He woke to sunlight warming his face.
Lashes flickering, Will's eyes opened and he found himself in bed, in his cabin, next to his wife.
It had been weeks since Will could wake up in a warm bed, sunlight flickering through the curtains as the person he loved the most shifted in bed behind him, her arm loosely wrapped around his waist. Maybe it had been weeks for him, but it had also been weeks for her, sleeping alone in a bed normally warmed by their shared body heat, alone in a small cabin normally brought to life by both of their presence. A smile curled the Ranger's lips, sensing Alyss nuzzle her face against his back, feeling a contentment that he hadn't felt in months. He was home.
The daylight flickering through the curtains told him that it was still early, perhaps six or seven. Alyss would wake up soon and head off to the castle and work through the day, while Halt had given Will the day off. He would get back to his regular Ranger duties the next day. One day off, he thought wryly, closing his eyes again to the daylight, one day rest after weeks of sleeping in ditches. And this is the thanks I get.
His eyes opened, and he tilted his head up to study the planks of the bedroom ceiling. He knew the cabin like the back of his hand, each wooden plank along each wall or ceiling or floor, where one would creak, where they would stand silent. He knew his wife even better, and silently slipped from her arms, careful to disturb her as little as possible as he loosened himself from their covers, and stood. He wore only bed pants, having fallen into their shared bed exhausted from his mission, not even bothering to throw a shirt on.
Standing up, he looked back to where Alyss was still curled in their bed, her blond hair messy and partially covering her face, her breathing shallow in her deep sleep. Sleepily, he smiled at her form, wondering, still, what he did to deserve her company. Her love.
He had been the one out in the field for weeks, sleeping in ditches and under just his cloak, but when he returned, she had been just as equally exhausted as he was. The courier and scribe departments were working day in and day out on something for King Duncan, and with the combined work between the Redmont people and the Araluen people, it was constant work from both ends. Sure, Will had been exhausted from his work, but Alyss was too.
He hesitated for a moment, but then silently moved across their room, avoiding the creaks without a thought, slipping out of the bedroom like a shadow. He closed the door behind him, eyes roving over the kitchenette and the familiar appliances there. He could make her breakfast, coffee, and send her on her way with a smile and kiss. He could do that for her.
They still had plenty of coffee, because that was the one thing they kept consistently stocked. There was a loaf of bread sitting on the table, only two slices cut from it, and, from the look of it, she had made or bought it sometime yesterday or the day before. Looking around some more, he found some eggs that she had probably gotten from a local farmer, cuts of ham from the butcher, and a collection of fruits. He knew she preferred a light breakfast, chose a slice of bread over the eggs, a bunch of grapes over the ham. He might make himself some eggs later, but for Alyss, simplicity was the best way.
Will heated up a pan, slathering a light layer of butter on either side of the bread, and lightly dropping it onto the hot surface. He then began setting up the coffee pot, measuring out the grounds and filling the pot with water so it could start boiling. He flipped the bread, the toasted side being perfectly golden, when he heard the bedroom door creak open.
"Will?" Alyss peeked out the doorway, her bed hair thrown up into a bun above the nape of her neck, her nightgown hanging loosely from her shoulders and ending just below her knees. She looked confused for a moment, her lips in a slight pout, before her sleepy eyes seemed to process what he was doing. Her pout sprouted into a sloppy grin and she leaned up against the door jam, watching his movements with interest. "Making something for me?" she asked, tipping her chin up and sniffing dramatically.
He shrugged but didn't say anything, hiding a half smile from his wife, flipping the piece of bread again before sliding it off the pan and onto a ceramic plate with the bunch of grapes he had already placed there. He slid the plate across the table to the seat closest to the door, Alyss's eyes following as he moved. Barefoot, she padded away from the doorway, slipping into the chair, but keeping her eyes on Will as he moved across the room, taking the coffee off the fire and pouring it into two mugs. He set one in front of her and leaned forward, kissing the side of her forehead. "Good morning, gorgeous," he whispered against her forehead, eyes lidded, reveling in her presence.
"Good morning, hon," she murmured back to him, leaning into his chest. "What—"
A sudden knock at the front door cut her off, and she jerked back slightly, surprised at the noise. She hadn't heard the neigh of greeting from Tug like Will had, nor did she hear the near-silent footsteps rounding the house from the lean-to where the person had left their own horse. She hadn't even heard when the footsteps mounted the steps, still nearly silent, but not silent enough.
Will gave Alyss's shoulder a squeeze, but moved towards the door, his easy smile fading into a concerned frown. He knew who it was going to be, knowing Tug was greeting a friend and recognizing the footsteps that came up the steps. The only problem was that Halt had said he wouldn't bother Will today unless it was an emergency.
Opening the door, Will recalled last minute that he wasn't wearing a shirt and that it was autumn. He regretted it immediately, both because it sapped all of the warmth he had stored throughout the night, and also because it let Halt in with whatever news he carried. His mentor stood on the porch, fully dressed (unlike Will), his cloak pushed back behind his shoulders and his hood throw back as well. His arms were crossed in front of his chest, and, from one look, Will could tell that something had definitely happened.
"Halt," Will said, stepping away from the door but leaving it open for him to walk in. Before his mentor could say anything to either him or Alyss, Will was back in his bedroom, throwing on a dark green shirt with longer sleeves, thick enough to block out the chilly fall temperature, but thin enough to not cause him to overheat. "What's wrong?"
When he turned back to the room, he saw Alyss wave in Halt's direction, her bread already gone from her plate. She popped a grape into her mouth as she glanced behind her, looking between him and Halt with a look of interest in her eyes. She probably wanted to hear what was going on, but she would have to get dressed soon to make it on time to the castle.
Halt hesitated for a moment, looking between his former apprentice and the intelligent, beautiful woman he had married. He didn't want to do this to them, but at the same time, there was no avoiding it.
Immediately, Will sensed that something was wrong, especially in the way Halt hesitated. Halt didn't hesitate. It wasn't something Halt did, ever.
"There's been a murder," Halt said simply, deciding to get it out of the way before anything escalated past what it should. He sensed his Hibernian accent coming out, thicker then usual, and wanted to slap himself for that. If Will wasn't already internally panicking, he was now.
In front of him, Alyss frowned, and she crossed her legs as if to prepare herself. She put the few grapes she had been eating down, eyes pinned on Halt. Will stood slightly behind her, and Halt watched as Will absently placed a hand on her shoulder, first fixing her sleeve where it had fallen off her shoulder, but then resting there lightly. Will was also staring at Halt, his eyes darker, calculating, as if trying to discern what had happened before Halt had finished speaking. Get it out, Halt chided himself, they need to know.
"Scribemaster Nigel," Halt said quietly, trying to rein his accent in, sensing what was coming. "He was found murdered in his office earlier this morning, after working late with one of his scribes on something for Duncan." He paused again, watching the younger couple's reactions. A hand came up to cover Alyss's mouth, her shock evident. She worked with Nigel nearly every day, especially in the last few weeks. She knew him well. Will, on the other hand, was completely emotionless, still waiting for Halt to get through everything. He wouldn't react until he had all of the facts. "The guards claim they already caught the culprit, but Arald wants us to look into it—he says the facts don't line up completely."
"Who do they have?" Will asked, slowly working his sleeve down his arm. A craftmaster, murdered, was bad enough. The Scribemaster, murdered, meant someone was after something. That was enough for Halt to pull Will out of his break early, but not enough to explain why he was acting the way he was. "And why do they think it was this person?"
Halt looked in between Will and Alyss again. He sighed. "George Carter … your former wardmate. They say he was the last one to enter the Scribemaster's office before he was found murdered."
For a moment, neither of them said anything.
Then, Will started laughing. His hand pulled away from Alyss's shoulder, moving to hover over his stomach as he laughed. His eyes were closed, but his laughter was as genuine as Halt had ever heard it, as if he hadn't heard what Halt had just said. As if he hadn't heard that his childhood friend was being accused of murder.
When Will finally stopped laughing, he wiped the corner of his eye with his sleeve, shaking his head. The room was silent, both his mentor and his wife staring at him.
"You're joking, right?" Will said, grinning at Halt.
Halt was silent, looking at his apprentice with an odd look in his eyes. Slowly, he shook his head.
Halt wasn't joking.
"Sh—" Will spun, diving back into his bedroom. He didn't bother closing the door, his dresser and closet around the corner anyways. He fumbled around for a minute, before slipping back out into the main room, fully dressed and carrying his riding boots. Alyss watched him, her eyes wide and going between the two Rangers in the room with her.
"I think it would be best if you spoke to him," Halt said, watching as Will sat at the table, shoving his boots onto his feet and beginning the process of lacing them up. "I don't know him well, and …" Will finished lacing his first boot. "… and he'd be more likely to open up to you, Will, if he did do something."
Will froze in the process of lacing up his second boot, looking up in alarm to Halt. Suddenly from her position beside him, Alyss stood abruptly from her spot, spinning and walking into the bedroom Will had just come out of. She closed the door softly without saying anything or even looking at the two men.
"You think he's … you think he's involved?" Will murmured, pulling his gaze away from the doorway Alyss had disappeared through. They were both close to George—they both grew up with him along with Jenny and Horace—but Alyss worked with George often. The scribeschool and the couriers often worked together on cases, so it was possible with the death of Nigel and George, a high ranking, well-known scribe, being pulled from work, that both the scribes and the couriers wouldn't be getting much done today.
Halt looked away from Will, his lips pursed as he thought the situation through. "I don't know if he is, Will," he said simply, "but what I do know is that he was the last to see Nigel alive, and that he found the body. He's involved one way or another, unfortunately."
They both looked at each other for a moment, weighing the situation that was before them. Will seemed to inwardly sigh, and started to lace up his second boot again. Just as he was finishing up with that, the bedroom door opened again, revealing Alyss fully dressed in her courier uniform. She wore a white dress with long sleeves for the colder weather, a thick shawl thrown over her shoulders for extra warmth, and her own riding boots already laced and snug on her feet. Her satchel was over her shoulder, packed with her papers and documents that she would need for her meetings that she had that day. She looked between Will and Halt.
"I'm coming with," she stated, walking towards the door where Halt was standing. She pulled Will's cloak from where it hung on a hook, holding it out to him. She waited for him to stand after finishing lacing his boot, waited for him to grab his knives, and then walked out the door after Will took the cloak from her outstretched hand, ahead of both Rangers. She wasn't asking to come along—she was simply coming along with them, whether they liked it or not.
Halt threw a glance at Will one last time, before he followed Alyss out the front door as well. Will, last in the cabin, snatched his bow up from where he had left it the night before, and slipped out the door, locking it behind him.
The three of them mounted their horses in silence, and none of them commented on the situation. Halt only knew what had happened, but was yet to see the scene in general. Will, pulled out of his short break, was still trying to figure out what was happening in the first place. As they rode, he was mentally putting the facts together, seeing what could have happened with the facts that he had.
Scribemaster Nigel was murdered in his office—he didn't know how he was murdered, or when, besides during the night. George, his wardmate and friend, was the last to see him alive and also found his body that morning. Additionally, the guards reported that George was the last one to enter Nigel's office, which, without more information, doesn't make sense with him also being the one to discover his body. He would definitely need to speak with George, about what he could remember from that night, and if he could think of anyone who would want to hurt Nigel and possibly frame him. He would also need to speak to the guards who were on duty, see what they knew and what they saw that night.
As Will thought through all of this, Tug dutifully brought him to the gates of Redmont, following Abelard and Alyss's horse without needing Will to give him any directions. He barely even noticed when they rode into the courtyard, so lost in thought about the whole situation. George, of all people, was the last person Will would expect to be mixed up in a murder, let alone actually murder someone.
The courtyard was nearly empty, except for a single stableboy, sitting just in the shadows of the stables. The trio left their horses in his care without a word, the boy nodding to them with wide eyes—he recognized Lady Alyss, having cared for her horse every day. But being handed the bridles of the two Ranger horses, having never actually had the chance before, was mindblowing to the young boy. Will winked to him, managing a small smile for the kid before turning away, arm going around Alyss's waist as he leaned in to whisper something in her ear.
Alyss lead the way to Nigel's office, walking confidently past the crowds of murmuring servants and other residents of the castle, some scribes and couriers whispering in the hallway and looking in the direction of Nigel's office. The moment eyes landed on the two Rangers and the angry courier, second only to Lady Pauline, the crowds parted. There were three guards standing in front of Nigel's office and antechamber, chatting quietly. They hadn't yet noticed their group approaching yet.
"Clear these people, they don't need to be here," Halt said gruffly, breezing past two of them to go through the door. Thankfully, since Nigel had an antechamber, his body couldn't be seen when the door was opened. Alyss followed behind Halt, going into the antechamber where Will could see someone sitting. It was Lady Pauline, who looked up when Alyss and Halt walked in. Will, behind both Alyss and Halt, hesitated out in the hallway. He watched down the hall as the guards started directing people away, sending the scribes and couriers back to their offices, sending the servants back to their duties, and shooing the others away. One guard stayed near the door, and his eyes bored into Will's back, but he didn't say anything to the man. From the look of the other two, he thought that this man was probably the one to arrest George and claim that he was the murderer. He looked tired, while the others looked fresh and wide awake.
Will took a deep breath, contemplating the door behind him. He'd seen dead bodies before. He'd seen them, he'd caused them, so whatever they saw in the room wouldn't be any different. Except for the fact that he knew the people involved. He knew the victim, and the supposed murderer. Will turned to look at the guard standing in front of the door.
"It's just inside, Ranger," he said simply, nodding towards the door Halt and Alyss had disappeared through. Will didn't recognize him, but for some reason, he didn't like him.
He tipped his head to the side, considering the guard in front of him without trying to conceal it at all. He would have reminded him of Horace, if he didn't have white blond hair and a sneer that made Will want to deck him. Most people in Redmont knew Will, and were comfortable with him; but he was still a Ranger, and not many could be completely comfortable in the presence of a Ranger. "I know," he said simply, and stayed still for a moment, studying the guard.
The guard shuffled his feet, looking away from Will with his lips in a tight line.
Walking past him, Will pushed the door to Nigel's office open. On his right, Pauline sat on a bench with her legs crossed, talking quietly to Alyss who had sat down beside her. The connecting door to Nigel's office was cracked open, and he could see a shadow moving inside, which he assumed was Halt. And on the left side of the room, George sat quietly, eyes wide in shock, his hair an absolute mess, and his glasses sitting on the bench beside him. He was rocking back and forth every so slightly, hands resting in his lap, tied tightly with some rope. Another guard stood just to the side of him, watching him warily as if the small scribe would jump him at any time.
George was covered in blood. There was blood on the knees of his pants, so soaked in that the blood was a dark red, nearly black. The bottom of his shirt, his scribe uniform, was spattered with blood as well, and one of the lenses of George's glasses was actually cracked. The last thing Will noticed, though, was the dagger laying on the bench beside him, blood still on the blade, staining the cushion underneath it.
Trigger warning for some description of wounds. Not too graphic, but figured I'd warn y'all.
Will didn't let the sight of his old friend in such a condition startle him. He had known this was probably coming, had expected to see something like this when he rode up to Redmont. But that didn't stop it from hurting.
George was the last person who should have been caught up in something like this.
He stepped through the small antechamber, not wanting to get caught up in anything before being able to see the crime scene and the body. Alyss caught his eyes easily though, and a silent understanding went between them. Alyss wouldn't be allowed to go into Nigel's office, she just simply wasn't trained for it, but she would be able to watch George for anything out of the ordinary until Will could get back and talk to him one-on-one. She would be the best person for the job.
George didn't even look up as Will walked by, the shocked look on his face glazing over the normally thoughtful and intelligent light in his eyes.
Not bothering to knock, Will opened the door to the office, seeing a shadow pass by the door. Halt was already in there, circling around to the other side of the desk. Will didn't have much room to move with where the body was and how the room was set up, so he slide into the room with the door barely cracked, and shut the door quietly.
He took a deep breath.
When you opened the door to the office, the desk was only a few feet in front of it, facing the entrance. There were no chairs sitting in front of the desk, instead the desk was pushed far enough forward that there wasn't room for extra chairs. Matching bookshelves to the desk were deep with books, multiple layers of texts in the deep shelves, some laying on horizontally and vertically. Books were on top of the shelves as well, laying on the floor around the sides of the desk, and in the small windowsill that was framed just behind the desk. There were parcels of papers too, some written on in neat, blocked handwriting that was characteristic of the scribes. There were two opened folders on the desk, one empty, and one that seemed to be missing a few papers.
And then there was the body.
Nigel was still wearing his uniform from the day before, the long brown robe that went down to the floor over his basic clothing of a white shirt and brown leggings. Due to his rank, he wore the heavy chain of his office around his neck. The robe was normally closed so that all you saw was the scribe robe, but since they were in his office, it wasn't surprising that he would open it.
From what Will knew of Nigel from Pauline, Alyss, and George's accounts, he was a fairly nice man, professional in the office, but a fatherly type in private. George had grown close to him, much in the same ways as Will had grown close to Halt. Their mentors had filled the empty father role that they had both missed in childhood. George had just lost his father for a second time, and seeing Halt on the other side of the room, kneeling down to check something, caused Will's heart to seize.
He didn't know what he would do if he lost Halt.
Briefly, Will closed his eyes. He knew he couldn't get caught up in this, knew that he had to be professional and distance himself so that he would be able to investigate this murder to the best of his abilities. He couldn't let his relationships with those in question get in the way. It was very possible George was involved in Nigel's murder, and he couldn't let his relationship with George to get in the way of that.
Will opened his eyes.
Nigel had been stabbed in the back three times, his body thrown over his desk. From Will's angle, he could see each stab wound—one was in the back of his neck, lower down but just in the area of his body where his neck went into his back. Another stab wound was just below that and to the side, near his right shoulder blade. The final stab wound was even lower than that on his left side, near where his heart would be. Even if Nigel had survived the attack, Will noted, he wouldn't have survived the injuries. Additionally, if the knife out in the antechamber had been the murder weapon, that could tell them more.
The Scribemaster was bent over his desk, his back to the door. He was still slumped over onto the work surface, right arm up and reaching across the desk. His left arm was down by his side, a spilled ink pot staining the side of his brown robe and hand.
"Some papers are missing," Halt said from his side of the room, pointing over to the two folders that the Scribemaster's head was laying over. "One's empty while the other seems to be missing a few. I can show them to Pauline to see if she knows what the papers were."
"You said before that he and George were working on something for Duncan," Will said quietly, eyes scanning the rest of the room. Other things were starting to become obvious to him, and not just the missing files.
Halt nodded. "A treaty proposal of some kind with a Hibernian kingdom—don't remember which one."
Carefully, Halt lifted the Scribemaster's head, sliding the folders from underneath them as gently as he could. There was some blood on them, but they were clean enough that Halt could read them and that Pauline would be able to identify them. Halt left the room without another word.
Will slipped around the edge of the desk, making sure not to disturb anything. On the other side of the desk, things were a bit messier. Some of Nigel's shelves were messed up, books thrown about on the floor and some files scattered around. The only reason Will could tell was that he knew Nigel to be more organized than what he was seeing. Some of the books were torn open, pages partially ripped as if they'd been looking for something.
That immediately raised a red flag in Will's mind. George knew his way about Nigel's office as well as his own—he had his own key to Nigel's office for times when Nigel would send him on errands or when George was filling in for the Scribemaster. George wouldn't ruin books trying to find something—he would already know where it was.
The office door opened again, Halt making his way back into the office, the papers in hand. "Pauline says that the empty file folder had Duncan's papers in them, and the one that was partially there were some of Nigel's personal papers. Specifically lists of scribes, their station, and any notes he had about them."
"Like job reviews?" Will asked, frowning. What would those lists have anything to do with Duncan's treaty or this murder?
Halt nodded, setting them to the side on a bookshelf. He eyed the body, pursing his lips. "The healer will be here soon to move the body," he said.
Suddenly, he looked up at Will, dark eyes staring into him. Halt would always take lead on these sorts of problems, but Will wasn't completely inept at investigating. Something in Halt's eyes told Will that he would be saddled with this case, though. "What are you thinking?" his mentor murmured, moving around the side of the desk to the back area where Will was.
Will crouched down, picking up a book at random. All of these books were handwritten and extremely expensive, Will knew, remembering George talking about these things. The covers were dyed green leather, the title embossed on the cover and the pages torn and shredded as if someone had stomped on it and kicked it around. "This office was ransacked, Halt," he said back, voice soft but not whispered as they'd been talking before. "Even if George murdered Nigel, someone he thought of like a father …"
"This isn't something he'd do?" Halt said. "You have to remember, Will, there might be a side of George you've never seen." He said that part gently, as if he knew Will wouldn't take it well. Instead, though, Will completely shook his head, dismissing that notion entirely.
"George is as transparent as glass, Halt," Will said, shaking his head. He tossed down the book in some frustration, knowing that some of this wouldn't be able to be saved. Will didn't particularly care, but he knew Alyss and George and Pauline would care. So it mattered to him. "George can't hide a secret to save his life, and if he's not working, he's reading or writing. I don't even know if George would be able to fit a murder onto his daily schedule, Halt."
His mentor snorted, glancing towards the door. "Look, Will," he said, putting a hand out to help Will up. The younger Ranger took Halt's hand, standing and meeting Halt's gaze straight on. "I'm not saying what you know of George to be wrong. But we have to consider everything in cases like these. We can't just dismiss the possibility that he did it because you don't think he could have."
Will said nothing to that, dropping his gaze from Halt's and back to where Nigel was still slumped over the desk. Nigel did a lot of work for the Baron, and with him gone, most of that would go to Pauline or fall to the other scribes until a new Scribemaster was chosen. Except, would any of the scribes be allowed to work when they weren't sure what had happened to Nigel? Anyone could be at the heart of this, not just scribes.
"Go out and get his story, Will," Halt said, sensing that Will wasn't going to respond to his comment. "Talk to the guards too, and anyone that's still hanging around out in the hall. We can't exactly ask Nigel what happened."
Silently, Will nodded, and moved around the side of the desk to the door. He slipped around Nigel's body and knew that, whatever came next, it wouldn't be fun.
Will stepped through the office door, eyes first going over where Pauline and Alyss sat and then over to the other side of the room.
The guard nodded to him and took a minuscule step back, as if to tell Will that he wouldn't interfere with whatever he needed to do with George.
Will almost wanted to take the man by the shoulders and yell at him that George didn't do this, George couldn't do this. Nothing made sense to him at that moment, but all of his training told him that he had to sit down and get all the facts before making decisions.
He moved towards the bench that George sat on, first picking up the bloodstained blade, spinning it by the blade and hilt between his two hands. He considered the blade without saying anything to anyone in the room. The knife was a simple dagger, double edged with a rounded hilt and a leather wrapped grip. The blade itself was no longer than the length of his hand, but it wasn't that sharp, as if ill-cared for. Even as he pressed the tip into the flesh of his finger, his skin didn't break. It was dull, with a uniform and mass-produced look to it.
On a hunch, Will glanced to the hip of the guard standing to his side. He wore a standard issue broadsword on one side and a small, basic dagger on his other side.
"Your dagger, please," Will said, holding a hand out to the guard. He didn't look up, still studying the apparent murder weapon. Vaguely, he saw the guard flinch at the sudden demand, but then dropped his hand to side and pull out his dagger. Turning it in his hand, he held it by the blade, smacking the Ranger's palm with the hilt.
Taking it, Will held the guard's dagger next to the one from the murder scene, comparing the make and look of them by sight. They were identical, save for the streaks and spatters of blood on the murder weapon. The clean one, though, was obviously sharpened and spotless—it almost looked brand new, compared to the older, more worn look of the original one. Daggers didn't get replaced for guards unless they were broken or lost, and they only got one when they were first signed on. That meant that most knives from the guards were well-used, with distinguishable marks on them.
Will handed the dagger back to the guard, keeping the murder weapon in his own hand. Hesitantly, he glanced to his side, where he could see Alyss and Pauline watching him. One set of gray eyes were seemingly just worried, but also curious. The other betrayed none of her feelings, instead watching Will with a practiced eye that would have reminded him of Halt if he didn't know that it was his wife watching him. Will looked away from them and back down to his friend. George.
Moving around him, Will sat down on the bench just in front of George, his back to the main entrance and facing the door to the study. The scribe was still rocking back in forth, his breathing calmed only slightly. Will's eyes took in all the facts before letting his mouth say anything.
George was in shock and covered in the blood of his mentor and father-figure. He had been found with the knife in his hand, his glasses on the ground and lens cracked. Nigel's body remained where it had been found, nothing else moved in the study except what George might have touched.
"George," Will said softly, with just enough steel behind it so that it wouldn't go unnoticed. Will sat the knife down on the bench, just along his thigh. George wouldn't see it with how he was sitting now, but if he turned to look at Will it would be obvious.
The scribe didn't turn, though.
"George." Will said, slightly more stern than before. Apparently that was enough to knock George out of his daze, though, because moments later scribe's head bounced once, acknowledging Will.
Will's heart cracked. Never had he heard George's voice sound so … so broken. Sure, he'd heard him sound upset before, even angry, but never like this. Never so hopeless and depressed.
"Yeah," Will murmured. "I … I need you to tell me what happened … what you remember. Can you do that?"
George was silent, still not looking up from his hunched posture. He was silent for long enough that Will thought he would have to ask again, until the scribe shifted in his seat. "I … Nigel and I … were working on a proposal for King Duncan," he seemed to pause, to catch his breath. Fresh tears dropped to his lap, where Will could already see a sizable stain building up. "We … got so focused, that we didn't notice the time. It was … past midnight, I think, by the time we realized." George sniffed and moved his bound hands, wiping his nose with the side of his hand. "I said goodnight, and he said … that he would just look it over one more time before going to bed himself."
Will nodded and looked up to Pauline, making eye contact with her. He would have to get details about whatever Nigel and George had been working on from her. A proposal for Duncan?
"We agreed that I would come back in the morning," George continued, "to look it over again together before sending it out." There was a long pause, in which Will could hear something moving around in the office. Halt was probably looking through some of the scattered papers and books. Behind him, Will could hear some other commotions from outside—no doubt more people were gathering despite Halt sending them away. Arald might end up having to do something about that if people weren't doing their jobs to come and gawk.
"You left around midnight," Will repeated, turning his attention back to his friend. "Do you remember what time you were supposed to come back here in the morning?"
" … around six, I think," George responded. He pulled his shoulders back, finally lifting up his head so that Will could see his face.
That was early, considering when they stopped working, but for scribes that was the norm. Especially with George and Nigel. Additionally, it made sense for the time-line that Will knew. Halt had gotten to the cabin that morning early, before Alyss usually went to work at seven. Alyss usually left for work fifteen minutes before she was supposed to be there. Adding things up mentally, if George found Nigel's body exactly at six, then someone rose the alarm, secured the scene, contacted Halt, who then went out to gather Will and Alyss all by around six-thirty. It made sense.
He would have to double-check with the guards present and Halt, but it made sense.
"What happened when you arrived at six?" Will said quietly, knowing what was coming.
George met his eyes. The scribe's brown eyes were watery and dark as they searched Will's own dark eyes. They seemed to be looking for something in Will, but all Will saw in return was shock and desperation and fear. "I … Nigel … he, he was …" George broke off, tearing his gaze away from Will's. He hunched back over himself, his breathing once again coming fast.
Not sure what to do, Will placed a hand on George's shoulder. "Was the door open?" Will asked. He knew that all craftmasters were supposed to lock their offices after they left, so if the door was locked or unlocked could change a lot in the investigation.
"It was unlocked," George responded, his voice hiccuping. "We were meeting here, so Nigel would have shown up before me. I just—I—"
"What happened after you … found Nigel?" Will asked, hoping to push George past his panic. If he let George dwell on the questions, it was likely his friend would start panicking again. If he got the information out of him and continued onto the next question, it might just be enough to distract him.
George hiccuped again and started up his rocking. Will squeezed his shoulder. " … I … I panicked. I panicked, Will." Shaking his head, George starting running his fingers through his hair, pulling at the short strands. It didn't matter this his hands were tied. "I … I pulled the knife out … I didn't—I didn't know what to do. I … I think I yelled for the guards, I don't—I don't know. I just—the next thing I knew … someone was pulling me out of the office and I lost my glasses and—and they took the knife out of my hands like it was mine."
The guard standing behind George took a step forward. "That was Theo, sir," the soldier said. "He's one of the guards waiting outside."
Will nodded and took one last look at George before standing up. He grabbed the knife, not wanting to leave it laying about. Will looked at the guard. "What's your name?"
The man seemed taken aback by the question, but answered. "Kellen, sir. I was called here after Theo raised the alarm and called for back-up."
"And you've been with George since …?" Will trailed off, waiting for the guard to finish the sentence.
"Since I got here, sir. Theo raised the alarm, and three of us arrived along with a captain. I was assigned to watch over Mister Carter while she went and fetched Ranger Halt. I've been here since then."
Nodding again, Will tapped his chin as he looked down at George. He would have to speak to Theo, who Will assumed was the guard that had spoken to him outside in the hallway. He had looked to be the most tired out of the group of soldiers that had been there.
Will looked at the door to Nigel's office. He could still see Halt's shadow moving around the room, and assumed his mentor would be in there for a little while longer. Pauline was probably waiting for Halt to finish up so she could speak to him, and Alyss would remain with her mentor until they knew what they should be doing. Will locked eyes with Alyss, who only nodded to him before looking over to George. As he moved over to the door going to the hallway, he saw Alyss stand from her spot and start to move towards George.
If George hadn't said anything to Will, it was possible he would mention something to Alyss. She took Will's spot next to the scribe, leaning forward to whisper to him.
Slipping from the room, Will looked up and down the hallway. Most of the crowd had died down, with only a few couriers and scribes remaining in the immediate area. More guards had shown up and were stationed down the hall, where Will could just see them directing traffic away from Nigel's office.
Looking around, Will scanned the area for the guard he'd met before going into Nigel's office. Will had a few questions he wanted to ask him.