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A Stroke of Midnight (Merry Gentry #4)(7)

By:Laurell K. Hamilton

When we’d arrived, the hallway had been protected by floating pots and pans, courtesy of Maggie May, the chief cook for the Unseelie Court. Brownies can levitate objects, but not themselves for some reason. She’d gone with Doyle to see if she could get any more sense out of the scullery maid who had found the bodies. The fey was having hysterics, and Maggie couldn’t decide whether the woman had seen something that frightened her, or was simply upset over the deaths. Doyle was going to try to find out. He was hoping the woman would react to him as if he were still the Queen’s Darkness, her assassin, and tell him the truth out of fear and habit. If she were just scared, he would probably frighten her into having a fit, but I let him try. I could play good cop after he’d played bad.
I’d sent Barinthus to tell the queen what had happened, because of all of the men, he had the best chance of not being punished for being a bearer of such terrible news. The queen did have a tendency to blame the messenger.
“Possibly,” Rhys said, “just habit. You use the blade, you retrieve, clean it, and put it back in its sheath.” He pointed to a smear on the man’s jacket.
“He wiped the blade off,” I said.
Rhys looked at me. “Why ‘he’?”
I shrugged. “You’re right, it could be a she.”
I didn’t hear Doyle come down the hallway, but I knew he was there a second before he spoke. “He was running when they threw the blade.”
I actually agreed, but I wanted his reasoning. Truthfully, I wanted not to be in charge of this mess, but I had the most experience. That made it my baby. “What makes you say he was running?”
He started to touch the man’s coat, and I said, “Don’t touch him.”
He gave me a look, but said, “You can see where his coat is raised on this side, that the wound in his shirt does not line up with the coat as it lies. I believe he was running, then, when they retrieved the knife, they went through his pockets, moved his coat around.”
“I’ll bet they didn’t wear gloves.”
“Most would not think about fingerprints and DNA. Most here will be more worried that magic will find them than science.”
I nodded. “Exactly.”
“He saw something that scared him,” Rhys said, standing up. “He took off down this way to try and outrun it. But what did he see? What made him run?”“There are many frightening things loose in the corridors of our sithen,” Frost said.
“Yes,” I said, “but he was a reporter. He came looking for something odd or frightening.”
“Perhaps he saw the lesser fey’s death,” Frost said.
“You mean he witnessed Beatrice’s murder,” I said.
Frost nodded.
“Okay, say he witnessed it. He ran, they threw a blade, killed him.” I shook my head. “Almost everyone carries a knife. Most of them can pin a fly to the wall with one. It doesn’t limit our suspect pool much.”
“But Beatrice’s death limits it.” Rhys gave me a look that was eloquent. Should this be discussed where the new guards, whom we didn’t entirely trust, could hear us?
“There’s no reason to hide it, Rhys. You can’t kill the immortal with a knife, but she’s dead. It needed a spell, a powerful spell, and only a sidhe, or some few members of the sluagh could have done it.”
“The queen forbid the sluagh to be out this night. Simply to be seen while the reporters are in our sithen would raise suspicion.”
The sluagh were the least human of faerie. The nightmares that even the Unseelie fear. They are the only wild hunt that is left to us. The only frightening group that can hunt the fey, even the sidhe, until they are caught. Sometimes they kill, sometimes they only fetch you back for the queen. The sidhe fear the sluagh, and its threat was one of the reasons to fear the queen. I’d agreed to bed the King of the Sluagh to cement an alliance with them against my enemies. It was not widely known in the court that I had made the bargain. There were sidhe, even lesser fey, who would think it a perversion. I thought of it as a political necessity. Beyond that, I tried not to dwell too much on the mechanics. Sholto, their king, the Lord of That Which Passes Between, was half-sidhe, but the other half hadn’t been even close to humanoid.
I shook my head. “I don’t think a member of the sluagh could have hidden themselves enough to wander about the sithen tonight. Not with all the spells we had on the corridors to keep everyone boxed into that one tiny section.”
“Just as the reporter should not have been able to leave the area,” Frost said. He had a point.
“Let me say what we’re all thinking, even the guards who don’t want to think it. A sidhe killed Beatrice and the reporter.”
“That still leaves us with several hundred suspects,” Rhys said.
“The scullery maid is very frightened,” Doyle said. “I cannot tell if she is afraid in general or about something specific.”
“So you scared her,” I said.
He gave a small shrug. “I did not do it on purpose.” 
I looked at him.
“I did not, Meredith, but Peasblossom took it ill that the Queen’s Darkness had come. She seemed to think I’d come to kill her.”
“Why would she think the queen wanted her dead?” Rhys asked.
I had an idea, an awful idea, because Queen Andais would hate it. I didn’t say it out loud, because though the new guards knew as well as we did that a sidhe had done this, they probably wouldn’t be thinking what I was thinking in that moment. Andais had saddled me with several men I did not know and a couple who I outright didn’t trust. The awful thought was, What if it had been Prince Cel’s people? What if the maid, Peasblossom, had seen one of Cel’s people leaving the scene of a double homicide? She’d never believe that the queen would want her to tell anyone.
The trouble was that I couldn’t see what Cel, or anyone serving his interests, would gain from killing Beatrice. The reporter seemed accidental, just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“You’ve thought of something,” Rhys said.
“Later,” I said, and let my eyes flick to the backs of the men just a foot away from us.
“Yes,” Doyle said, “yes, we do need some privacy.”
“We should hide the body,” said one of the men at our backs. Amatheon’s hair, in its tight coppery red French braids, left his face bare, but nothing could leave it unadorned, for his eyes were layered petals of red, blue, yellow, and green, like some multicolored flower. It often made me a little dizzy to meet his gaze, as if my own eyes rebelled at the sight of him gazing out at the world with flower-petal eyes. His face was square-jawed but slender, so that he managed to be both strongly masculine and vaguely delicate at the same time. Almost as if his face, like his eyes, couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be.
“The reporter will be missed, Amatheon,” I said. “We can’t just hide his body and hope this will all go away.”
“Why can we not? Why can we not simply say we don’t know where he has gone? Or that one of the lesser fey saw him leave the sithen.”
“Those are all lies,” Rhys said. “The sidhe don’t lie, or did you forget that in all those years you hung around with Cel?”
Amatheon’s face clouded with the beginnings of anger, but he fought it off. “What I did, or did not do, with Prince Cel is not your business. But I know that the queen would want to hide this from the press. To have a human reporter killed in our court will ruin all the good publicity she has managed to acquire for us in the last few decades.”
He was probably right on that last part. The queen would not want to admit what had happened. If she even suspected that I suspected that one of Cel’s people was responsible, she’d want to hide it even deeper. She loved Cel too much, and always had.
The fact that Amatheon had suggested disposing of the body made me wonder even more if Cel’s interests were somehow behind this. Amatheon had always been one of Cel’s supporters. Cel was the last pure-blood sidhe of a house that had ruled this court for three thousand years. Amatheon was one of the sidhe who thought me a mongrel and a disgrace to the throne. So why was he here to compete to bed me and make me queen? Because Queen Andais had ordered it. When he refused the honor, she made certain that he got her point, her painful point, that she was ruler here, not Cel, and Amatheon would do as he was told or else. Part of the “or else” had been to cut his knee-length hair to his shoulders, still long by human standards, but a mark of great shame for him. She’d done other things to him, things more painful to his body than to his pride, but he hadn’t shared details and I didn’t really want to know.“If Beatrice were the only one dead, then I might agree,” I said. “But a human is dead in our land. We can’t hide that.”
“Yes,” he said, “we can.”
“You haven’t dealt with the press as directly as I have, Amatheon. Was this reporter alone when he came here to the sithen? Or was he part of a group that will miss him right away? Even if he came alone, he will be known to other members of the press. If one of us had killed him out in the human world, we might be able to hide who did it, and let it be just another unsolved crime. But he was killed here on our land, and that we cannot hide.”