The House at Divoro
Malykant Mysteries #7
Konrad Savast is the Malykant: foremost and most secret servant of the God of Death. His job? To track down the foulest of murderers and bring them to The Malykt’s Justice. No mercy. No quarter.
When Nanda shows up with a pressing invitation to a post-Solstice house party, Konrad is unenthusiastic. Eino Holt, their host, might have a taste for theatricals, but Konrad emphatically does not.
But then a corpse turns up, mutilated and hidden in a pantry cupboard. Konrad soon learns that the house at Divoro harbours many a dark secret…
a gentleman of Ekamet
a confirmed bachelor
Diederik Nylund, a humble baker
a servant of The Shandrigal
a Reader of minds
Greta Pajari, an aristocrat
an Assevan street orphan
a ward of the police
a fearsome lamaeni
Synnove, a divine avatar
a police inspector
a smoker of pipes
another bachelor (unconfirmed)
Vidar Pajari, brother of Greta
Eetapi and Ootapi
deadly ghost snakes
a pair of devoted siblings
bloodthirsty, troublesome wretches (no particular role)
as well as
sundry other persons, either of note or not
Three days after the end of the Solstice holiday (days which had, most blissfully, been spent tucked up in bed with a new book), Konrad stood in the hallway of Bakar House, adding the final accoutrements to his outdoor outfit in preparation for encountering the blistering cold of a mid-winter’s morning. He had not left the house in days, which was good because it meant that no one in Assevan had been murdered since Solstice. It was bad because he felt as fresh as an aged pair of socks, and approximately as lively. A brisk walk out into the Bones would serve him well; it was high time he paid a visit to his beloved (if neglected) hut-on-stilts.
Hat and gloves donned, collar buttoned up over his throat, serpent-headed stick duly retrieved, Konrad made for the front door. Hand outstretched, he grasped the doorknob and yanked open the door, taking a deep breath in preparation to receive a lungful of searingly cold, exquisitely fresh air.
Nanda stood on the other side of the door.
‘Nan!’ said Konrad, jumping so violently he almost dropped his stick. ‘How nice to—’
‘Ah, excellent!’ Nanda beamed delightedly. ‘How prompt! I’m so pleased.’
‘Prompt?’ Konrad echoed in bewilderment. Nanda was not only wrapped up against the cold; she was swaddled in enough layers to encounter a winter twice as bitter. She was not well, that he knew, and he was pleased to see that she was taking care of herself. But since she had most likely taken a cab to his door, was it strictly necessary to pad herself out to quite such an advanced degree?
What’s more, she was unusually well equipped for a social visit, for a pair of aged but neat travelling cases sat on either side of her booted feet, apparently just set down.
‘Has Alexander arrived yet? And Tasha?’ Nanda peeked past him into the house, her pale brow furrowing. ‘Have you left your luggage inside? Do have Gorev bring it out. The carriage will be here any moment.’
‘Tasha?’ Konrad looked behind himself, as if expecting to see Tasha and the Inspector standing behind him after all — or perhaps the luggage Nanda spoke of, obligingly materialising all by itself. Nothing. ‘I haven’t seen th—’ He began, but stopped, because here came the Inspector strolling up behind Nanda, his ward Tasha bustling along in his wake. Both were as warmly dressed as Nanda and as well prepared to travel, bearing bags and cases well swollen with supplies.
The obvious conclusion to all of these assorted hints filtered, at last, through to Konrad’s sluggish brain. ‘Are we going somewhere?’
Nanda merely looked at him, struck speechless, her face registering a mixture of exasperation and mild disgust with which Konrad was sadly familiar. ‘Are we… you mean to tell me you did not receive my communication?’
‘Was it sent by pigeon?’ Konrad enquired. ‘Your messenger is sadly incompetent, for I have received nothing.’
With a look of acute annoyance, Nanda withdrew a dainty pocket-watch from somewhere and consulted it. ‘Then you have seven minutes to pack. Do hurry up!’
‘Where are we going?’
‘It’s all in my note.’
‘Which I have not received.’
‘That can hardly be considered my fault, can it?’
‘Where,’ Konrad said with exaggerated patience, ‘are we going?’
‘A house party. In Divoro! Charming town, but quite fifty miles north at least, and it is perishingly cold so do wrap up well. And bring everything. Suitable evening attire as well, Konrad. There will be dinners.’
Konrad began to feel that he might not have left his bed after all. He had only dreamed that he had. ‘A house party,’ he repeated. ‘In Divoro.’ He looked at Nuritov and Tasha, both of whom he liked and respected but neither of whom could be described as typical guests at a house party. Nor could Nanda, in all fairness. ‘Just what kind of a party is this?’
‘No time for questions! I will explain in the carriage, if I must. Konrad, if you do not pack your things at once I will pack them for you.’
Konrad cast an appealing look at Inspector Nuritov, whose eyes conveyed do not ask me I have no idea, and an equally plaintive look at Tasha, who shrugged.
‘Konrad!’ bellowed Nanda. ‘Go!’
Konrad bowed to inevitability, and went.
‘It is hosted by Eino Holt,’ said Nanda happily, once all four were ensconced in the promised carriage and rattling their way out of the north gate of Ekamet. ‘An old friend of my mother’s. Charming man, you will love him. And Kati Vinter will be there — a thousand years old if she’s a day, but livelier than the four of us put together, I swear. Marko Bekk! And if we are lucky, Lilli Lahti! I have not seen her in years! I could not pass up the invitation. We are to be there for two, perhaps three days.’
None of this speech cast any light whatsoever upon Nanda’s reasons for hauling Konrad along to Eino Holt’s house party. Perhaps she simply wished for his company, which would be gratifying, but why had she insisted upon Alexander Nuritov’s presence besides? And Tasha’s? Was it merely her customary kindness of heart? They made an odd company of fellows for days of idleness at the house of an eccentric gentleman (he must be eccentric, Konrad knew; those who held house parties in isolated mansions always were, and the more eclectic the guests, the madder the host).
Konrad could not ask such an insensitive question aloud, of course, and Nanda chose to ignore his pointed questioning looks with smiling serenity. At length he abandoned the endeavour, resolved to squeeze her for information at his earliest opportunity, and devoted himself to dozing through the journey.
Only once along the way did he venture to question her, and on a different topic. He tried to sound casual as he said: ‘Travelling long distances is so tiring, isn’t it?’
Nanda’s response was only a mildly suspicious stare.
‘And staying away from home, so very—’
‘You are working your way around to casting aspersions upon my fitness to travel. Aren’t you?’
‘Am I perchance displaying an Interesting Pallor?’
‘No more interesting than usua—’
‘Does a sheen of perspiration glisten upon my fevered brow?’
‘No no, you look perfectly—’
‘I tottered into the carriage, perhaps, too weak and frail to move far unassisted.’
Konrad sighed. ‘Point taken.’
Nanda directed her gaze out of the window. ‘When I appear infirm or in distress, then you may assist me, and with my gratitude. Until then, please do not fuss.’
Konrad made no response, uncertain what to say. He had only recently learned of Nanda’s illness, and still had no real idea as to what it consisted of. She did appear hale to him, but how long would that remain true?
He worried for her, but he could not express it without receiving a faceful of irritable discontent. Knowing Nanda as he did, he suspected that she resented his solicitude because she was worried for herself, too. But she would never admit it.
If all he could do was stay nearby in case she needed him, well… he could do that. If that meant suffering himself to be hauled over fifty miles or more of frozen, uneven roads to some distant town and spending days hobnobbing with strangers, so be it.
But when at last they turned in at the gate of a great house and rattled up the carriage-way, and he twisted his travel-stiff neck to look up at the place in which he would be spending the next few days of his life, he began, distantly, to reconsider.
For it was the strangest house he had ever seen, without contest. More of a castle than a house in size, it was situated atop the slope of a considerable hill, and the structure loomed over the road like some mythical beast temporarily paused. It was a mess of turrets and towers with spiralling domes and tall spires, built all out of reddish stone and painted in at least six other colours. It was the architectural dream of a madman, and Konrad felt a stirring of faint foreboding somewhere within.
But that was silly. Just because the house was strange, did not mean that anything unusual was likely to occur within. Nanda knew the owner, and at least a few of the party’s projected guests. He was merely being paranoid.