This week we are featuring Gryphon Precinct by Keith R.A. DeCandido, book four in the Dragon Precinct Series. Currently there are five novels and one short story collection, but more of each are planned. This has been described as “Dungeons and Dragnet” by one reviewer and “JAG meets Lord of the Rings” by another. In either case, you get the idea. These are fantasy police procedural fun.
Lord Albin was late.
This distressed his chamberlain, Sir Rommett, no end, because Lord Albin was never late for the first appointment of the day.
Oh, as the day wore on, the lord of the demesne’s ability to be punctual deteriorated, and engagements scheduled for the end of the day were postponed about a third of the time. As the person who ruled the city-state of Cliff’s End, Lord Albin was in great demand. (Technically, he co-ruled with his wife, Lady Meerka, but she limited herself to overseeing financial matters. Her husband had to deal with everything else.)
That Lord Albin had agreed to see Sir Rommett first thing in the morning underlined the importance of the meeting. To make matters worse, Rommett had no idea what the meeting was about. Lord Albin had been unusually mysterious, saying only that it was “a grave matter.”
When the time chimes rang nine times, Rommett decided to take action. Normally, one waited for the lord to arrive at his leisure. To do aught else would be highly improper, and Rommett prided himself on his propriety. But Lord Albin was now an hour late, and worse, had sent no notice of his tardiness.
Stepping out of his office, he saw his secretary sitting at his desk, writing on a scroll. “Bertram, has there been any word from Lord Albin?”
Looking up from his writing, Bertram said, “I’m afraid not, sir.”
“He’s an hour late.”
“Yes sir, he is.”
“No message, nothing?”
Bertram shook his head. “No, sir.”
“Damn. This is very unlike him, don’t you think, Bertram?”
“I would never presume to say, sir. His scribe did come by.”
“What, that gnome?” Rommett asked with a frown.
Nodding, Bertram said, “Yes, sir. He hadn’t seen his lordship yet this morning, despite having gone by his office twice. I sent a pageboy to check with the house faerie, and his lordship did get up and leave his bedroom at seven this morning, along with Lady Meerka. They had breakfast together, and then her ladyship went to the eastern wing to speak with the magickal examiner. I’m not sure where his lordship went, I’m sorry to say.”
“Odd business. The meeting with the guild leaders is still at half past nine, yes?”
“We’ll never be able to reschedule that.” Rommett shuddered. Finding a time when the leaders of all the guilds that controlled various occupations throughout Cliff’s End could meet had been almost impossible. Postponing and finding a new time would take weeks, and the guilds had already been threatening work stoppages if they didn’t get to meet with Rommett soon. “If he’s not in his bedchambers and he’s not in his office, he’s likely in the sitting room.”
“I’m going to have to check there myself. If he is there, it’s best he not be disturbed by a mere pageboy.”
Bertram’s eyes widened with shock. “Is that—is that wise, sir?”
“We’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?” Rommett sighed. “It’s just so unlike him not to send word if he’s this late.”
“Yes, sir.” Bertram sounded dubious, but Rommett studiously ignored him and started down the corridor toward Lord Albin’s sitting room. He noticed that the guard who was usually posted near Rommett’s office wasn’t present. Indignant, Rommett whirled around to face his secretary again. “Bertram! Where is the guard?”
“I’m afraid the guards assigned to the castle are a bit short-handed this morning, sir. Today is the funeral.”
Bertram had said that as if Rommett would know what funeral he was referring to.
Apparently deciphering the quizzical expression Rommett gave him, Bertram continued: “One of the lieutenants in the Castle Guard was killed during that, ah, unfortunate incident at the bank?”
Rommett vaguely remembered a report about something like that. In fact, thinking about it, he recalled a requisition from Captain Osric for permission to promote one of the guards to lieutenant to replace the detective in question—Hawk, was it? He still hadn’t approved that requisition. In any case, while the chamberlain was not happy at the notion of the castle being short-handed of protection, he also was not so churlish as to deny people the right to attend the funeral of a comrade. “I assume this funeral will not extend past lunch?”
“No, sir,” Bertram said confidently.
“Very well.” Nodding, Rommett again turned his back on his secretary and proceeded through the castle halls until he reached Lord Albin’s study.
The double doors at the end of the corridor were closed. That was meaningless in and of itself, as the doors were rarely open. If Lord Albin was inside, it was usually a meeting that he did not wish people to eavesdrop on (more public meetings were held in the dining room or in his office); if he wasn’t inside the doors were not just closed, but locked.
Rommett hesitated, then knocked.
There was no response.
Praying to Temisa that he was not making a career-ending mistake, he grabbed the left-hand door and pulled down the handle. The door creaked as Rommett gingerly pulled it open to reveal Lord Albin sitting in the plush chair, currently turned to face the fireplace, which was roaring, as it was a chill autumn day. Lord Albin hadn’t been well lately, and in retrospect, Rommett shouldn’t have been surprised that his lordship had decided to take refuge in front of a fire.
Oddly, Lord Albin was simply staring straight ahead, as if lost in thought. He had an odd expression on his face, but Rommett couldn’t figure out for the life of him what precisely was odd about it, merely that it was.
“My lord, I’m sorry, but we were supposed to meet an hour ago to discuss that—that grave matter of yours, and I need to meet with the guild leaders in just half an hour, so I was hoping . . .”
Rommett trailed off, as Lord Albin had made no response of any kind to his chamberlain’s words. In fact, he hadn’t blinked, hadn’t moved, hadn’t twitched his mouth, hadn’t done anything.
Not even breathe.
His voice a strangled whisper, Rommett said, “Oh, Temisa, no . . .”
Hesitantly, he approached the body. Afraid to touch it, he instead just looked at it. Lord Albin’s eyes stared unblinkingly ahead, his body as still as a statue. Rommett briefly felt dizzy and had to steady himself on the frame of the fireplace—only to quickly remove his hand and almost fall forward, as the bricks were hot from the fire.
Filled with a sudden urge to be away from the sitting room as fast as possible, Rommett turned and practically ran, his legs carrying him toward the main entrance to the castle. Only as he entered the vestibule did he realize that his legs knew where to take him even when his conscious mind did not: Bertram had said that Lady Meerka was with Boneen, the magickal examiner, and his lair was in the basement of the eastern wing of the castle.
Coming in through the main entrance at the same time were two members of the Castle Guard, a human man and a half-human, half-elven woman. They wore black leather armor as all guards did. A medallion on the chest included a stylized gryphon, the family crest of Lord Albin and Lady Meerka, indicating that they were assigned to the castle. They both wore earth-colored cloaks with the same crest, the color denoting them as lieutenants in the Guard. Rommett could not remember their names.
The male half of the pair had a thick red beard and long red hair, which obscured all but his aquiline nose and penetrating eyes. He looked concerned upon seeing Rommett, and the chamberlain realized that his devastation was etched on his features.
“Sir Rommett,” he asked, “are you all right?”
Flexing his hand, which still burned from the fireplace frame, Rommett said, “No. None of us may ever be all right again.”
Rommett hesitated, as if saying it made it more real.
Then he looked down at his hand, which was starting to get red. Saying it or not saying it would have no effect on anything, he forced himself to admit. Temisa had already taken him away.
“Lord Albin,” he finally said, “is dead.”
Both detectives’ eyes went wide, and the half-elven detective, who was one of the ugliest women Rommett had ever seen—not just in face, but also in personality, as the woman had no respect for her betters—put her hand to the hilt of her sword, hanging from a belt scabbard. “How was he killed?”
Rommett stared at the woman for a second—Tresyllione, that was her name. “He wasn’t killed! He’s been ill, and he died in his sitting room.”
“You’re sure?” Tresyllione asked insistently. “His body had no markings on it, no indication of foul play?”
“Of course not, don’t be ridiculous!” Rommett shook his head, wondering why he had even stopped to talk to these two idiots. “I must go inform Lady Meerka.”
Flexing his left hand some more, he made a mental note to see a healer after he talked to her ladyship.
He also wondered if he wasn’t too snappish with Tresyllione and her partner. In fact, he didn’t investigate the body all that closely, and it was Lord Albin himself who proclaimed the law that any time someone died in Cliff’s End, it should be investigated by the Castle Guard.
But no. His lordship had been sick. That was all.
Keith R.A. DeCandido is a white male in his late forties, approximately two hundred pounds. He was last seen in the wilds of the Bronx, New York City, though he is often sighted in other locales. Usually he is armed with a laptop computer, which some have classified as a deadly weapon. Through use of this laptop, he has inflicted more than fifty novels, as well as an indeterminate number of comic books, nonfiction, novellas, and works of short fiction on an unsuspecting reading public. Many of these are set in the milieus of television shows, games, movies, and comic books, among them Star Trek, Alien, Cars, Summoners War, Doctor Who, Supernatural, World of Warcraft, Marvel Comics, and many more.
We have received information confirming that more stories involving Danthres, Torin, and the city-state of Cliff’s End can be found in the novels Dragon Precinct, Unicorn Precinct, Goblin Precinct, Gryphon Precinct, and the forthcoming Phoenix Precinct and Manticore Precinct, as well as the short-story collections Tales from Dragon Precinct and the forthcoming More Tales from Dragon Precinct. His other recent crimes against humanity include A Furnace Sealed, the debut of a new urban fantasy series taking place in DeCandido’s native Bronx; the Alien novel Isolation; the Marvel’s Tales of Asgard trilogy of prose novels starring Marvel’s versions of Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three; short stories in the anthologies Aliens: Bug Hunt, Joe Ledger: Unstoppable, The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, The Best of Defending the Future, TV Gods: Summer Programming, X-Files: Trust No One, Nights of the Living Dead, the award-winning Planned Parenthood benefit anthology Mine!, the two Baker Street Irregulars anthologies, and Release the Virgins!; and articles about pop culture for Tor.com and on his own Patreon.
If you see DeCandido, do not approach him, but call for backup immediately. He is often seen in the company of a suspicious-looking woman who goes by the street name of “Wrenn,” as well as several as-yet-unidentified cats. A full dossier can be found at DeCandido.net