The Prophetess's Tale: Part Two
Detective Sherman Wentworth expertly shuffled the papers on his desk and neatly filed them away. The candle he lit earlier tonight nearly guttered out. He smiled. A candle gone in a day is a candle by which good work was done.
As a reward, he allowed himself to finally graze a webbed palm over the fine, cream envelope which could only be from the king. The yellow Quiggle's name was scribbled regally on the front: Detective Sherman Wentworth. The back had been closed with a red wax seal, on which was printed the intricate symbol of King Tristan. The detective turned the letter over in his hands; it was heavier than one might expect, meaning the contents of the letter were long. Wentworth licked his lips in anticipation. It was so rare to get a letter from the king, rarer yet to get one as a thank you for solving his largest case yet.
He slid a finger under the envelope, unable to bear it any longer. The letter perched on the corner of his desk for nearly twenty four hours, and Wentworth could not help but peek at it once every five minutes. His time had come. As he broke the seal, he imagined what would be worth writing to him personally for: perhaps it was a large reward, beyond the initial one. Perhaps the king was handing him lands, making him a lord. Lord Detective Sherman Wentworth. He chuckled to himself merrily.
Elegant parchment glided out of the envelope as Wentworth delicately pressed it open. It was folded over on itself, over and over; pages and pages of written text. Wentworth's hungry eyes took another half-second to admire the stationery itself; the borders were embossed in a golden floral design, the parchment of a creamy texture, the words painstakingly etched into the paper such that they left an indent on the other side.
Wentworth paused, looking both ways as though someone could be watching him in his office, and then lifted the parchment to his nose. A deep whiff revealed the scent of ink and fresh paper; he sighed with content. It was worth it, every second, to get a letter like this at the end of a hard case.
As he scanned the letter, his easy smile transitioned into a deeper and deeper frown. His stomach dropped down into his gut. Wentworth fetched himself a glass of water when he was done, folding the parchment neatly away and back into the envelope. His throat had never been so dry.
But how could that be? How was it even possible? How could anyone let something so huge and brash happen?
Why did he need to solve another case so soon? By the king, he'd just finished one off and thought he'd have some time to spare...
Wentworth lit a new candle as his old one spluttered into nothing. His feet tumbled over one another, unable to move fast enough, as he sped off down the hall.
A blue Xweetok came instantly to the door when he knocked, clad in a nightgown. She rubbed her eyes sleepily. "Detective?" she asked with a yawn.
"Maura. I need you to get me to the royal dungeons. Now."
The dungeons were damp and unpleasant, as dungeons often are.
Emilia coughed into her tiny fist. The smell, at least, she had gotten used to. She remembered when she first came here: how she thought she'd never be able to handle the musk, how it would cling to her fur like she was born with it.
How she'd always be associated with the place.
The door down the hall squeaked. Emilia stood erect, brushing herself off and adopting her nicest smile. She only got one visitor ever, and he often gained approval to get her out.
She couldn't help that a criminal's mind was so helpful to a detective.
The anticipation killed her as the footsteps drew nearer. It was amazing, that she was so impatient, she couldn't even wait for someone to walk down a hall. Sometimes she thought she was going mad, and other times she thought that anyone would go mad like this and she was doing quite well comparatively, thank you very much.
Sure enough, the yellow Quiggle strutted through the place. A green Draik guard followed him at a more leisurely pace. She was the only cell in the hall; the other doors led to storage and the like.
A cruel, isolated punishment, for an apparently ruthless criminal.
Personally, she didn't like to see herself as such.
"Sherman Wentworth," she drawled. "I did not expect you tonight. What time is it? It has to be past one in the morning."
Wentworth checked his antique watch. "One-nineteen," he confirmed. "I need your help."
It was just like him to cut to the chase. She always appreciated his directness. It was a soft directness, unlike people who thought direct meant mean. She was the latter, if she was direct at all.
"Well?" she asked, hands on her hips. It was hard to look intimidating in the body of a striped Meerca, but she tried her best to be influential, at the very least.
Obligingly, he held up the order, written in the king's hand, that she be released from her imprisonment for two weeks. Unless, of course, she breached protocol, at which point she would be returned and never released again. Emilia whistled. "Wow-ee, a two-weeker."
"Must be something big."
Wentworth cleared his throat, side-eyeing the guard. "Something big," he echoed.
Emilia leaned back into her bed, suavely taking a seat and crossing her legs. She would not let her environment make her less. She fought against it with every action. The dungeons would not define her; the cell would not change her. "Unfortunately, Mr. Wentworth," she said, and he winced when she again did not use his formal title, "I've been dragged in and out of here more times than I can count, and more times than is entirely fair."
Wentworth exchanged a look with the guard, who furrowed his brows at him. Barely perceptively, the guard shook his head at him: Whatever she asks, don't do it. Smart guard.
"It's not like you're in a position to refuse, Emilia," he said at last.
"No, I suppose not," she said, "but I can be a deadweight."
Pursing his lips, Wentworth looked to the ceiling as if fighting tears. Emilia knew better, but this was not going as planned. He despised when things did not go as planned. The world had to be a pattern for him to translate into a direct meaning, and that was what made him a good detective.
The guard nudged Wentworth in the side with the bottom end of his halberd. He didn't have all day. Emilia scoffed at the display of wasting time. She had all the time in the world, always.
The detective sighed. "What would you have of me?"
A full surrender. Emilia suppressed a grin. "I want out. Not for a few days every few months or so, but out for good," she stated flatly.
Sweat beaded on Wentworth's forehead. "You know I can't do that."
"But look at all the permissions you can provide for me. They're excessive. They barely even check on me anymore," she said, gesturing to the guard (who began to look quite uncomfortable), "even when I'm with you. They trust me. I've earned it. I've been on my best behavior for years."
Wentworth swallowed and stepped gingerly away from the guard, who looked about ready to butt him again with the halberd and force him out of here. "I can write a request to the king, at most, but without his approval..."
"I know, I know. I'm not asking you to illegally free me. I know that wouldn't do for someone so prestigious."
Wentworth averted his eyes. "I'll try, then, but obviously I cannot promise anything."
Emilia grinned. "Great."
Before Emilia had been brought to the dungeons, she thought the sound of rustling leaves was her favorite sound in the world. She often went on long walks by herself through the forest near her childhood home just to hear it.
She'd changed her mind when she got here. The best sound was the sound of the key turning in the clanking lock, the one that would get her at least a little bit of fresh air. Daily, she yearned for it.
The guard closed the door behind her. They began the long ascent to the surface.
"So," Emilia said out of the corner of her mouth, "what kind of case are we cracking this time?"
She saw the sympathy in his eyes; she saw that he did trust her, despite everything, and that he cared for her situation and appreciated her as a sort of unpaid colleague, a last resort in the worst of cases.
Emilia had earned that through their many cases together and her helpful contributions, though she wasn't sure she deserved it.
Wentworth coughed uncomfortably and adjusted his hat. "The prince has been kidnapped," he said.
To be continued...