Please read OOC before posting.
The two whippoorwills in the apple tree beside his window woke Davin up, as usual, a half-hour before sunrise. The pair, usually spirited but softly so, trilled away their medley this morning with unusual pitch and vigor. The song, shrill but not unpleasant, took a full year for Davin to get comfortable waking up to. Every morning, although less so over time, he couldn’t help but be reminded of his mother who believed whippoorwills were bad omen. “They catch the spirits of the dead,” she told him when she had first visited his farm. “There’s too many around here to get rid of all of them, but you’re asking for trouble leaving that apple tree right next to your window. You’re inviting in bad things.”
Besides the whippoorwills’ disconcerting energy, that morning seemed typical enough: his overalls were neatly folded inside his dresser, his ledger was balanced quickly, and his farmhand, Talia, had left breakfast out on the stove. Davin ate breakfast slowly, savoring the fresh eggs from yesterday’s collection and the yeasty bread that Talia must have picked up from Bree during her trip out to the marketplace yesterday. Cutting his knife into the ripe tomato, he watched the vegetable’s inner-jelly ooze onto his plate and thought that treating himself to a fresh bath might be a well-earned treat before starting today’s work. He grabbed a towel and put on his boots. The stream was only a mile away, so the detour shouldn’t prove too much of a burden.
The sun was just peeking up from the horizon when he walked outside. There weren’t many clouds in the sky at all. This was disconcerting, since there wouldn’t be any protection from the heat later. Summer had been especially rough this year, and everything suggested that the heat this afternoon would be merciless. He would have to check on Old Taberlaine in the neighboring farm later. With heat this bad, the old man wouldn’t be able to manage well. Davin had helped him sheer his sheep last week and figured that the old man wouldn’t have the energy to take care of his livestock this week, either. Damn heat. Maybe a bath was a bad idea since there was enough work, as is. But, if he wasn’t going to take time out for himself, what was the point of leaving his father’s business? Perhaps, because he had so much to do today, a bath was more necessary than ever.
When he arrived at the river, Davin’s hedonism gave way before his pressing sense of responsibility. The water was refreshingly cold, perfect for a summer morning, but he only allowed himself a ten minute soak and felt guilty throughout. Talia must have started working almost two hours ago, judging by the breakfast left on the stove. The chicken coop would probably be just about clean at this rate, and the cows would be getting ready for pasture. Talia had only started two weeks ago, and showed up out of nowhere with no references, but she had proven herself to be amazingly proficient. Davin had been reluctant to take her on—she was too much of a stranger-- but he needed the help and she was willing to work for room and board alone. Not that he could afford to pay her much more anyway, but if she was willing to work for so little, then he figured it was only fair to afford her privacy, too. Why look a gift horse in the mouth?
On his walk home, Davin noticed the latch for the cattle pen was still closed. The leather straps he used to keep the gate secure overnight were bound fast, so Talia must be running behind. They had just collected eggs yesterday, and while that didn’t usually cause any extra trouble, Davin suspected the chicken coop might be messier than usual. The bath was a bad idea after all. He had relied on Talia’s extraordinary efficiency and now the farm had fallen behind. Walking towards the chicken coop, Davin wondered if Old Tamerlaine might forgive him if he didn’t offer his help this afternoon.
The first thing he noticed were her shoes. Inlaid with fine brown threads, Davin had immediately recognized their quality the first time he met her. He couldn’t help from commenting: “My father used to trade in silks and furs. The horsehair in those inlays look as fine as anything I’ve seen come out of Rohan.” She just smiled and said nothing. Maybe those shoes had indeed come out of Rohan. Closer to Gondor, the trade routes were more frequent and the prices lower, but anywhere, especially this far out, Davin wondered why such fine goods were being wasted out on a field. Being from a complicated but wealthy background himself, he figured it wise not to push the issue.
The first thing he noticed was her shoes. Just lying there. The soft brown leather soles darting up from the grass like the stomachs of two curious meerkats. “Talia?” He asked, confused. She wasn’t one to sleep on the job, but he had only known her for a brief time. Still, his stomach clenched up with uncertainty.
Drawing nearer, she didn’t look dead. Her auburn hair fanned out in the grass like a beautiful palm leaf. Her skin, white and pale, looked like the finest sea shells he had ever seen. Her clothing showed no signs of struggle; it smelled like the lavender from her perfume. She hadn’t even started working yet, since her skin showed no signs of sweat. If he hadn’t spoken with her yesterday, he would have imagined her a doll, a beautiful child’s toy grown suddenly large. She was an exquisite corpse. Rolling her over, apart from a small circle of necrotic flesh on the back of her neck, it was hard to tell she was dead at all. Poison? From a needle prick on the back of her neck, maybe? But when? Perhaps when she was in market? Perhaps on her way back? What if it had been on the farm? Had she even felt it?
Her necklace, the one with the strange pink topaz, was missing. Everything else, her gold bracelet and her copper earrings, were still there. Turning her over again to examine the dark patch of flesh on her neck, a small slender strip of paper, no longer than a pencil, peeked out from inside her boot:
“In emergency, check front pouch of satchel.”
His hands shook. Davin had never dealt with a dead body before. How does one get rid of such things? Did she have family and how would he contact them? There would be no work on the farm today, he was certain now. He wondered if this satchel might have answers, but something in his stomach told him that it would just pose more questions. He almost didn’t want to check it, but he knew he had to. If the satchel didn’t help, maybe Old Tamerlaine would know what to do. If he was lucky, he’d be spared making a trip to the doctor out in Bree.
Walking back to the farmhouse, he heard the two birds finishing up their morning song. They never sang this long into sunrise. He couldn’t help but think of his mother. Damn birds. First thing he was going to do once he sorted all of this out was cut down that tree. Mother had been right.
Three words for next poster: jadeite, morose, tincture