Then the man with the knife looked at me, as if unsure what to do next.
"Drop the knife", I said. "Just let it go, nice and easy." I tried to ignore the rider. Beron's brother opened his hand, and with a splash the knife fell into the water.
"That's it. Now let's all just take it easy and stay calm." I turned towards the stranger, and I was grateful to see him lower his sword and withdraw a few paces. "Thanks", I said. "We really don't need any more bloodshed here."
I noticed the rider was looking at something behind me. When I turned I saw Beron's brother, a look of childlike innocence on his face, topple over and land on his side in the brook. I scrambled over to him, lifted him so that his head was above the water and tried to feel for a pulse. Nothing. Panicking, I realised I didn't even know his name. With shaking hands I tried again to feel for a pulse, but there was nothing there. Then the stranger was there beside me and he, too, was searching in vain for signs of life.
"He's dead", he said.
"He can't be. I didn't do anything to him, and neither did you."
"I'm sorry. These things happen." He got up and began to drag the body ashore. I sank back on my knees and howled with grief and frustration.
"Was he a friend of yours?" he asked me, still busy hauling the body out of the water.
I took a deep breath. "Not really. He tried to kill me last night and I think he was going to try again when you arrived."
"Oh. Good that he's dead, then."
"I don't think he actually meant to do all that. I believe he was a good man possessed by evil." I fully believed what I was saying but it sounded unconvincing, even to me.
"Aren't we all." He looked around. "The ground seems too hard to bury him here."
I got up. "He used to work at a prison not far from here. I understand he'd been there for years and I'd reckon he had friends there who'd want to know about his death."
"Good, we'll take him there. Help me load him onto my horse." I slipped whatever it was I was holding into my pocket, and together we lifted the dead body and placed it across the saddle.
"Just get hold of him when he starts to slide off", he told me. Then we were on our way. Please let me wake up from this nightmare, I thought.
"Do you have any idea what's going on at the prison?'' he asked me as we climbed the mountain path.
"Not really", I said. "I only arrived there last night."
"Too bad. I hear there's a lot of strange stuff going on there."
"Yup. I was sent here to investigate."
"Sent by whom?"
"My superiors at Heartstone. They've been aware of what's going on here for quite some time now."
"Oh. And what would that be?"
"A conspiracy against the King's life, of course." He looked at me as his hand sought his sword. "You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
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