The toys slowly returned to their shelves. The Hedgehog waited a little to ascertain that they all understood the gravity of the situation. It then hopped off the counter where it stood and made its way to the vandalised display to examine it for evidence. Hopefully it would find there enough clues to determine the identity of the culprit.
The first thing it noticed was that the words scribbled on the sign hanging around the despot’s neck had been written by the same hand as the threatening note Nicephorus Palaiologos had shown it a few hours before his demise. This was more confirmation, if any were needed, that Andronicus’s agent was one of the toys, but it didn’t point to anyone in particular. The Hedgehog took a closer look at the pile of rubble. All indications were that the window display had been smashed with a blunt object. The wrecked box of the “Naval Battle of the Aegean” board game had fallen off the shelf and crushed boat-shaped pawns as well as torn pages of the Gatatzis chronicle colouring book littered the floor, covering a sprinkling of the doll’s cottony filling that had reached the ground when it was eviscerated. The Hedgehog was making a mental list of the toys that had the tools to wreak such destruction – Hephaestus had a hammer, the Albanian Butcher a knife, Suleyman a horse; Haseki on the other hand as known to carry a strangling cord at all times – when a few incongruous objects caught its attention. It rummaged a little through the debris and extracted an earring, a peacock feather and a colourful chip of stone.
Now this was interesting. It turned around and asked: “Can someone identify these?”
“Mon Dieu, my earring!” the Duchess of Plaisance exclaimed. “I thought I had misplaced it when I undid my hair bun last night!”
“A-ha! I knew it!” Haseki yelped. “She is sitting there pretending to be an innocent bystander, insinuating that the rest of us are murderers, and it was her all along!”
“You must indeed be blessed with the deepest sleep,” Thucydides said. “The Duchess told me last night that she had lost it. Didn’t you hear her rummaging in the Attic Biriba box all night?”
The Hedgehog thought it at least perplexing that it hadn’t heard anything, but then, it hadn’t noticed that Nicephorus Palaiologos had been murdered either. It held out the peacock feather. “What about this?”
Hera stepped forward. “This is definitely from the tail of my peacock. And look, it has ink on it! It was used to write this message.” She pointed at the sign about fake history hanging around the dead despot’s neck.
“Are you confessing, then?” Constantine the Great asked harshly.
She gave the Byzantine emperor a contemptuous look. “Certainly not. As you all remember my peacock screeched at some point during the night. I thought it had been startled by Nicephorus Palaiologos’s snoring, but it is clear now that this happened when a tail was plucked out of its tail. No doubt the assassin did this to put the blame on me.”
“Besides, this isn’t how we do things in the family,” Hephaestus said, waving his hammer towards the vandalised display. “We Olympian Gods have more efficient ways of dealing with mortals.”
He had a point, the Hedgehog thought to himself. It presented the last item it had found to the assembled toys. “And this?”
The toys were puzzled at the sight of the colourful piece of stone, and none of them seemed to know what it was, until Constantine the Great let out an angry roar and turned on Suleyman the Magnificent with a fury. “Look at what you’ve done! You chipped my miniature Constantinople when you caused me to drop it!”
“Perhaps you should hold on to your city a little better,” Suleyman replied. “Not that I intend to give you any history lessons or anything.”
The toys started bickering again, but the Hedgehog ignored the noise and focused. It had to admit to itself that the clues it had found thus far amounted to very little. It was a fact that the miniature Constantinople had fallen during the night and there was no evidence that the chip of stone hadn’t simply rebounded across the shop; Hera was right that anyone could have stolen a feather from her peacock’s tail; and Thucydides was vouching for the Duchess of Plaisance. A further question that remained unsolved was how the assassin could have acted unnoticed. Given the ruckus the toys made during the night, it was possible that the killer had remained unheard, but how come no one had seen them?
And then, the Hedgehog remembered that the night lamp had gone off for no apparent reason shortly after the toys had gone to bed.
The hubbub around it faded as the toys watched it walking deliberately towards the electrical board and opening it. There was the faintest trace of soot around one of the fuses.
The toys were staring at it in absolute silence as the Hedgehog turned back towards them. “The lights didn’t go off because of a random short-circuit,” it announced. “They were sabotaged. The fuse was deliberately burnt by someone who wields fire.” It looked at Hephaestus pointedly. “Well?”
The smithing god grunted angrily and went to reply, but his wife stepped forward. “It couldn’t have been him,” Aphrodite said calmly.
“And that would be because…?”
“Because…” She hesitated for a moment and glanced at her husband. “Because I… I gave him a sleeping draught before we went to bed. Even if it didn’t put him to sleep immediately, he certainly wouldn’t have been able to stand on his feet.”
Hephaestus approached her with a dangerous smile. “Tell me, my dear wife… while I appreciate that you are proving my innocence, could you please tell me why you gave me a sleeping draught?”
“I know that you suffer from insomnia, husband,” the beautiful goddess said lamely. “I only wanted to –”
“You wanted to spend the night with your lover!” Hephaestus roared. “Oh, where is Ares? I’m going to kill him!”
He ran back to the Olympian Gods’ colouring cards with a war cry, threatening his rival with a most gruesome death. His fury was such that the other toys understood immediately that they should intervene. The Albanian Butcher and Haseki grabbed him by the arms to hold him back, while Suleyman the Magnificent helped the God of War onto his horse lest they needed to make a quick escape and Theodora sought to console a devastated Aphrodite. The Hedgehog, however, remained still.
It thought back to the previous evening, the preparations the toys made before going to bed and the sweet, dizzying scent of Theodora’s nightcap on his spines as it curled up in its mug. And suddenly it dawned on it.
“I know what happened,” it said quietly.
The toys froze. The Hedgehog raised itself to its full height. “Classical Grandmother, may I see the text engraved on the slab of marble you are reading?”