil and was amazed when he backed you up to the hilt! My staff have indeed kept the matter to themselves – I personally shall vouch for that. But it hasn’t elevated either you or Bergil in my estimation, to go co-operating in one of Morfindel’s numerous outrages!”
It was not just the genuineness of her indignation which impressed me, but how she took it for granted that it was all Morfindel’s doing. I realised that in order to secure her co-operation I’d have to tell her the truth.
“Madam, I have something to tell you in the utmost confidence. May I... may I sit down?”
“Oh do!” she shouted. “Please do. I shall give you one minute of my precious time before I pitch you out on your ear!”
Leaning backwards I put my head out of the door and glanced up and down the corridor. No one was within earshot. I closed the door, came back and sat down. As I held the gaze of Lady Éowyn, or rather cringed beneath her glare, I felt I was on the rim of a volcano that at any moment would explode. I knew I had just four words to make my point – no circumlocutions, no beating about the bush. I chose my words carefully.
“Morfindel has been murdered.”
Lady Éowyn’s face flicked rapidly through a series of disparate expressions until finally, uncertain of which one to retain, it settled on reflecting my serious frown.
“His death is being kept a close secret, by order of the King, until we can find out who killed him. The only people who know besides the King are Captain Bergil, myself, and now you. Who know officially, I should add.” My thoughts strayed to the Inspector of Corpses. “To my shame I had to embroil you in a subterfuge. The story to be put about is this: Master Morfindel is gravely ill and is being cared for in strictest seclusion in the Houses of Healing.”
I emitted a sigh of relief, having got that off my chest. Lady Éowyn changed neither her expression nor her position. She looked like one of the gargoyles on the ramparts of the Sixth Circle.
“If you doubt me, and I would have every sympathy with you doing so, then you may check with Captain Bergil, or indeed the King himself, whose ear you have. If I don’t speak the absolute truth, you can have me flogged for the knave I am.”
Éowyn’s voice was quiet and low. “When did this happen?”
“On Thursday, some time in the evening. I’d say around eleven o’clock. Captain Bergil discovered the body at midnight. With great difficulty he and I prevented anyone finding out and at the same time we managed to deliver the body, rendered unrecognisable, to the Inspector of Corpses for his examination – and a dummy into your safekeeping, to give the story some verisimilitude that Morfindel was merely ill.”
“Well,” said Éowyn, “I doubt you’ve been altogether successful in that! In spite of what I can do, there’s no telling how much my staff have gossiped, or will gossip. Although I must say that what goes on here in the Houses of Healing is very rarely noised abroad beyond these walls.”
She sat upright and put her hands in her lap. “So he’s dead, you say? It is a shameful thing to speak ill of the dead, but really it was high time. You aren’t duping me now, are you?”
“If you have the slightest doubt, Madam, you should bid Bergil vouch for me, or even the King. It is essential that I enjoy your fullest co-operation. Your help, indeed, if I dare beg for it.”
Éowyn made her decision without going to any such lengths. “Well, Goss,” she said, “how can I help you?”
“Firstly, by encouraging everyone in your charge to maintain the strictest confidence. The longer we can keep this quiet, the more freedom I have to investigate. It’s not often I can pursue a murder inquiry with hardly anyone knowing that a murder has taken place. But that cannot be relied on for long.”
“I can’t promise you that, for the reasons I’ve just given you. But I’ll do whatever I can. What else?”
“Secondly, if I may ask you a few questions...”
“Yes, of course. Do you want to know where I was on Thursday night? I was here, doing the ward rounds – and there are plenty of people who can vouch for that.”
I held up my hands. “My lady, that will not be necessary. You have chosen to accept my word. It is only right for me to do the same for you. But quite probably you will know of things which have a bearing on the matter. Maybe you could name people who might be able to help me with my enquiries?”
Lady Éowyn put her finger to her cheek and thought for a moment. “Names come rushing to mind,” she said. “If this had been anyone else I should have looked at you blankly and confessed that I was unable to help. But when it comes to somebody wanting to murder young Master Morfindel, why – you have your pick of suspects.”
“That is how it seems to me too. But one advantage of confining knowledge of the murder to a handful of people is that whoever is responsible will know about it already. And they may let the fact slip.”
Éowyn’s face made her opinion clear about that. “On the other hand, like me, they may simply guess it for themselves.”
“Yes, alas, and maybe discuss it with others, whom they imagine are also privy to the secret. Such as the Inspector of Corpses. Has he said anything to you?”
“No, but the good Megastir keeps his opinions to himself, unless he gets the opportunity to tax you about your own in private. Does he have any suspicions then? If he does, how is it that you know about them?”
“Precisely because he has already ‘taxed me in private’. I’m reassured to hear from you that you consider him a man of confidence. Perhaps he won’t go spreading it around.”
“I shouldn’t think so. Though there is no knowing what confidences he utters to the bodies he’s cutting up. Did you confirm his suspicions?”
“I wasn’t sure of him, so I tried to dissimulate. He wasn’t having any of it. Somehow he knew already.”
“Well,” said Éowyn briskly, “that puts him at the top of your list of suspects – or it serves to convince you that your precious secret is as leaky as a sieve.
“I have a bad feeling it’s the latter. But a public announcement would awaken all manner of wild speculation. It’s better if people don’t go talking about it, even if the circle of those in the know grows larger than any of us might care to let it.”
Éowyn’s voice was solemn. “How did he die?”
“Most cruelly, my lady. The Inspector of Corpses made his report to Captain Bergil and myself this morning. When I first saw the body I could see no mark upon it. But it appears that someone stirred Master Morfindel’s entrails with a white-hot poker.”
Éowyn wrinkled her nose and frowned deeply to express her loathing. But, being a nurse, nothing could shock her.
“I’ve just thought of someone who could possibly help you. Quite apart, that is, from the people you and I can both think of without the slightest effort. Why don’t you go and have a word with young Aelvsson in Minas Ithil? Hangs out in the Headless Horseman, I’m told.”
“Thank you, Madam,” I exclaimed. “I know it well.”
“Do you now! What a thrill for you. It’s not a place I’ve ever had the slightest inclination to go in. Quite apart from the fact that my face is too well known in Ithilien. And I’d like to keep it to just my face!”
I grinned at the old battleaxe. Only a person of her standing could get away with saying such things.
I said “I won’t bother trying to convince you that I don’t go there for my health, or my pleasure. Though the beer is good I must admit. But the matters I have to investigate dictate the company I keep.”
“Haugh!” She barked a token laugh. “No, I don’t envy you. Not in the least. I don’t envy you the company of crotchety old women, cheese-paring policemen, and the corpses of people who are never so good than when they’re dead.”
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.