As he so often did, no sooner had Folly been called into the room than he was making it his stage. Casting a grin at Lieutenant Caine, he posed with his chin in his hand. "Alas, poor Bumptious. I knew him, Horatio. "Which is not to say I knew him well, as I hear he isn't well at all!" His shrill laughter filled the cold chamber.
"Mr. Folly, I suggest," came the calm reply, "you take this seriously."
"'I suggest'? I, Sir, jest indeed. It's what I'm underpaid to do!" Folly didn't tell these strangers that he took all this very seriously. He never asked to be employed in a castle of death. Two Phases ago a boy got blown to pieces because he, Folly, wasn't allowed to tell him the safe path any way other than cryptically. So yes, he took it bloody seriously. But if he didn't laugh in the haggard face of death, and feign lunacy, then his insanity would be quite real. But these straight-faced New World prigs didn't need to know his pain. So Folly kept it gagged beneath his giggling, and muffled beneath his make-up - with its tell-tale smear.
Mac addressed Folly. "You're here because the man who pays you told us that the face paint we found inside the mine cart at Bumptious' murder scene could only have come from you. And he wanted us to make it clear that if you don't cooperate, he'll arrange for you to be moved to a room where your only audience members have eight legs."
"I look forward to a spinning ovation!"
"A room," added Horatio, "with four walls."
This seemedto unnerve Folly: he valued his freedom, such as it was. Time to play their game. His shoulders dropped.
"It was for Gretel. Not long before the Eleventh Quest of the last Phase, I confessed my... admiration to her. She merely laughed. I might have recovered from this, but then I discovered she was spending time with the Dwarf. Whatever could he offer her that I could not? I had to know more than Gretel would tell me. I concealed myself in the mine cart, so as to eavesdrop when they were together."
"How long were you there?"
"I was there when the dungeoneer Karen paid her visit. What pleasure to hear the oaf exploded! What pain to hear Gretel ministering to him. All three left, and still I hid; but when Gretel returned to the pit alone, with teas, I had to ask her, ask her why she was such a tease to me." Folly recounted how this confrontation had led to Gretel spilling one of the teas, firmly rejecting him, and running off to seek Mildread's counsel. Moments later, Bumptious came back, and warned Folly against causing trouble. "He kept jabbing his finger at me, which I didn't much care for: he'd pricked it somehow, and I wanted none of his blood on me. He condemned me as a trespasser, but politely I informed him that since I had helped Master to conquer the Dungeon, I can go where I wish. He was most displeased, so I left before he could shove a shovel at my liripipes."
"Or perhaps you killed him before he could take that swing."
Folly was indignant. "I did not. I am not that kind of fool." For a moment, he wished his make-up were gone. "There is no fun in murdering someone."
"Indeed," agreed Horatio. "Nothing is more serious. And jealousy is the oldest motive, even in this realm." He fixed his eyes on the jester: if he had more secrets to give up, the team would need more forensics to extract them. "You can go. But don't go far."
"Gretel," began Horatio, looking from her wringing hands to her still face, "Folly has told us that he spoke to you when you returned to the pit. Why didn't you tell us this?"
"Oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't want to get him into trouble. He didn't say anything wicked. If I hadn't laughed at him when he tried to woo me, he wouldn't have been there."
"Where we come from, it's known as harassment. And no woman deserves to suffer it."
"Oh no, it's not like that. He's a friend. He's so funny, most of the time. He just needed to talk."
"Bumptious was your friend too," Mac reminded her. "And we've come a long way ot find out what happened to him. The more you tell us, the better we can do that."
"We know it's not easy, but we need the truth. Can you do that for us?"
Gretel looked at Horatio as if he were a puppy wanting attention, and nodded. Composing herself (to her own standard of composure), she gave an account that matched Folly's, and the evidence collected at the crime scene. She had indeed spurned the jester, spilt one of the teas (she'd forgotten which, and the cups were identical) and left both behind when she left to seek Mildread. "She's not really my friend, and actually she's not very nice to me, but... I feel better when I talk to her. Maybe you will too?"
But when Mac asked Treguard to summon Mildread for interview, the Dungeon Master could not comply. "When the Dungeon disintegrates at the end of each Phase, some of the Dungeon folk are lost with it. Mildread has not been heard from since the last Phase, so she is one. We will have to do without her testimony, but she was a witch who could not be trusted, so it is no great loss."
Mac had to hope that Treguard was right, and that despite this realm's differences from his own, the evidence would lead the way, with or without testimonies following it. By this time, Grissom had approached. Evidence analysis was taking longer than he wanted.
"We recovered this parchment from underneath the mine cart. It has red marks that appear to be blood. We've been unable to decipher the script. Do you recognise the handwriting, Lord Dunshelm?"
Treguard tried not to show his eagerness as he took the parchment. After a short silence, his brow furrowed. "Yes. It is Merlin's."