Title: Suspect
Time Period: January 7, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: The perpetual outsider finds himself a suspect in a crime he didn't commit when he is searched at the hands of an unkind militiaman.

The sun setting is a harbinger not only of the oncoming night but also of the closing of businesses in Dornie. There’s only a few minutes of fading light left before most shop keepers and merchants close their doors or load up their wagons and head for home. The shops begin to go dark one by one, and the homes begin to glow as the light grows dimmer.

Beisdean has just finished his last errand of the day and stows the parcel of cloth into the bag he carries at his side. The errands today were all in town, so he is on foot rather than on horse, and his breath rises like white smoke in the icy air.

A line has formed of villagers walking around him.

Up ahead soldiers are looking in bags.

“You there,” a familiar voice, not deep or friendly, calls out nearby. “We’ve had a report of a robbery, you’re new to Dornie, aye?” A tall man with stringy blond hair and enough growth on his face for a patchy beard files his way through pedestrians until he reaches Beisdean’s side. The claymore strapped to his back makes him look as though he’s carrying the burden of a cross, but for all its weight, he doesn’t slouch.

“You’re staying at the Albatross? Skye, yes?” Without waiting for an answer, Jain grabs the leather satchel at Beisdean’s side, pulling it open to rifle through it. Though nothing is taken by the time he lets it drop again, the contents are jumbled and in dire need of reorganization to make them fit properly. “You’ll do well to answer promptly.”

The younger man bristles immediately at the sight of Jain, brows furrowing as his bag is grabbed and rummaged, though he shrinks away from any contact between the two of them.

“You know very well who I am,” says Beisdean through gritted teeth, “and aye, I’m staying at the Albatross.”

He begins to refit the parcels into the bag, then mutters under his breath, “Check your own bag.”

The soldier is either unbothered by the little bit of insubordination by Beisdean, or he just didn’t notice. “Nothing in your coat pockets then?” He continues, dipping his hands into the man’s jacket pockets and patting him down at the legs. “How long did you say you were away from Dornie now and why is it that you picked now to come back?”

When Jain is finished touching the other man, inappropriately or not (all business), he pushes him about a foot backward to gain some space between them. “How well do you know the families of Dornie? You were raised here, aye? Were you carrying any grudges toward anyone, any of the clans in particular? Do you have any friends in the area that can vouch for your honesty.” Since they both know his mother can’t do it.

Beisdean’s chin lifts and his eyes narrow. He swallows hard at the humiliation of being frisked, cheeks coloring when others look their way.

“Gone thirteen years and some change. Came back before Christmas. You were the one who brought me into town, sir.” The words are terse, and short, the last one heavily laden with sarcasm and disdain.

“Mrs. Owens can vouch for me,” he hazards, uncertain. “Bridget Ross.”

Suddenly, his eyes dart to the side, and he groans to himself. “Not now…”

“Didn’t ask when you came to town, boy,” the sarcasm and disdain is matched with anger and aggression from the older man as he grabs Beisdean by the collar and escorts him toward an alley between houses. “I asked why now instead of months ago or months later.”

Bridget’s name gives the harassed man enough reprieve to be let go once they’re alone. “Bridget Ross, of the militia. Well you do have friends in high places now, don’t you?” Jain gives a bit of a laugh as the words come out, as though he doesn’t really mean what he says. “Any other friends in the vicinity? Friends that haven’t yet come out of the woodwork? Ones that traveled with you?”

Beisdean stiffens as he is grabbed and pushed into the alley.

“Because my mother died.”

The words are flat, but his eyes shine as he tips his head upward to stare at the sky, swallowing the anger and pride that rise in him. His left hand comes up slightly at his side, fingers out as if to ward off something though no one stands there.

“I traveled alone. You know this,” he manages, looking back to Jain and then grimacing and turning away from the empty space to his left.

“Please. I need to go… I didn’t take anything.”

“You don’t need to go until I let you, boy,” reaching for the other man’s bag again, Jain pulls it from his shoulder and flips it open, dipping his hand deep into its recesses. Small tents are poked and then disappear in the leather as he feels the bottom for anything suspicious. Finally, the bag is thrust back to Beisdean.

Before letting him up off the wall, the soldier’s palm hits flat against his prisoner’s chest. “Watch your step around here, it don’t matter to me if you’re Slainte’s son or not. I know trouble when I see it and you reek of it.” Then the pressure is off as Jain pulls back and makes his own departure.

Heart pounding in his chest, Beisdean takes an extra step backward when Jain pushes at him. The bag is reshouldered, the contents inside now worse for wear and bearing teeth marks from the search conducted by Jain’s unseen familiar. The younger man watches through narrowed blue eyes until Jain turns the corner of the alley and disappears out of sight.

Beisdean turns to his left.

“I can’t. I’m not like him. I can’t kill someone. Not unless it was self defense, mate,” he murmurs to that seemingly empty space beside him.

Invisible to anyone else who might be watching, the dead man beside him is a grisly vision, with a pale face, lips blue and eyes rheumy with death. His tunic is splattered by dried, brackish blood, and his throat gapes open, revealing bone and muscle and sinew.

“You don’t kill him, son, and it will be self defense. Only it will be too late,” the ghost hisses, then fades from Beisdean’s view until he is the only one in the alley.