Many years ago, in a tiny village, a drinking house played host to eight patrons on the night of a vile and loathsome murder. It was the eve of the new year, and each had come to celebrate with drink and merriment. As the midnight hour arrived, the jovial revelers hoisted their tankards in a toast to good fortune. But all was not as it appeared, for one in attendance was present for a far more sinister purpose.
Unbeknownst to the frolicking innocents, a foul plot was already in motion and had just come to fruition. With the toast concluded, the patrons slammed their tankards back onto the counter happily - all save for one. A silence fell over the bar counter as one man, The Usurer dropped his tankard upon the floor. Stiffening, The Usurer looked about frantically and slowly stumbled backward, falling to the ground.
The remaining guests quickly gathered about the fallen man, kneeling beside him. They called out to him and patted his cheeks and arms. The poor soul shook violently as if freezing and took ragged breaths which ended abruptly. His body convulsed one final time and then stilled - his eyes rolling upward and his jaw slackening.
Acting quickly, another guest, The Miner ran to the entry of the drinking house and blocked the door. "Help!" he called into the street. "Someone help! A man has been murdered!" The cries found the ears of a pair of watchmen on patrol up the road. As the troops hastened to the drinking house, The Miner returned his attention to his fellow occupants. "No one move..." he said cautiously.
In short order, more watchmen arrived and the drinking house became the focus of much official attention. Both barkeep and patrons were detained and taken to the barracks to stand before the Sheriff. Seated in a row and under heavy guard, the eight suspects contemplated their predicament and silently eyed each other with suspicion.
Finally the Sheriff arrived and looked the group over, pausing momentarily to study each in turn. The Butcher, The Ferryman, The Traveler, The Wheelwright, The Farmer, The Miner, The Cobbler and The Barkeep. Turning to the group as a whole, the Sheriff spoke at last. "Alright, who did it?"
Seated first was the Butcher, with head cleanly shaven and arms folded across his barrel chest. "Surely you cannot suspect me.." he said impatiently. "I knew him only slightly. What motive could I have?"
"Certainly more than I!" the Farmer, thin with hair of black, leaned forward and shouted out of turn from further down the line. "He was as a brother to me, and he will be sorely missed now that..."
"If familiarity is a measure of guilt..." the Traveler interrupted, a finger raised to the air and a smile playing across his handsome face "..then assuredly the culprit is not I. As any of you can attest, I have only just arrived to your quaint town and thus know no one."
"And why should we trust you outsider?" cried the Wheelwright, portly with stubbled jaw. "For all we know, you could be fleeing justice from another land. From many lands even..."
Amidst the Wheelwright and Traveler's bickering, the Ferryman, elderly with beard of grey, took his turn. "With The True as my witness, it was not I. For my time on this realm is nearly at its end and I would not stand before the gods with the stain of murder upon my soul."
"As if any of us would" said the Miner, tall with hair of blonde. "One need not be elderly to fear the wrath of gods. I too am pious and good, and would not leave my family in disgrace to face eternal condemnation as my body hung from the gallows!"
Stomping his foot angrily, the Cobbler, short with ruddy complexion, spoke next. "Why do you torment us this way good Sheriff when the guilty one is obvious!" A hush fell over the suspects at this 'revelation'. "Forget not that The Barkeep poured the drinks. He could easily have poisoned one. He must be the murderer!"
As all eyes turned to the final chair, the Barkeep, with thinning hair and thick mustache spoke nervously. "Oh please good Sheriff, you cannot suspect me. I poured the drinks true enough, but I set them upon the counter. Any of them could have poisoned one after that."
Having heard from all, the Sheriff ordered silence and turned away in thought. It was clear to him that this case would require further examination to puzzle out. He instructed his sergeant to jail the entire lot until he reached the answer. But as the days passed, the Sheriff found himself no closer to an answer than when he started.
After a full week of contemplation, the Sheriff thought back to the words of the Ferryman on the night of the murder...'with The True as my witness'. That was it! If anyone could give him the knowledge he sought, it was The True. He visited the temple to the Courts of Justice and made a sacrifice of gold coins and then prayed with the clerics for guidance.
Not wishing to see the innocents remain unjustly jailed, The True did speak to the Sheriff and revealed the identity of the murderer to him. And while the murderer was found guilty and executed, the Sheriff would forever after feel a twinge of guilt for allowing the seven innocent men to rot in jail alongside the killer for so long.
- The End