Published on 2011/02/06

The Affair of the Dark Lord in the Library

Stuart Sharp

Of the eight figures sitting around a table in Dark Lord Hyrng the Invincible library, none looked particularly happy. Of course not looking happy was something of a stock in trade for those living in a place where torture, death, and the inevitability of “black with spikes” decorating took their toll, but even by those standards, these eight were looking glum.

Six of them were looking that way because they strongly suspected that they were about to be implicated in the murder of said Dark Lord Hyrng, who had failed to live up to his nickname in the face of a couple of knives, a mace, a broadsword, and a particularly heavy plant pot. One of them was looking unhappy because he was the librarian there, and had been rather looking forward to a long shelving session before these idiots showed up.

As for the last… well, when you were the shade of the deceased, you were probably allowed to be a little upset, though Hyrng was currently finding his ire raised further by three things. First, he was in a room with all of the people who had done him in, ranging from his favourite mistress Rilli the Purple to Asgath, the Black Priest of Endless Night (and Daylight Savings Time).

Second, he didn’t seem to be able to do much to affect things around him. Oh, he could, if he really concentrated, just about manage to touch things, but what was the use of that? Especially when no one could see or hear him. Hyrng felt short changed. He’d seen the plays. As a ghost, the very least he should be able to do was haunt people properly, inspiring madness, discord, and some really stirring soliloquies towards the end of Act Two.

The thing making him most spectacularly upset, however, was the presence of his goblin manservant/butler, Albemarle. Wasn’t it bad enough that he had a goblin who refused to caper properly, and who couldn’t even come up with a decent name like Snot, without the thing deciding to take over the investigation into his murder?

And if he insisted on doing it, couldn’t he at least stick to orthodox policing techniques like locking everyone up in small rooms and using thumbscrews on them until they talked? What was this nonsense of gathering people together in the library? What was that greatcoat about? And why had he stuck some sort of fake moustache to his top lip?

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the goblin began, until a cough interrupted him. “And Things, of course, my lord Asgath. Thank you for agreeing to meet here.”

“We hardly had a choice, did we?” Antonia the Scarlet, fabled adventuress and occasional hair-product model, snapped. “You’ve locked all the doors and nicked the master keys. Why are we here? And did you have to bring the body?”

At least in that area, Albemarle had done something right. Hryng's mortal remains lay at the front of the room, under a sheet. The sheet would have been a little less lumpy if they’d remembered to take a few of the weapons out first, of course, but Hryng was prepared to let it go. It boded well, to Hryng's mind. Maybe they were going to solve this with a little honest necromancy. Not as fun as the thumbscrews, obviously, but then, few things were.

“Ze body is here as a reminder of what someone in zis room has done,” Albemarle said, pacing before the table like a schoolteacher. Hryng couldn’t help noticing the accent. What was the little fool playing at? “As for what you are all doing here, zat should be clear. You are all key suspects in the death of our dear Dark Lord, and must be eliminated one by one.”

“Eliminated?” Colonel Trang the Yellowish, commander of the orc guards” motorcycle display team, stood, bunching his fists and hunching lower in his crash helmet. “No one eliminates Trang!”

“From the inquiry, idiot,” Antonia said, though she too looked nervous to Hyrng. Maybe it was the part where she was as horrendously guilty as any of them. “And just how do you propose to do this, goblin?”

Hyrng's ghost rubbed its ethereal hands together. The thumbscrews. Let it be the thumbscrews.

“Through the science of deductive reasoning, of course!”

Damn it!

“The what?” Yull the Slightly Greenish didn’t say much as a rule, having read somewhere that barbarian henchmen were supposed to be stoic and menacing. Or at least, having had someone read it somewhere on pain of getting their knees chopped off. Here though, he spoke for the majority.

“Yeah,” Mauve Jack (knifing, skulking and general henching by appointment) seconded. “What’s that?”

“It is merely a question of reasoning things through,” Albemarle said. “Of using, if you will, the little grey cells.”

“No one sticks Trang in the cells!”

“He means thinking about things,” Antonia put in. “You may have heard of it.”

“Thinking about stuff?” Yull snorted. “How’s that any good?”

Albemarle rubbed his hands together. “Well, dear Yull, just by looking at you, I can tell that you are a barbarian of the northern steppes, come down to here some three… no, four, years ago. The calluses on your hands say that you favour an axe, while your tattoos say to me that you have fought in at least two great battles in the last six months. Possibly against elves.”

Albemarle stepped back. It looked to Hyrng like he was waiting for applause.

“Yeah,” Yull said, “that’s right.”

“Of course it’s right, you idiot,” Hryng’s shade snapped, unheard. “He’s watched you at axe practice for four years! He even packed the lunches when you all went to the battle of Elfhome!”

The other people around the table seemed slightly more impressed, or at least slightly more worried. Rilli the Purple shifted uncomfortably, her hands going to one of the spots where Hryng knew from recent experience that she kept knives. “So what? You can tell who killed him just by looking at the body, is that it?”

“I certainly hope to be able to help,” Albemarle said. “Um… just one more thing, ma’am.”

“What?”

The goblin paused, and then shook his head. “No, sorry, it’s gone again. Anyway, the body…”

Albemarle unveiled the form of the late evil overlord. Hryng tried not to look too closely. The others, however, peered at it carefully. They were probably wondering when they should start worrying.

“My preliminary examinations,” Albemarle declared, raising a finger skyward, “have resulted in one clear conclusion.”

Half a dozen figures started to reach for weapons, before appearing to realise that most of them were still embedded in their former employer.

“Hryng the Invincible was poisoned!”

“What?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“No I bloody wasn’t!”

Albemarle ignored all the objections, making an expansive gesture towards the corpse. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Obvious?” Hryng snarled, in the hopes that, if he shouted loud enough, he might be able to overcome the whole inaudibility thing. It had always worked for him when dealing with foreigners, and what was it they said about death just being a far country? “I’ve got a damn broadsword sticking out of my chest!”

He tried to shake some sense into his former manservant, and fell through him. Around the room, most of the others were tittering nervously. They probably, Hryng thought, couldn’t believe that they were about to get away with this.

“How,” Asgath the Black Priest asked, in the careful tones of someone who couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing, “can you be certain that our dear overlord was poisoned? There are those, for example, who might feel that the various weapons there had something to do with things.”

“Aha! That is just what our murderer wants us to think!”

“I don’t know about him,” Hryng muttered, “but I’m certainly thinking it.” The ghost put his head in his hands. After a moment’s thought, he put it back on his shoulders again.

Albemarle wasn’t done, unfortunately. “Observe, if you will, this slight discolouration of the lips, consistent with Yaargh poison! Once you have spotted that, it is easy to pick up on the other subtle signs…”

“The knife wounds, the battered head,” Hryng said. He didn’t know why he bothered.

“All of which have led me to one inescapable conclusion regarding our killer, if you simply consider the psychology of the crime.”

The goblin paused. In that pause, seven of the eight others in the room held their breath. Hryng didn’t have any breath to hold, and was in any case attempting to lift a heavy volume of the Big Book of Things. If he really focused, could he just about feel the paper?

“The librarian did it!”

“What?”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course he didn’t kill me, you idiot!”

There were a confused few seconds, as six of the seven living people seated before the goblin realised that they had almost certainly just gotten away with it. The librarian almost fainted in his seat.

“You see!” Albemarle crowed. “He faints with the weight of his guilt! How was it done, I hear you ask. Simplicity itself. All the scoundrel had to do was poison the pages of his lordship’s favourite book, Dark Lording for Dummies. He would surely have known that no one else would have had contact with it, being the librarian. We should seize him.”

Albemarle took a step towards the stricken librarian. Hyrng had had just about enough. Ghostly fingers closed about the Big Book of Things, hoisting it above the goblin’s head. The seated figures stared.

“Ah,” Albemarle said, “I see that you stare in wonder at my deductive prow…urk!”

At a good half a stone, the book lived up to its billing, so when Hryng brought it down sharply, it stayed brought down. The goblin collapsed, and by the sheer force of his rage, the former Dark Lord forced himself into the foreground.

“Now see here! You’re all bounders, and that’s all right. You’re supposed to be. I swear though, that if you don’t have that idiot out of this castle and onto a spike in the next five minutes, I’ll haunt the lot of you from now until the crack of doom.”

The various conspirators glanced at one another at that point. They seemed to be dealing with the arrival of the ghost without too many problems. After all, that was normal. The thought that really seemed to have them interested, however, was the fact that the goblin butler who’d forced them there was currently unconscious.

“It occurs to me,” Lord Asgath said carefully, “that the goblin was very eager to find a culprit.”

“Positively keen,” Rilli the Purple put in.

“We have to wonder what he was hiding,” Asgath continued.

“Not the keys!” Trang said triumphantly, kneeling by the goblin. “Trang has them!”

“He means…” Lady Antonia paused. “We’re talking about a scapegoat, yes?”

“Scape goblin,” Trang said. The others ignored him.

Lord Asgath looked over to Hryng’s shade. “The question, my lord Hryng, is what you will do.”

Hyrng shrugged his ghostly shoulders. He’d been an evil overlord, after all. Betrayal and backstabbing he could live with. Metaphorically speaking. Idiocy, on the other hand…

“Still,” Lady Antonia mused. “Would people believe that the butler did it?”

“They might. They will, in fact.”

“They will,” the librarian said, obviously still upset about the poison business, “if I have anything to do with it.”

Hyrng left them to it. Not that he had much choice. Apparently, that was it for his big chance for revenge, and now he was starting to fade around the edges. He wondered what, if anything, came next. Frankly, so long as it didn’t have goblins in it, he didn’t care.


Stuart Sharp is a freelance/ghost writer living in East Yorkshire. He has a PhD in medieval history. His previous writing credits include the urban fantasy novels Searching and Witch Hunt, as well as half a dozen ghostwritten YA novels and numerous short publications. The last time he checked, he had reached the lofty heights of 245th in the British sabre rankings.