A brief tale of the Impossible Mister Lapin.
“But who’s the victim?” I asked yet again, struggling to keep up as we crossed the neatly trimmed lawn. Early morning fog accumulated on my glasses, rendering me nearly blind, and I could feel my trousers getting soaked from the dew kicked up by our brisk pace. In the muted half-light of the earning morning, I could make out the indistinct shapes of men ahead, arranged in a circle. There seemed to be something on the ground, but when I attempted to clean my glasses my escort gave me such a pointed look that I abandoned the thought and simply hurried along after him. “Really, I appreciate your esteem for my abilities, but I am no pathologist.”
“You were sent for, sir.” It was a refrain I’d heard several times on the carriage ride over. It seemed sufficient answer for him, though I was growing impatient. However, one does not doubt the word of a Yeoman Warder, especially when he arrives before dawn bearing a dour expression. So I held my tongue and instead spent the ride contemplating the only other detail he’d provided: “There’s been a murder.” I had scoured the lists of my memory, trying to figure out whose untimely death would merit such a visit, but lacking any other clues and with my companion unwillingly to provide them, ultimately I settled for restlessly peering into the gray ambiguity of the fog.
“Here we are,” my escort said, quite unnecessarily, as I had already supposed whatever warranted a protective ring of Beefeaters was likely the source of my mysterious summons. They parted as we approached, none of them quite meeting my eye.
“Good lord,” I whispered. I could finally see what it was they were guarding so closely: a white sheet was draped over a tiny form, a single, ominous reddish stain immediately apparent. I felt my heart leap into my throat. “Is that a child?”
Around me, I was acutely aware of the Yeoman Warders exchanging inscrutable glances. “Take a closer look, sir.” My escort gestured in the direction of the tiny shape, though made no move to join me at its side. “If you would be so kind.”
I don’t think I’ve ever handled a piece of cloth with such hesitation. I took a deep breath, then pulled it back in one quick snap. Underneath was the crumpled body of a crow, a poor battered thing with one wing obviously broken, its ribcage gruesomely ripped open. I blinked, shook my head, and looked again. Still a crow. “It’s a crow,” I said simply, the measure of sympathy I felt for the poor creature’s sorry state overshadowed by my own relief at the fact that it was not a child.
“Oh, he’s a clever one.” A high, harsh voice sounded from somewhere above me. I cast my gaze in that direction and saw a half dozen ravens perched on a stone overhang about ten feet overhead. When I glanced in their direction, they cocked their heads simultaneously, the incongruity of the timing sending a shiver down my spine.I have stared down some very unusual sets of eyes in my lifetime, including my own reflection, and yet the air of bemused contempt that came across in their manner was both unmistakable and deeply disconcerting.
Then the leftmost raven opened its beak, and the same grating voice issued forth. “Now that we’ve established the bloody obvious, Mister Lapin, would you care to open that pretty bag of yours, do whatever it is you do, and tell us if poor Brother Morgan was a victim of the darker side of your precious Art?”
To be continued…