Just for the heck of it, here’s the prologue to the flintlock fantasy I started working on last year (I think I mentioned it here a few months ago). Not sure if I’ll ever actually finish this thing, because I’ve got a bunch of other projects I’d like to finish up first, but…well, we’ll see.
The body was lying facedown in the mud.
Drom crossed his arms over his chest and looked down, studying the dead man for a long moment. He’d been tall, probably a bit over six feet, with long, gangly arms and legs. His head, completely bald, was eggshell-white, and oddly clean; the white was stark against the brown of the mud. He’d been dragged out of the river and deposited on a swampy section of the left bank, beyond the West Bend, near the very heart of the city — the Grand Avenue Bridge was only about half a mile upriver, though the early morning fog was too thick for Drom to make it out from where he stood.
He glanced at the man standing next to him, the man who’d discovered the body. “You were the one who fished him out?”
The man made a nervous gesture, a sort of shrug. He was a small, ratty-looking fellow — probably a smith or factory worker of some kind, judging from his soot-stained clothes — and was clearly unnerved by the fact that he was speaking to one of the army’s Royal Investigators.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “He was floating down the river, just a few feet from the bank, when Mel and I spotted him. I waded out there and grabbed a boot and dragged him up there into the mud, as you can see.” He paused, then added, “I didn’t touch him elsewise.”
Drom nodded, tugging thoughtfully at his beard. “Good.”
“Mel was the one who said we should fetch the Constabulary,” the man continued, jerking a thumb at his friend, who was standing somewhere within the crowd of onlookers further up the riverbank. “We wouldn’t have bothered, you know, if we’d thought he was just some poor old drunk. We’ve seen people in the river before. But…that coat…”
He nodded again. The dead man’s coat, stained and splattered thought it was, was indeed striking: it was a heavy woolen greatcoat, blue, with yellow cuffs and a yellow collar. The yellow threads were silk.
The boots he wore were expensive as well, and there was a long, white cravat, painted now with mud, swirled around his neck. The man might have been a drunk, Drom thought idly, but he certainly hadn’t been a poor one.
“Thank you,” he said to the man. “You’ve done us a service. Lieutenant? Get down there.”
His partner, Prevyn, had already removed his boots and rolled his trouser legs up to his knees. The kid was nothing if not enthusiastic. “You got it.” And he made his way down to the river, pushing aside the tall grass, his bare feet squelching into the muck.
“Turn him over,” Drom called out, when Prevyn had reached him.
The lieutenant did as he was told, grabbing the dead man by his impressive coat and twisting him right side up. It took a bit of struggling.
The man’s face was covered in mud, obscuring his features. “How old, do you think?” Drom asked.
“Hard to say. Fifties? Maybe sixties? Say, this is a nice coat.”
“Drag him up here.”
Prevyn took hold of one of the dead man’s ankles and began hauling him up the slope. After a moment, however, he stopped, having apparently spotted something lying in the mud. “Oh,” he said, startled. “Oh. This is interesting.”
“What is it?” Drom demanded impatiently.
The younger man reached down and plucked an object out of the mud, holding it up for Drom to see. “Pistol,” he said, grinning. “Must’ve had it on him.”
Drom frowned. “Contacter?”
Prevyn shook some of the mud off, then snapped the barrel down and had a look in the chamber. “Yeah. Still there.”
“Well, bring it up here, too.”
He complied. When he had finally hauled the body onto dry land, Drom ventured down the slope to examine the corpse himself.
“What do you think?” Prevyn asked. He was trying look professional, but his excitement was getting the better of him; he was still wearing that big grin.
“I think he’s dead,” Drom deadpanned. He felt the man’s fingers, which were cold and stiff. “He’s been in the river for a while. Four, five hours.”
“He was rich,” Prevyn opined. “Nobility, maybe.”
The front of the man’s coat was covered in mud, brown and black, but there was another color mixed in there as well: a dark red. Drom, frowning again, unbuttoned the coat and opened it up.
The man’s chest was stained with blood.
“He’s been shot,” Prevyn remarked, surprised. “Someone shot him.”
Drom used his knife to cut the dead man’s shirt down the front. “Twice,” he said, finding the bullet holes. “Twice in the chest.” It was a grisly sight, but Drom, a Royal Investigator for fifteen years, was more than accustomed to grisly sights. “And that pistol you found wasn’t the one that killed him. Look at the size of these wounds. Rifle, most likely.”
“We could check his pockets,” Prevyn suggested.
“I’ll take care of that,” Drom told him. He glanced up at the crowd of onlookers, which seemed to be growing. “You get rid of those gawkers.”
“What about the man who fished him out? You want to keep him around, question him further?”
“No. We got what we needed out of him. Get rid of those gawkers, then run back to Stonebridge and get a carriage we can haul this guy away in.”
“Right, right.” He made his way up the slope and began waving the people away, while Drom checked the deep pockets of the man’s greatcoat.
He had a second contacter in his right pocket. He’d also had a pair of silver coins in that pocket, which, jostling around, had come into contact with the aurichalcum contacter; both silvers were unnaturally heavy now, at least five pounds each. He put them back, then tried the other pocket.
There was a small piece of parchment inside. It was wet and waterlogged, the ink running off the paper, but was still mostly readable. It appeared to be a list of books: The Legacy of Sayowail and Rassaseel, The Monuments of the Rahomme, and Western Curiosities, among others. The handwriting was exquisite.
There was one more item in that pocket — a golden sinecure badge, with the royal sigil engraved on one side and an open book engraved on the other.
He was still studying the badge when Prevyn returned with a carriage. “Find anything?” the lieutenant asked.
“Help me drag him up to the street,” Drom said. “We’re taking him back to Stonebridge.”
“And then what?”
“And then we’re having breakfast. And then we’re heading out again, to West Bend. To the Library.”
He nodded, turning the sinecure badge over and over with his fingers. “We’ve got work to do. Eleutrinia’s one and only Royal Historian was running around with a pistol last night — Esule knows why — and someone armed with a chemical rifle killed him and dumped his body in the Eleuniath.” He put the sinecure badge in his own pocket. “We’re going to find out who, and we’re going to find out why.”
Prevyn grinned an enormous grin. “Ooh. This sounds like fun.”