Guard Duty: Part Four
"Report," Smith ordered as he entered the guard room.
The red Scorchio, Banks, was already waiting. He had been ordered to take an inventory of the Ambassador's room.
"Most of it was standard issue stuff, sir," Banks said, sniffing slightly to keep back his cold. "A chest full of clothes, and some official papers – though nothing particularly important. The pestle and mortar, with some powder inside, and a few raw ingredients – a half grated Turnip was the most interesting, sir."
"You know a lot about folk remedies, Banks," Smith considered, aware that Banks had to take a daily concoction to protect against his dozens of allergies. "The Major said Ambassador Walters was taking dried Turnip to help with his health. You heard of that?"
"It's supposed to be good for your constitution, sir." Banks nodded.
"What about the black Peachpa? Any benefits in that?" Smith asked.
Banks thought for a moment. "Not that I know, sir. The blue Peachpa is supposed to be good for the skin... but the black one is rather sickly to the taste, so I understand. There wasn't any type of Peachpa in his belongings though, sir."
"No..." Smith considered. "No Bagguss, either?"
Banks shook his head.
"How easy would it be to get hold of them?"
Banks thought again. "You can pick a Bagguss up at any fruit stall in the city, sir... a black Peachpa would be more difficult to get a hold of, though. There are probably only a few specialist grocers in Faerieland that would carry such things."
"Find them," Smith instructed. "I want to know how many have been sold recently, and who to."
Captain Smith's next visit was to the castle's kitchens. If Ambassador Walters really had died from the poison of a combined Peachpa and Bagguss, then he must have somehow ingested it at the dinner. Major Brenham had been right when he said there had been no Bagguss on the menu, but someone may have tampered with the meals before they reached the dining room.
Even when it wasn't meal time, the kitchens were a busy place to be. Dozens of chefs scuttled about the place preparing dishes to be served later that night. The thick smog of cookery hung over the stoves, and Smith had some trouble locating the man he wished to speak to. The head Chef was a large Faerie Tonu who clearly enjoyed eating food just as much as cooking it.
"Mr. Avant, I need to have a word," Smith announced.
"It will have to wait!" the Tonu replied testily. "I've four dishes on the go at the moment and if just one is overcooked, my entire reputation will be in tatters!"
Smith took Avant firmly by the arm. "It can wait. There has been a murder, Mr. Avant. It takes precedence."
Reluctantly, the Tonu allowed himself to be led away to his private office at the back of the kitchen. The place was clearly not used a lot, with Avant spending most of his time cooking.
"Did you use Bagguss as an ingredient in any of the dishes served last night?" Smith asked. "Even as a garnish or to thicken the soup? Anything that wouldn't be listed on the menu."
Avant stared at him incredulously.
"Bagguss?" he questioned. "Do you insult my cookery!? You know, I studied under Chef Boulgar himself! Use Bagguss, how ridiculous!"
"Why would that be ridiculous?" Smith asked.
"You know nothing of cuisine!" Avant declared. "Bagguss is such an exceptionally strong flavour... why, even if I only used it to thicken the soup, it would overpower all other flavours to the point where it would have tasted like I had simply made Bagguss soup!"
"I see." Smith nodded. "Did anyone else have access to the dishes?"
"Oh, only my entire kitchen staff!" Avant snapped. "And the serving staff as well. Though, I hope you are not accusing them of murder; they have all been vetted to serve here, in the most prestigious kitchen on the planet! Besides, I taste the food before it goes out. If Bagguss had been added, I would have known. The only dish with a flavour strong enough to mask the taste would have been the Kelp Mousse, but I prepared that dessert personally. No Bagguss was used."
"Did you leave the dish unattended at any point during preparation?" Smith asked.
"Listen, I have had it up to here with you castle bigwigs, coming down here, interfering with my craft!" Avant shouted.
"Someone else has been down here?" Smith asked. "Who?"
"Her Majesty, of course!" Avant explained. "She came down here yesterday afternoon, asking why my paperwork wasn't up to date. She made me get it all out of my filing cabinets!"
Avant gestured towards the cabinets in the corner of the room.
"So you did leave the dish unattended," Smith pointed out.
"Only the Queen was around," Avant told him. "Surely you do not accuse the Queen?"
"No," Smith said distantly. "Surely I do not. Thank you for your help, Mr. Avant."
Smith made his way back up to the castle's ground floor deep in thought.
He didn't want to consider it, or even to think it. Fyora had access to a dish that could have easily had Bagguss added to it – and the night before, she had been missing from her chambers.
Celandra, her maid, had deliberately lied when she told Smith Fyora was walking in her gardens. Smith was sure of this.
But why? Why would Fyora murder a visiting Ambassador?
Smith made his way to his next interview with such thoughts weighing heavy on his heart.
"This is outrageous!" Major Brenham protested, shaking a finger at Ambassador Von Stratus. "The murderer stands before you and you have the gall to accuse me of the deed!?"
"No one is being accused of anything," Smith replied.
"Then why am I being kept here!?" Brenham demanded, pointing to Bane, the massive Faerie Grarrl, who was guarding the door. "I have diplomatic immunity! You cannot keep me here! Arrest this man!"
"It may interest you to learn that the diplomatic immunity you seem to like going on about also applies to Lord Von Stratus," Smith pointed out. "I can't arrest him any more than I can you – I'd need written permission from Queen Fyora and very solid evidence to even lock you up overnight. You're just being interviewed, Major, not arrested. Now, please explain why you were having a fight with Ambassador Walters last night, and why you didn't tell us earlier."
"Meridell lies!" Brenham declared.
"Major, this is not a game," Smith said firmly. "The sooner you tell us the truth, the sooner we can carry on our investigation."
Brenham relented. "Very well, I had an argument with the man, but I was not his killer! I was angry after leaving Fyora's throne room. The Ambassador was willing to overstep the mark, actually give concessions to Meridell in peace talks! That is completely against the policy of the Military Council!"
"The mess in his room?" Smith asked. "That was caused by you?"
"I threw some things around in my rage," Brenham admitted. "But I did not lay a finger on the man. I left not long afterwards. I went to my room and didn't leave until the scream woke me from my sleep."
Smith nodded, "You heard nothing else, Ambassador?"
The royal Moehog shook his head. "I too was asleep."
"Thank you both for your time," Smith said, nodding towards Bane.
The Grarrl moved from the doorway, allowing both diplomats to leave. A loud sneeze heralded the arrival of Banks soon afterwards.
"Sir, I've not finished going round all the grocers yet, but I thought you'd want to know this as soon as possible," the Scorchio announced.
"Pargolds, on Finkle Street," Banks explained. "They sold a whole bunch of fruits two days ago, that were delivered to the castle. The order contained both a black Peachpa and a Bagguss. I checked with the castle's mail office, sir... it's not good news."
"Go on," Smith instructed, a sense of knowing dread growing in the pit of his stomach.
"They were delivered straight to Her Majesty's personal chambers, sir," Banks added. "It seems Fyora ordered them."
Smith nodded, his suspicions confirmed. He sighed deeply.
"I'd appreciate it if you would both come with me for a moment," Smith ordered.
They eventually found Queen Fyora in the gardens. Smith let out another sigh as he realised just how many people were also in the gardens. There would be a sizable crowd, and word would soon spread like wildfire about what Smith was about to do.
Major Brenham was there, as least. Smith thought with some grim satisfaction that at least he would be allowed to see justice being done. That might help stop conflicts with Harkdale in the future... even though the Queen of Faerieland had...
No, Smith couldn't even voice the thought in his own mind. He was so sure that Fyora wouldn't knowingly do such a thing. It was so unlike her, and she didn't appear to have a motive.
But the evidence was stacked heavily against her.
Flanked on either side by Banks and Bane, Smith came to a stop in front of the Queen and cleared his throat.
Fyora looked at him pleasantly, but there was something in her eyes – as if she knew what Smith was about to say. As if she had been waiting for the moment all day.
"Yes, Captain?" she asked.
"I want you to know that I take no joy in this," Smith told her. "But it's the law, Majesty... there can't be exceptions."
Fyora nodded. "You must do your duty, of course."
Smith straightened up as the gathered crowd quietened, somehow aware that something important was about to happen.
"Queen Fyora," Smith announced. "It is my solemn duty to arrest you under suspicion of the murder of Ambassador Walters of Harkdale. You are to be detained at... well, at your own pleasure... please come quietly, ma'am."
"Of course." Fyora smiled politely. "I wouldn't dream of resisting."
She held her arms out, as if the entire thing was nothing more than a particularly fun parlour game, while Smith bound them in thick metal chains.
Very quietly, the three guards led the Queen of Faerieland away from the gardens and into the darkness of the castle dungeons.
To be continued...