I do not mind admitting, my dear Meri, that I came close to fainting when I saw the scene. It was one of the Big Folk, a Ranger by his garb, laid flat upon his face outside the Hay Gate. Were it still dark, one might have thought him asleep, as indeed the Shirriff had when he passed by about the middle night. But the cold light of dawn revealed the unnatural stillness of his body - and the blood that had dried on the road about him.
Hemlock was there before me, of course; I have never known her to be late when there is news of blood on the ground. Such crimes are uncommon in our Shire, and as such the Shirriffs are not well equipped to deal with them. That is where Hemlock Holmes comes in; she calls herself a "Consulting Detector", and is called upon whenever the Shirriffs find themselves out of their depth.
"Ah, Whitson," she said, looking up with a smile entirely at odds with the grisly scene. "Come, tell me what you see."
I passed through the gate and gingerly approached, tying my hair back as I went. It is one of Hemlock's quirks that she never calls me Juniper, or June, or anything other than Whitson; I am not in the least certain she even knows my given name. I crouched down, careful to keep my skirts clear of the pool of blood, and looked at my friend. "I see much that I would rather not," I told her. "A Ranger of the Big Folk - murdered, I should suppose, by some bandit or creature out of the Old Forest."
"Quite so," Hemlock agreed. She pointed at a few features of the body, which to me seemed little different from any other. "Of course you can see that he had travelled far recently, probably in the Trollshaws; but though the old wound still bothered him at times, it was not enough to slow him down. It is curious about his knife, though..."
I frowned down at the sheath on the Ranger's belt. So far as I could tell, it was a perfectly ordinary knife, if sized for one of the Big Folk: suited for eating, hunting, and defence at need. I was about to say as much, but Hemlock had already moved on.
"Tell me, then," she said, nodding past me at the open gate, "what you make of that."
I turned and gaped. There were elegant Elvish letters on the gate, a handspan tall and a good three feet off the ground, written in what must be our victim's own blood, and spelling a single word: RACHE.
"That is-" For a heart-stopping moment, I thought the word to be evidence of an Elvish hand in our murder; but then I recalled that of course, the Rangers used both Elvish letters and the runes at need. "I suppose the poor man must have written it himself," I said. "'Rache' - it is no word I know. Could it be his name?"
Hemlock gave me that slightly disappointed look I have come to know so well. "Shirriff?" she called out, beckoning to the nervous hobbit beside the gate. "I believe I have something of interest."
The Shirriff approached, shivering despite the warm day. "I do hope so, Miss Holmes," he said. "I don't want to have to look at the poor man any longer than I have to, if you get my meaning."
Hemlock gave him a brief smile which suggested she got nothing of the sort. "I have determined that the Ranger was killed just before midnight," she said briskly. "If you would begin asking at the nearby houses, hopefully you will find a witness. The murderer would have approached up the Newbury road, though I cannot guarantee they returned that way."
The Shirriff's look of astonishment was second only to my own. "Just a moment!" I said, taking my friend's arm. "Surely you cannot mean to say one of our people did this!"
Hemlock treated me to that same thin smile. "You have been falling behind in your studies, my dear Whitson," she said. "Do you not recall the map of the southern lands I lent you two weeks ago? Rach, the singular of raich, as in the Sindarin name of the road to the White City, Imrath Gondraith."
I looked down at the Ranger, then back at Hemlock none the wiser. "Something to do with stone?" I hazarded.
Hemlock Holmes sighed. "The word means Stonewain," she supplied. "By the E in our message, we can deduce that the word was not completed - but see how close it comes to the gatepost? There can only be one further letter to write, and the only logical way to complete the word is to add a lambe."
"Rachel," I repeated blankly. Then it clicked. "Rach-el; I know that word! It means Elf; but in the old poems it stands for..."
"Star," Hemlock confirmed, "with the whole meaning Starry Wain. And the only Starry Wain I know of, besides the one in the northern sky, is the inn at Newbury." She took my hand and led me through the gate, back into Buckland. "You see, Whitson? When you bother to pay attention, it's quite elementary."
Because "Wain" is a Hobbitish name for the Plough, and Hemlock was right there. Carnë is literally 'scarlet' in Quenya; properly I should have used Sindarin Caran, but I prefer the Quenya.
(Re 'midnight': by the height of the message Hemlock deduced that it was written by a hobbit, who must have been the killer, and interrupted by the Shirriff passing by. Quite why the killer would do that, I have no idea; Newbury is close to the Old Forest, so perhaps there's a connection there.)