Heart of Iron Page 48

The prince consort peered at the body. Then spun on his heel and broke into a string of invective. “Bloody bombs! The Scandinavians howling for answers and now this! How?”

“Blade to the chest, shot that took off half his arm and near-decapitation. I believe it was the decapitation that killed him, though the shot bothers me,” Lynch recited. “It’s one of those firebolt rounds we’ve discovered on certain members of the population.”

“Humanists,” the prince consort spat.

“Perhaps,” Lynch replied. He never made a judgment until all of the evidence was in. And there’d been more than one person in this room. He’d managed to track the signs; the strands of hair, splatters of blood, even the scent trails. Four people and a fight, if he wasn’t mistaken.

And he was fairly certain he knew who had struck the killing blow. How the others couldn’t smell the heavy musk of a verwulfen man—a man Lynch knew well—he’d never know. Perhaps it was all the cologne they wore? Or perhaps, he thought, looking at Barrons’s cool gaze, some of them knew precisely who had been here.

“We’re uncertain whether the murder was connected to the bombing, or simply an opportunity that someone took advantage of,” Barrons said. He paused for a telling moment. “Your Grace, Lynch informs me that one of his humanist informants passed along information about a potential bombing last week. As Colchester was in charge of finding the humanists, Lynch reported the finding directly to him.”

The prince consort turned, fury whitening his face. “Are you telling me that Colchester knew about this?”

“Yes,” Barrons said softly. “As much as Lynch himself knew.”

Waiting for the explosion, Lynch held himself stiffly. “If I’d believed he wouldn’t pass it along, I’d have sought an audience with the Council. It was my oversight, Your Grace. And the information spoke only of a possible assassination attempt.”

“Why would he keep this information to himself?” the prince consort asked softly. The tone set Lynch’s nerves on edge. This was when the consort was at his most dangerous.

Barrons hesitated. “He made no secret of his feelings about this treaty and the Scandinavians. And if you look at the people closest to the bomb—the Council, yourself, even the queen—there was a chance that he might be the most powerful man remaining in the Empire.”

Stillness. The prince consort’s eyes glittered. “I will see the House of Lannister destroyed.”

“Such an act would leave the Council unbalanced,” Barrons protested.

Casting a harsh look around the room, the prince consort ignored him. “Who was the girl? The one who screamed the warning? I want her found—”

“She’s my ward,” Barrons said swiftly. “Miss Lena Todd. She creates clockwork toys and jewelry and sells them to a clockmaker in Clerkenwell. She recognized that the automaton had been tampered with and cried the warning.”

Lynch said nothing as the young lord settled into silence, but he could read the undercurrents in the room. Barrons was protecting someone. The obvious answer would be his ward, but Lynch often found that taking the obvious path blinded one to the truth.

A scrap of material caught his eye. Black. And stained with blood. It was caught on a stud from the upholstery of a chair.

“You.” The prince consort stabbed a finger toward Barrons. “You’re in charge of discovering who tried to assassinate half of my court. And how they got into the heart of the bloody tower itself. And you…”

Lynch straightened.

“Find the humanists.” The prince consort spun on his heel, toward the door. “And bring me their heads.”

Barrons let out a deep breath as the doors slammed shut behind the prince consort and his men. “Well,” he said. “That went well, I thought. He wasn’t too concerned about who murdered Colchester.”

Lynch knelt down. Touched the piece of fabric. Blood stained his finger and heat swam behind his eyes at the sight of it. “They probably saved him the hassle.”

He licked his finger. Taste exploded over his tongue, the ecstasy of a thirst long denied. His mouth went dry and he had to force his body to calm. From the faint scent on the fabric, it had once adorned a woman.

“What have you found?”

Lynch rubbed the smear of blood between his fingertips. The lingering residue of gunpowder caught his nose. “A mystery.” He looked up. “There were four people in this room. Colchester, two verwulfen, and this one. A human.”

“What’s the mystery of that?”

“This one…this one was the humanist,” he said. “The one who fired the gun.”

And he would find her.

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