The antlers were soaked with blood. The victim’s dress matched. Arndt wondered if it was too late to give the family back their purse and drop the entire matter. He regretted his obligation as a member of the watch. He considered the matter at length while staring at the young man before him. One question kept nagging him. How had they gotten an apprentice blacksmith into a white dress?
He picked up the antler and examined it. Bucks were plentiful in the surrounding woods, and plenty of young men hunted them and claimed the antlers as trophies. No one would admit to owning this particular antler, even if it were not covered in the blood of the murdered young man. It was too small. Not impressive enough. Young hunters, Arndt mused, were much like old fishermen. The choice of weapon didn’t make sense; nor did the decision to leave it with the gown-clad body.
The family members had told him that the lad had no known grudges with anyone in the area when they’ve bribed him to take their case with the silver they’d paid. Arndt needed to find someone to pin this on. He couldn’t blame a deer for running into town, dressing up the man, goring him to death, and then leaving behind one antler. People would think he’d gone simple in the head.
He lit up his pipe as he left the body, nodding to the boy’s father as he asked if they could care for the body now. The absurdity of the scene made him begin laughing as he walked back to his house. He was still chuckling as he walked in the door and removed his cap.
“What’s got you in such a good mood?” his wife asked from the hearth. His smile immediately retreated to a mere smirk.
“Oh, just a ridiculous bit of business with the Mullen’s boy,” he replied. “Someone’s gone and kilt him with a deer antler. Got him dressed up like a lady first.”
“They didn’t!” she said. Her face showed both shock at the tragedy of the act and eagerness for the tidbit of gossip. “You think it was them cultists the church has been warning us about? Those red horned ones?” Arndt snorted with disgust, almost expelling the burning snuff from his pipe.
“Them? Nah. They wouldn’t have used a deer antler, right? More apt to have gotten a horn from a goat, that lot.” He sighed as he removed his boots and stretched his legs. “Still, terrible business, and with the boy almost done with his apprenticeship at the smithy no less.”
His wife merely murmured sympathetically as he sat there thinking about the possibilities. There weren’t a lot of options for him to pursue in the morning he realized, beginning to doze in his chair. Arndt never even noticed his wife stashing away a small deer antler behind the woodpile next to the hearth.
Apropos of: Arathania