The Siege of Pugglemunt Pt 13 (murder)

Chapter Nine: In Which I Am Accused Of Murder

Sir Bashful had already been and gone by the time I rode over to check in at the Catapultery. He wasn’t at the trebuchets on the ramparts either, though he’d clearly been there: they were stocked and loaded and ready to wang some serious beef, by which I mean throw boulders. It was a shame; Sir Bashful was a dab-hand at the trebuchets, a true artisan when it came to convincing bits of wood to sling heavy objects enormous distances. I realised with a disappointed huff that I must have missed the calibration process, which, given that it involves testing the trebuchets by launching criminals over the horizon, is quite obviously my favourite bit.

I bumped into Sir Pip Junior on the ramparts (he was lying on his back, laughing at a butterfly). He’d not seen Sir Bashful since the War Chamber that morning.

“Odd,” I said. “Oh, and how about that list of my soldiers? Did you finish it?”

Sir Pip Junior smiled and nodded and handed me back the list, which had certainly been filled in although he’d clearly spilled chocolate milk all over it and tried to dab it off.

“Thank you, my lad. This will prove useful when all the gut-ripping and eye-gouging and blood-vomiting begins. Now, back to your watch, there’s a good chap.”

Sir Pip Junior didn’t say anything in response to this because he was staring with giant pupils into the distance.

I rode Handsome Pat back to my Castle and tied him up in the courtyard. Unfortunately, because I was feeling stressed about the onrush of war and wondering where the hell Sir Bashful had gotten to, I didn’t notice that I’d tethered him to the side of a vegetable cart that immediately set off through the streets, and I lost a good fifteen minutes running after it to free him.

When that was all sorted, I trudged back up to the Castle and threw open the enormous imposing high-sweeping gnarled old haughty-brown locally-made wooden-with-silver-trim double-doors to my Great Hall: WHAM. Really emphasise that bit for the pamphlet, would you? They really need to picture it: WHAM. Every time I enter that chamber I enter it with gusto, by the Gods. I want the peasants to feel reassured by the image of it; I want them to lie in bed at night and think about it, about how safe they are in the hands of such a capable King: masculine – yet understated; brawny – yet intellectual; brutal – yet tender; deadly – yet sensual.

And, as the giant doors swung back on their oily hinges, a crashing wave of sunlight burst and sloshed all over the room-gloom, and that’s where, in the suddenly new-light, I saw on the floor, spread-eagled, armoured, about 5’11, quite handsome, and stone, stone dead: Sir Bashful.

I knew he was dead at an instant; his cheeks were void of their trademark flush. For three years Sir Bashful had served as one of my Ten Best Knights. I knew him well – had trusted him, had grown fond of him. I knew his usual shade, the violent shade of puce he turned whenever anyone asked him to speak in front of an assembly of three or more — and now, suddenly, he was as blue as a witch’s tongue. I also knew he was dead because he had an axe sticking out of him.

I fell to my knees and threw my arms up to the sky.


I dropped my arms and head, aghast with grief, and crawled towards my butchered Sir Bashful with the intention of lying on top of him and sobbing. But then something caught my eye: the axe itself. Wasn’t it quite… familiar?

I stood up and inspected the handle of the axe that had bitten into his back. Even in the little half-light, I felt a strange affinity for the weapon: the rhinestone shaft, the gilded handle, the ruby pommel; nay — nay! T’was not possible — t’was it? The Jewelled Axe of Hampton Climax?! My eyes rose to the heavens as the full realisation struck: that not only somebody had murdered the good Sir Bashful, they had tried to frame me. I fell to my knees once more, threw wide my arms, tossed back my head, and yawped like a demon.

(You may draw your stars, my gallant ink-dauber)


“Order! Order!”

I was sitting upon my throne and everybody was assembled before me: that is my remaining Eight Best Knights, and everyone else I’ve mentioned so far in this story except for Bloodpunch and the gorgeous emissary because, well, obviously they weren’t there, and also the dungeon ghosts weren’t present because you can’t really tell ghosts what to do. But everyone else had to be there, you see, so we could have a big argument about who killed Sir Bashful and also why they did that. It was hot and humid with the press of too many humans crowded together; I could feel the stress of it all gnawing at my legs like the Foot-Sucking Worms of Jinh Forest.

“ORDER,” I yelled again. “What’s everyone’s order for the banquet? If we don’t sort this out now the cooks will get all flustered. Raise your hands: who wants chicken thighs?”

A smattering of hands went up in the crowd.

“And who wants beef?”

More hands – some of which I noticed had already gone up for the chicken.

“No, no, you can’t have both. There’s not enough. If you already said you wanted chicken, put your hand down. Or wait— if you put your hand up for the chicken thighs, but now you’ve changed your mind because you didn’t realise beef was an option, keep your hand up but call out ‘veto chicken’.”

Several people called out ‘veto chicken’ and put their hands down but several others thought ‘veto chicken’ was another menu item and put their hands up.

Oh just cook everything and bring it in,” I hissed to my chef.

Once the catering was dealt with, I cast shadowy eyes around the room, hushing the gossiping masses in an instant (how’s that for charisma, Bloodpunch).

“Right,” I declared, “Now what are we going to do about this?

I pointed to the corpse of Sir Bashful in the centre of the room. I’d had my Water Boy respectfully erect a little fence (borrowed from the chicken coop in the courtyard) around him so nobody tripped over his legs or got any ideas about prying jewels off my axe.

My knights and citizens looked up at me as I sat on my throne (reclined with one leg thrown over the armrest — the most en vogue way to sit on a throne according to the last edition of Monarch Monthly). I scowled down at them, one and all.

“Somebody better own up,” I said, thumping the arm of my throne. “Who killed Sir Bashful? Spit it out or there’ll be mayhem.”

“How do we know you didn’t kill him, Sire?” said a quiet voice.

I sat up on my throne to see who dared make such an accusation.

“WHO SPAKETH THUS? Who dares to question their King’s Honour?”

The crowd parted to reveal Grinda, my Mopperwoman. She did a little ‘coo-ee’ wave at me and smiled with her powdery old-woman cheeks.

“Grinda, what the hell,” I said.

“I’m sorry, my King. But — you know. Sensible to get it out of the way.”

I sighed in reluctant acquiescence.

“We can rule me out. I couldn’t have murdered him because I’ve been out all day trying to sort out what meagre defences we have ahead of tomorrow’s siege.”

That reminded me: I shot Fletcher Brightly a look and mouthed ‘make more arrows or I’ll kill you’ and drew my finger across my throat.

I quickly realised this gesture wouldn’t do much to prove my innocence in the eyes of my accusing audience, so I shrugged it off by bursting into a great, hearty laugh that echoed around the Great Hall. When it had faded, all was quiet. Someone coughed at the back of the room and, far off, beyond the great double doors, a chicken squawked. They were really unsure of my innocence, the pack of scoundrels.

“Look, I didn’t kill him alright? Somebody is trying to frame me, though to what end, I know not. But you all know me. If I’d wanted to kill him, I’d have made a show of it, not done away with him in secret. Hurled him from a catapult, that sort of thing. Everyone knows I only enjoy ironic punishments.”

“I believe you Sire,” said a hooded figure, standing at the back of the crowd.

I clapped my hands, grateful, and stood up to see them better (the stranger, I mean, not my hands).

“Aha, that’s more like it!” I called. “Thanks be to you, stranger! But prithee, reveal thyself, fair citizen!”

The figure lowered its hood, and I found myself staring at the straw-sacked head of Roy, my dungeon scarecrow.

“What are you doing out of the dungeon?” I cried.

“Sometimes at night I go for walks around the castle,” said Roy, shrugging. “When the moon is full I like to dance along the battlements.”

“Don’t— don’t do that without asking me. What if I bumped into you in the dark? You’d give me a heart attack.”

Roy bowed, solemnly.

“Apologies, my King. Of course. I do not wish to startle you. In future I will only do it if the rats assure me you are asleep.”

I stared at Roy for a long time, blinking, then cleared my throat and addressed the room at large.

“Right. Who saw Sir Bashful last?”

All at once everybody began shouting that they had seen him last, because I suppose, as far as they were aware, they had. So I rephrased my question.

“Alright alright. Who saw Sir Bashful this afternoon?”

As several hands were raised, a door creaked to my right, and my chef hurried over and mounted my throne-stairs to whisper in my ear.

“What do you mean we’ve no chicken for dinner?” I wailed.

“They’ve all run away,” said the chef. “Someone’s stolen the fence from their coop.”


My chef scurried off before I could find something to sling in her direction. In the quiet that followed, Sir Sleeves raised his hand.

“My liege, I passed Sir Bashful in the courtyard not two hours ago.”

I took a deep breath.

“Right. And did he say anything about, I don’t know, assassins? Did he look at you strangely and say a riddle? Did he numbly stare off into the horizon and talk about how we never truly know how many sunsets we have left to us?”

“No, he just said he was knackered after calibrating the trebuchets and that he was going to get really drunk and lie on some hay all evening,” said Sir Sleeves.

Alas: my poor knight had never made it to his hay bail. I dabbed my handkerchief at a single tear that slid from my left King-duct (I have a large and colourful collection of handkerchiefs in my dresser upstairs, I always keep one on me, you never know).

I looked around the room; at Lady Blanket’s burning purple eyes, at Glob’s dirty nose, at the space in the crowd around Sir Pip Senior because he still hadn’t washed after the sewers despite me commanding him to. Expectant faces gazed up at me: they wanted justice. But how?

“So… nobody’s going to own up?” I asked, defeated.

Silence. I breathed deeply, thumbing my weary brow. It seemed I would simply have to let things play out, for now. Perhaps the killer would reveal themselves in due course. I just hoped ‘due course’ didn’t involve them killing me.

“Alright. Fine. Well, everyone keep your eyes peeled. And whoever did it — for shame. And don’t even try to kill anybody else, because next time, you might not get away with it. I’m watching you.”

Just to really hammer this home I stood up again and jabbed a furious accusatory finger at everybody in the room, one at a time. This took ages and by the time I was done, the feast was ready.

“Alright,” I declared. “Dinner is served. Somebody please take Sir Bashful and drape him — gently and respectfully – in the courtyard. No no no — come on. Use your noggins, lads. Take the axe out of him first.”

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