Jonmarc and Dugan parted company at the big tent, and Jonmarc headed on toward the forge. Karl Steen met him midway. “I heard you were there when Dugan found the body,” Steen said. Steen was a former soldier who had signed on as a caravan guard. He had rapidly earned the trust of Linton and his inner circle. When Jonmarc wasn’t working in the forge with Trent, the caravan’s blacksmith, he was usually helping Steen and serving as an extra guard.
“Not exactly, but soon after,” Jonmarc replied. “Word travels fast.” He paused. “Does Linton know?”
“If he doesn’t yet, he will soon,” Steen said, nodding toward the open area between the tents. Maynard Linton was striding toward them, jaw set and brow creased in a frown. Linton was short and stocky, with a coppery tan from a life lived outdoors. He was a skilled impresario, a shrewd businessman, and when times got tough, a savvy smuggler. Linton’s temper was as quick as his wit, and his usual bombast disguised the fact that he would face down the Crone herself for his people.
“Steen. Glad I found you. I’ve been robbed.”
Jonmarc and Steen exchanged glances. That was not what either of them had expected. “What’s missing?” Steen asked.
Linton scowled. “A basket of vegetables and a bottle of wine.”
Steen gave Linton a wary look. “What kind of vegetables? Where did the basket and wine come from?”
The expression on Linton’s face suggested that he thought the guard had taken leave of his senses. “Why does it matter what kind of vegetables they were?” Linton roared. “They’re missing.”
“The thief might have saved your life,” Jonmarc said. “There’s a good chance the items were poisoned.”
That brought Linton up short, and his bluster disappeared. “Poisoned? What in the name of the Dark Lady are you talking about?” he roared.
“Come on,” Steen said, gesturing for Linton to follow. “We’ll show you.”
Linton trudged after them as Jonmarc retraced his steps to the tent where the dead man had been found. Ada and the healers were still there, and Jonmarc spotted Kegan, one of the apprentice healers, standing near the back.
“Linton. Glad you’re here. I was just about to send someone.” Ada walked over to where Linton and Steen were standing. Petran’s body lay where he had fallen, with ashen-skin and blue-tinged lips.
Linton was staring in horror at the basket and its half-eaten bounty of green stalks. “What happened?” he asked, his voice oddly subdued.
Ada sighed. “Petran might have thought the stalks were celery, but they were water hemlock. Nasty poison—awful way to die, and no antidote. Even if we’d have found him sooner, we couldn’t have done anything except put him out of his misery. At least, not unless we had a mage of some power, and I’m not sure even that would help.”
She noticed that Linton had paled. “What’s the matter?”
“That’s my basket,” Linton said, pointing at the deadly bounty. “Whatever was in it was meant for me.”