The Fortunate Dead – 3 chapter preview

Chapter 1

 “Tell me, exactly how did you manage to lose a body?”

Thomas Berrington stared at a wooden pallet, its surface stained by years of misuse. He wiped at his blood-stained hands with a damp cloth, but it did little good. Only a long bath might do that.

“I did not lose it,” said Lubna, her face set. “I delivered the woman to this pallet before noon and informed the mortuary officer of her location.”

“Perhaps the family collected it. Did you check?” He made little attempt to hide his impatience. Lubna had sent for him as he was trying to save an unborn child, the mother already beyond the need of his skills. She had been brought in by her husband after falling from the city wall. Thomas was in a bad mood because the man had refused to accept the infant he had saved when he discovered it was a girl.

“Of course I checked. Would I send for you if it was that simple? Nobody has come to claim her.”

“Are you sure she was dead?”

Lubna gave him a glance that said more than words, perhaps not wanting to sour the atmosphere between them any more by speaking, and Thomas realised that perhaps he was being too harsh on her. He had lost bodies in the past himself. The infirmary in Malaka was both large and busy, and sometimes he wondered how any body made its way to its family after it had stopped breathing. Thomas touched Lubna’s shoulder but she pulled away. Not forgiven yet, then.

He wondered if she was distracted by thoughts of the child she carried. Over six months now, beyond the time she had lost their first. They had been living in Ixbilya then for Thomas to attend the Queen. The loss had been on his mind of late, hers too, he was sure. He knew he may have been too attentive, too cosseting. Lubna was not a woman to be cosseted, even less so this last year. They had come to Malaka so she could attend the Infirmary, the place Thomas had learned his skills. That had been many years before, half a lifetime, and much had changed in the years since. Except Malaka was still where people came to learn the skills of a physician, ever since Persia fell to the Mongol hordes.

It had not been easy for Lubna. As a woman she was not made welcome, only accepted in the end because she was Thomas Berrington’s wife, and everyone knew his reputation. A reputation that brought respect but little fondness. The lack of the latter did not concern him. Ability and an open mind meant more, and Lubna possessed both.

“What did she die of?” he asked.

“Does it matter?”

“I am curious.”

“In that case, I don’t know. There was nothing physically wrong that I could find. It was as if she no longer wanted to live.”

Thomas frowned. “Such a thing is possible, but rare.”

“Which is why I wanted you to see her. Why I came for you. I have learned much this last year but not enough to explain what happened to her.”

“We’ll go to the Clerk of records,” Thomas said. “The body might have been mistaken for someone else and handed over to the wrong family. It has happened before.”

Lubna fell into step beside him. “How often?”

“Not often, I admit, but four or five times over the years. It is surprising how many people do not choose to look at the face of a loved one once life has departed.”

The administration offices lay close to the Infirmary, requiring the crossing of a busy street and ascent of marble steps beneath the onslaught of a fierce sun. It was as they climbed the steps that a commotion broke out behind them. A man began to shout at a group of musicians.

Thomas slowed, looked back.

“Leave it for someone else.” Lubna stopped, waiting for him. “You cannot heal the entire world. Speaking of which – when does Mandana return for his next treatment?”

“I don’t remember. It is some time since he last came, so soon, I expect.”

“You should turn him away and let him die.” The vehemence in her voice surprised him.

She was wrong, a physician could not decide who to treat or not based on whether they were good or evil. But she was right in the other matter, the thought clear in his mind even as he started to descend the steps toward the altercation. It was none of his business – but sometimes that only made a thing more interesting rather than less. Besides, the missing body would still be missing an hour from now, or with luck would have been found.

As he approached the gathering Thomas heard people laughing and jeering, and saw it was not only the musicians who were being accosted but a well-dressed man he recognised as Ali Durdush, Grand Master of the Malaka Guilds and almost certainly the richest man in the city, if not all of al-Andalus.

“What is going on?” he asked of an onlooker.

“It’s that idiot preacher, al-Antiqamun. Everyone is his enemy today. He has already torn Durdush’s cloak and now it’s the women he has it in for.”

Thomas watched as the ragged-robed man, tangled hair falling almost to his waist, berated two female dancers. Four others tried to continue their dance but the musicians were faltering. A few laid down their instruments and approached the altercation.

Attention diverted from him, the rotund figure of Ali Durdush bustled away. He glanced in Thomas’s direction and offered a nod of recognition before moving on.

When Thomas looked back at the preacher he had grasped the arm of one of the women and was trying to force her to her knees. The others had stopped dancing and gathered around. Voices were raised. And then a knife appeared, flashing sharp light from its blade, and al-Antiqamun staggered backward and fell to one knee.

Thomas pushed through the crowd. They had stopped laughing, but one or two now called threats. He reached the preacher and tried to find a wound, but before he could one of the musicians pushed him aside.

“Let me finish him. This crazy man has been following us for a week now and I will have it no more.”

Thomas watched the blade dangle loose in the musician’s hand, a drip of blood hanging from its tip. The man was short, slim, with corded muscle showing in his arms. His accent placed him from the north coast of Africa.

“Leave him be.” Something in Thomas’s eyes gave the musician pause. Thomas turned back to the preacher and lifted sections of robe until he found the wound. A slash to the arm. Nothing serious, but it would need binding and a salve applied to prevent infection. He saw older scars and knew this was not the first attack on the man. Al-Antiqamun had no-one to blame but himself.

“I need to treat you.” Thomas steadied the preacher as he rose. He was tall, with a wild beard that matched his hair. His face was surprisingly intelligent, but his eyes were bright with madness or rage.

“I need no heathen to mend me. Allah watches over his own.” He looked beyond Thomas and scowled at the musicians who were packing their instruments away, about to move on.

“You should leave them in peace. They do no harm.”

“Allah forbids it. Music. Dancing. Women wearing clothes deliberately designed to reveal their bodies. It is against what is written in the Quran.” He looked around. “And where did that fat fool get to? I’ve not finished with him yet.” His gaze returned to Thomas. “I know you, don’t I?”

“Many do. And I know you, but not your true name.”

“I am al-Antiqamun.”

“I know that, but it is not your given name, is it.”

“I am al-Antiqamun. I have no other name.”

Thomas knew it was all the answer he would get, perhaps all the answer the man knew. The child he had once been was now lost amongst his visions of heaven and hell. Or vengeance. For that was what his adopted name meant in Arabic. Vengeance.

“You are the stranger.” Al-Antiqamun’s eyes were calm now the dancers had moved away. “They call you the butcher, do they not?” He smiled. “When Allah’s fire cleanses this land of unbelievers it will scorch the flesh from your bones, qassab.” His head turned as he sought new victims. His gaze fell on Lubna waiting on the steps for Thomas. “But your wife is devout. She will live.” As if such was in his gift to offer or take away.

Thomas turned away. The man could bleed to death for all he cared. Those who were already dead waited for him.

Chapter 2

The clerk of records ran his finger down a list of names scribed in a thick ledger before coming to a halt. “Dionora Jinto Jiminez,” he said, looking up. “She was admitted five days ago and assigned to Lubna as her primary carer. Death was recorded this morning. I have sent a message to her family. To her son.” His finger moved to hover over a note written in the margin. He read it, frowned and turned back several pages. “Her husband died here four weeks ago. Name of Miguel Jiminez.” He read some more. “Broken skull caused by a fall downstairs it says here. Found by his wife, brought in by their son.” He glanced up again, said to Lubna, “Not one of yours that time.” As if it was an accusation. “Strange, both dying within weeks of each other, but it happens more often than you might think.”

“The family haven’t taken her body, have they?” Thomas asked.

“It would be recorded if they had.” The clerk shook his head. “What do I tell them when they come, they are too late?”

“Might another family have taken her in error?”

“It should not happen.”

“But it does sometimes, doesn’t it?”

“It is unusual,” said the clerk of records.

“But possible.”

“Possible, yes.”

Thomas turned to survey the lesser clerks who worked at scribing records of births and deaths. He raised his voice. “Who of you knows this woman?”

A hand rose. “I recorded her admittance, sir. I assigned her to Lubna, who gave her willow bark tincture and a little poppy when she grew distressed.”

Thomas glanced at Lubna, who nodded. He tried to recall if she had spoken of the woman, but no memory came to him. Sometimes she would recount her day in detail, probing for information that might add to her education.

“You remember all of that?” he said to the man.

“I wrote Lubna’s notes into the ledger, so of course I remember.”

Thomas was impressed. Most clerks made a habit of not committing anything to memory for fear it might fill their heads with useless information and drive out what they needed to remember.

“And today?” he asked.

 “We have not received the physicians’ notes for today,” said the Clerk of records.

Lubna reached inside her robe, the movement drawing it tight to reveal the swell of her belly. “Mine are here,” she said.

“No, no, you must follow procedure.” The man shook his head as if he had been insulted. “You know to leave them with the ward clerk who gathers them together and brings them to me. Put them away.”

Thomas let the idiocy pass for the moment. He looked away from the Clerk and his men, thinking about what he knew. Had the body been mis-identified and taken by someone else? Or even identified as a body lacking family, in which case it would be wrapped in linen and placed with the others that were unclaimed, to be burned at sunset. There was a place outside the city reserved for such, so the smoke and smell did not disturb its citizens.

When Lubna tugged at his arm Thomas glanced down. She made an impatient face and he looked around to see the clerks had all returned to their duties.

“Let us go see what we can find out,” he said, and Lubna nodded, following as he turned away. None of the men in the room looked up as they left.

The mortuary was as still and silent as only a mortuary can be. A single living man sat in an alcove writing in a ledger. He glanced up when Thomas and Lubna entered. When he saw who it was he rose, shaking his head.

“She is still gone.” He indicated the empty pallet. There were others, also empty, but none that were meant to be currently in use. The ebb and flow of death in the hospital meant at times the room was often empty, at other times almost full. Now it was Spring and the weather was clement, there were none of the storms of Winter or the heat of Summer to accelerate a passing.

“When did you last see the woman?”

A shake of the head. “When Lubna brought her in. I do not make a habit of checking my charges. They have a habit of staying where they are left.”

“Apart from this one,” Thomas said. “Did anyone else come?”

“Physicians brought other bodies, but not so many. You know how it is.” The man was not young, into his fifties, and Thomas wondered if he had worked here when he first came to the infirmary himself. If so he did not recall his face.

“No strangers?”

“A strange boy is all. He wandered in, lost I think. Not like other people. Brainless.” He tapped his skull, not in judgement, merely a statement of fact.

“Did he say anything?”

“Something, but I didn’t understand him. He spoke Spanish and Arabic mixed together, and I only understand one of them.”

“Was the woman here when he came?”

The man frowned, stared off into a corner of the room. “Yes, I think so.”

“And when he left?”

“I would have noticed if he had carried a body out.”

“You have been here the entire time since?”

“Apart from–” The man glanced at Lubna, making it clear he would prefer not to state the obvious reason he might have briefly left his station.

“How many times–” Thomas started to ask anyway but was interrupted by a commotion from outside. Raised voices, male and female, and as he turned five individuals entered the mortuary. Two of them stopped as soon as they realised where they were and turned back. The clerk of records was one of those who remained, accompanied by two strangers, a man and a woman.

“Ah good, Lubna, you are still here.” He turned to the couple. “This is the physician who attended your mother, she can explain the situation to you.” With that he made a hasty retreat.

“Coward,” Thomas said, but too quiet for anyone other than Lubna to hear.

“What have you done with our mother?” said the woman, hard-faced, her hair pulled tight in a severe bun. She was dressed so flamboyantly Thomas was sure Jorge would have approved, but dressing in such a way was not unusual in Malaka, where so many different cultures rubbed against each other.

“My wife has done nothing with your mother.” Thomas looked toward the mortuary clerk. “When you returned from your trips did you happen to notice her loss? Or the boy anywhere?”

“Boy? What boy?” The woman glanced at the man, presumably her husband, or perhaps brother. “Has a boy stolen our mother’s body?”

“She is not lost, merely misplaced,” said the clerk.

Oh, lost is what she is, Thomas thought, but said nothing, knowing it was important to present a united front to the couple.

“This boy,” said the man. “Was he really a boy, or only appeared to be a boy?”

“I thought him a boy,” said the clerk. “But he was tall.”

“Diego,” said the woman, her face tight with a suppressed anger. “I told you he should have been taken away from them. Or drowned at birth.”

“He is my brother,” said the man, who turned away from the woman to address the clerk. “Was he dark-haired, friendly, always with a smile? But difficult to understand unless you know him well.”

“Possibly.” It was clear the clerk was unwilling to admit to anything until he knew what manner of trouble he might get into.

“Who is this Diego?” Thomas stepped closer to the couple. He glanced beyond them for a moment but their companions were nowhere to be seen. “Is he family to you?”

“My brother,” said the man. “My youngest brother. He is not… not as other men.”

“How much younger?” Thomas judged the man to have close to forty years, near his own age.

“My mother had him when she was older than I am now. Too old. Everyone said she was too old but they loved him all the same. Maybe loved him too much – more than the rest of us, anyway.”

“They spoiled him,” said the man’s wife, for it was becoming clear that was who she was.

“Where do they live?”

“Has he truly stolen her body?” The man shook his head. “Diego might lack wits but he has a keen sense of right and wrong. He would never do such a thing. Though…” He ran a hand across his head, pushing back thinning hair. “It is true he has been distracted of late, as has my mother, ever since my father passed away.”

Thomas leaned forward. “When?”

“A month. I am sure it was that which brought on her illness. My mother’s, that is. Diego could not care for her and she could no longer care for herself. We should have taken her in, but…” He trailed away with a brief glance at his wife.

“Who brought her to the infirmary?” Thomas directed the words mostly to Lubna, who shook her head.

“The Clerk of records might know,” she said.

“I will not ask that man again. How long had she been your patient?” He touched Lubna’s arm and drew her away so their conversation would not be overheard by the son of the missing woman.

“Four days. No, five. Do you recall I asked you about her the night after she arrived? I asked how to force someone to eat when they had no wish to.”

Thomas did not, but there were times his own thoughts drove out everything else. He could converse, and even make a great deal of sense, but his responses were often automatic. No doubt he would have offered advice of some sort, though what it might have been he had no memory of.

“Was it hunger that caused her death?” He might have given too little attention to Lubna before, but now she had all of it.

“Not directly. She was sick in any case. I was going to ask for advice again tonight but when I came this morning she had died in the night.” Lubna wiped the beginnings of a tear from the corner of her eye. Watching the movement Thomas wondered if she was not too emotional for the profession he had hoped for her, and wondered if he had pushed her too hard to come to Malaka to study. Perhaps he should have been more sensitive to Lubna’s needs. Or at least spoken with Jorge about them, who knew far more of such things. Lubna, no doubt, would have discussed her fears with Jorge even if she could not with him.

“It is possible this boy has taken his mother,” Thomas said.

“Then the family will take care of it,” said Lubna, with a touch of relief. “It is no longer our business.”

“I feel a responsibility,” Thomas said. “Had I listened better to you the woman might not have died. And now she has I am duty bound to see the matter to an end.” He glanced at the man and woman. She was talking at him, her face inches away from his. “Besides, I am not sure it is the best thing for that woman to be involved if the boy is vulnerable, and from what I have heard he is. We should fetch Jorge, he is better at handling these situation than me.”

“I can manage,” said Lubna.

“I want you there too, but I want Jorge as well. Indulge me in this.” Thomas did not want to explain his reasoning. He was worried the boy might become agitated if they uncovered his theft. After the loss of one child Thomas knew he was over-protective of Lubna, but knowing it did not make it wrong. He would want her far away from any interrogation.

Lubna turned away, unconsciously crossing her arms in mirror of the woman on the far side of the room.

Thomas closed the distance to the couple. “Tell me where your mother lived.”

“Near the Ataranzana. They have a house close to the other merchants. My father was clerk to the Master of Weapons until his death.”

“Weapons?” Thomas said, but made an effort to stop his mind spinning off into creating some conspiracy theory. He waved a hand. “No matter. Can you show me where? I have someone I need to fetch first, but meet me here in an hour.”

“I am not staying,” said the wife. “We have abandoned our children too long already.” She cast a glance of pure spite at the man and turned away. Thomas watched her go, movements stiff with barely restrained anger, and he wondered how people could live their lives in such a way.

When Thomas looked back at the man he was shaking his head. “Two of our children have children of their own,” he said. “We left them all together. We live side by side. Not near my parents, but a nice enough neighbourhood. Well, I think so, anyway.” He glanced at Lubna, as if wondering where he might find a wife as amenable, not to mention beautiful. Then he looked away, aware Thomas was watching. “Yes, an hour. I will find somewhere to pass an hour. Should we meet here?”

“At the main entrance on Salinas street,” Thomas said. “An hour, no more.”

Chapter 3

At least, Thomas thought, we have found out what happened to Lubna’s missing woman. She sat almost upright in an ornate chair, cushions stuffed to either side to prevent her slipping. A dark blue tasseled rope was wrapped around her upper chest and tied behind the chair. A matching rope held back one of the curtains on the second story window, which offered a view across the city.

“You did not tell me there would be bodies,” said Jorge. “All you said was you needed my skills.” He started to turn away, a look of disgust on his face.

“I still do. There is a boy here somewhere.”

“And two dead bodies.” Jorge sniffed the air. “One of which, if my senses do not lie, has been dead for some time.”

“At least four days, I would judge.” Thomas frowned, studying the male figure. Had the Clerk of records not said the woman’s husband died a month ago? If so this man could not be him. So who was he?

“You would know about that better than anyone,” said Jorge. “I still don’t like it.”

“I don’t expect you to like it. And once you have talked to the boy you can go. If it makes any difference I didn’t expect the second body, either.”

“Just so long as this isn’t another of your murders.” Jorge looked from one chair to the other. “Didn’t you say the father had died not so long ago? Is that him, do you think?”

Thomas barely glanced at the man’s body. It too occupied a chair, this time tied with an orange cord. No doubt they would find it’s match on a curtain somewhere in the house. The man’s skin was beginning to darken as putrefaction took hold. The south facing window filled the room with both light and heat, and Thomas knew four days might have been an over-estimation.

“The father was claimed by the family and cremated outside the city wall at least a month since. Who this man is I have no idea.”

“Someone must be missing him,” said Jorge. “We should ask around, find out who he is.”

“See, you can investigate perfectly well without me. Good.”

“I didn’t mean it that way, but it is common courtesy to try.”

“Hm.” Thomas looked around the room. Fine wall hangings. Expensive tables, and chairs of dark wood. So not the house of a Moor, or perhaps the house of a Moor who had taken on the customs of Spain, as Thomas himself had done.

When he stood still and listened he heard nothing. Or, not nothing, for noise entered from outside, at times rather a lot of noise. Raised voices, the distant clatter of a ship unloading and sailors calling to each other. But within the house there was only the sounds that all houses make. A faint whistle as the constant wind from the sea caught at a corner. A creak as wood expanded or contracted. Nothing human. No boy, if boy he was. His brother had brought them here and made some excuse about being too busy to enter.

“We should at least inform the authorities,” said Jorge. “Have the bodies taken away.”

“The family will take the woman. As for the man… you are probably right, we should ask questions. And much as it pains me to say so, you are also right, there will be someone who misses—” Thomas broke off. Held a finger to his lips.

Both men stood still, listening. There had been a sound, faint, almost not there at all, but someone had moved in the room above. A creak of a floorboard. The scrape of a shoe against wood.

Thomas motioned Jorge to walk softly, turned and made his way to the door. The staircase they had ascended from the ground floor lay at the end of the corridor. A second set of steps rose in the opposite direction beside it. Thomas made his way there, walking as softly as he could. He climbed even more slowly, testing each riser before allowing his full weight to settle.

Another sound came. Two, perhaps three footsteps, louder now he was closer. And then a whimper, as of someone afraid.

Behind Thomas a stair creaked loudly as Jorge’s extra weight pressed harder than his own. The person hiding above heard it too and abandoned all pretence at stealth, as did Thomas. He caught the figure as it reached the upper corridor, moving away fast, but not as fast as Thomas. But whoever it was proved stronger than expected. Not a boy, not a boy at all, but a youth of near twenty years. As Thomas turned him he discovered a figure that rose only two inches below his own height. He saw an expression of outright fear on the youth’s face, masked by the softness of a mind troubled by little other than when his next meal might arrive.

“We are friends, Diego,” Thomas said, assuming this had to be the woman’s son, but the youth continued to writhe and try to pull away. There was a strength under Thomas’s grip and he was grateful when Jorge arrived to add his own, the youth clasped between them.

“Ah — ah — Hurts!”

Thomas hesitated, loosened his grip but only by a little, waiting to see if he tried to flee. Instead his body softened and went slack.

“Diego?”

A fast nod. “Where are they?” His voice was slurred, the words hard to decipher, harder still because as the mortuary clerk had said some were in Spanish, others in Arabic, as if the two languages had become one. Perhaps, for this individual, they were.

“Your mother?”

Another nod. “And Pa. Ma and Pa. They do nothing. Sit there. All they do is sit.” A look of helplessness crossed his face. “I have hunger. So much hunger.” He glanced from Thomas to Jorge, back to Thomas and then away, finding Jorge the less frightening. “Ma cooks,” he explained. “But she… she just sits.”

“You took her from the hospital?”

A nod. “Took there, too. When she ask.”

Thomas wondered how to explain that the two individuals downstairs were dead in a way Diego might understand, but suspected there was no need. He must know they would no longer wake.

“Who is the man?”

A look away. “Pa.”

“Your father died a month since. I have spoken with your brother. They took him away and had him interred.”

Another nod. “Diego bring back.”

“That man isn’t your father.”

“He is a man. Pa gone, so I find another Pa. They are so quiet.” A tear gathered and spilled. “I talk, ask what for dinner. But no words. So quiet.”

“He is someone else’s father. Don’t they deserve to have him back in his home, Diego?”

“But me? What happens to me?” More tears. “Ma and Pa, both gone.”

“I will talk to your brother. Perhaps he will take you in.”

A shake of the head. “No. Wife don’t like Diego. Afraid I hurt little ones. Diego never hurt little ones. Diego loves them.”

Thomas released his grip and took half a pace away, watching for any sign Diego might flee. His running might make life easier, but not for him.

“This is Jorge,” Thomas said. “He is a friend.”

“Big.”

“Yes, he is big, but so are you. Almost as big as Jorge.”

Diego frowned. “No. Diego small.” But he looked at Jorge and perhaps noted somewhere that there was truth in what Thomas said. In turn Jorge looked back, and Thomas watched as his face composed itself and turned into that thing he found it impossible to emulate. Jorge became someone it was impossible to dislike. And Diego responded. He reached out a hand. Jorge took it.

“I have a friend who makes good food,” said Jorge. “Would you like to meet her?”

Despite the mixing up of languages when he spoke Diego appeared to understand Arabic without any problem.

“Diego has much hunger.”

“Then I will take you to meet Belia.”

“Belia? A name?”

“She is my woman.”

“Ma?”

“No. Like a wife.”

“Your wife?”

“Like a wife.”

Diego nodded. “Yes. Your wife. Diego know about wife. Is she pretty?” A sly smile crossed a face too guileless to hide it.

“She is beautiful.”

Another smile.

“And Thomas’s wife is beautiful too.”

“Thomas?”

Jorge nodded to where Thomas stood, forgotten. Diego did not turn, not yet forgiving him for his capture.

“Good food?” he said.

“Very good food.”

“And Ma and Pa?”

“Thomas will take care of them.”

“Diego love Ma.” More tears filled his eyes, the emotions racing from place to place in his mind showing unfiltered on his face.

“I know you do. Thomas will take care of her. He is a physician. The best physician in al-Andalus.”

Diego sniggered and shook his head. “Nobody that good.”

Not as stupid as his brother had made out, then, Thomas thought. He waited, silent, as Jorge led Diego toward the stairs. When he heard the front door close he descended to the room that carried the taint of death. He untied Diego’s mother and lifted her to the ground. There would be sheets and blankets somewhere and he would cover her before fetching the family. He checked the body briefly, because Lubna had come to ask his opinion, and he believed he owed her at least a cursory examination. There was nothing to indicate the cause of death, which did not surprise him. The woman was not young, well into her fifth decade, and her arms and legs were stick thin.

He rolled her onto her front but found nothing else until he lifted her thin hair to discover a dark bruise on the back of her skull.

Thomas wondered if Diego might have attacked his mother. But as he peered closer he decided the bruise was more likely caused by an accident, a fall of some kind, and almost certainly what had led to her eventual death. He would ask Lubna if she had observed the mark, but there would be no blame if she had missed it. And no blame over the woman’s death. She had bled into her skull, and no surgeon in the world could have saved her.

Was it another fall, the same as her husband? Both of them? It seemed too great a coincidence and Thomas wondered if he had been too quick to trust Diego. Had he pushed them both down a stairs? Thomas let the thought work itself to a conclusion and shook his head. He couldn’t see it. Diego had loved both his mother and father, that was plain to see.

He rolled the woman over again and turned to the man, ignoring the stink that rose from him as he pulled the corpse to the floor, long used to such and worse. And then, because he could not help himself, he examined that body as well. Which is when he discovered the marks that had been obscured by his clothing. Many marks. Made by a knife and some kind of pincer. Thomas undid all of the man’s clothing until he lay sad and naked beneath his gaze.

He saw an accumulation of tiny wounds which, when added one on top of the other might well cause a man’s heart to burst. Thomas hoped it had happened quickly, but seeing the number of wounds he was sure it had not.

The man had been tortured, and for an extended period of time.

He had been murdered, even if that had not been the intention. And why torture? To reveal some secret he knew?

He rolled the man over and saw a deeper wound on his back, slightly right of the centre line. Thomas leaned closer to examine it. A single thrust of a long knife. He frowned. Had it been inflicted first, or last? And if last was it done as a mercy, or to ensure the man never talked again?

Thomas pushed a hand to clear the hair that had fallen across his face and sat on his heels. If torture had been used it indicated the man must have known something. Something another man, or men, wanted.

He dressed the man again and rose, went in search of blankets. Lubna would not be pleased, he knew, because now there was a mystery, and questions that already scratched at the back of his mind.