Though the forest was peaceful the rest of the journey. It almost felt as if it was listening to our every word and breath. Somehow it didn't feel very menacing though. It wasn't like a hunter listening for its pray, but like a guardian making sure their charge was not hurt. Deirdre and I had little to say to each other, but in a good way. We just enjoyed the silence together and felt the kilometers slowly passing by. In fact, it didn't take that long, it seemed, for us to see the towers of Dawnbridge in the distance.
Let me tell you a bit of history on the city. The city is in a rather fortuitous position, strategically speaking, as it could be considered the middle, the hub of the kingdom. The name originates from the turning point in our time when the war was finally over. Dawnbridge was the perfect place for one of the first Castle of Light and Dark because of the castles already present and its location. It went from the main market of the land to the center of all political and magical happenings.
There is some confusion among the population as Dawnbridge is not where the war was truly ended. It was too much in the middle of it all for people to feel at ease. Rather it was some secret place at the outskirts of the kingdom, where no one would try and assassinate any of the Masters. The records at the Castle of Light were not very informative on the subject, let me tell you. Not even a vague description of the place they signed the treaty. Everyone is shown the treaty though. A very simple parchment, usually a copy, with five signatures at the bottom. Two of Light, two of Dark and the chosen King.
So, Dawnbridge, at the moment, is the center of the kingdom in both location, trade, politics and magic. With many talks being held at the Castles or the City Hall. The only thing it doesn't appear to be the center of is religion. But temples were usually built far away from the cities, in the regions where they suited. Most of them relatively small, as far as I read from books. There was only one big temple, near the desert, but I always failed to remember what god it was for.
In the meantime, we'd neared Dawnbridge enough to reach the hovels around and outside the city walls, the outskirts of the city. This late in the day, almost dinner time, they were mostly empty with all the men still out in the fields or working their trade in the city. Deirdre sat comfortably behind me and tapped my shoulder when we reached the gates themselves.
"The market here is big, right?"
I smiled. "Very, you've never been here before?"
"No. But if it is possible, I'd like to get some clothes and other things before I go into the castle. Would it be alright if I went to the market alone and got into the castle later?"
I thought on this. With all the servants running in and out, guards rarely stopped someone. But if I told them in advance that a servant would come and gave them my name, that would make a difference. Besides, most of the guards knew me from my stable-cleaning duties. "Alright, and you'll need some silver to pay for things. Somehow I have a feeling you'll have little trouble getting a good deal. I'll warn the guards you're coming. Just say you're the servant of Taran and you will be let in."
She giggled. "How will I find you in there."
I hadn't thought of that. "Good question. The castle is quite big. Eh... " I thought for a moment, it would be slightly too difficult to explain where to go to someone who had never been there before. "Perhaps you can wait near the stables, after I've delivered the message I'll come down there again. The stables are visible from the entrance, so you should be alright."
"That will do just fine. I probably won't be that long." She hesitated for a moment. "Could I get your knife just in case?"
The city usually wasn't dangerous to women, as there were too many working women to notice just a single one. Servants on errands for their masters or the wives of traders doing business. Gold was gold, it didn't matter whom you earned it from. Better safe than sorry, though. "I'll give it to you."
We rode further through the city, along the streets, filled with people and carts. Fortunately a single horse didn't have too hard of a time getting through. It was only a short way to the edge of the market and we reached it without trouble. Here, even on the edge of the market, the air was filled with all kinds of different smells. Not just the overpowering scent of spices but also that of many fabrics, metals and animals. Sound was nearing the pain threshold with so many people talking on the top of their voice. Fortunately the stalls muffled the sounds enough for people to to business, of sorts. I helped Deirdre off the horse and gave her, hopefully, more than enough silver coins from my purse. I took care not to brandish them as pickpockets were definitely not rare in a city like this. I wanted to give her my penknife at first, but thought the better of it and gave her the knife I usually hid in my boot. It was a simple blade that was good for throwing with the handle and the blade being the same length and weight.
I pointed towards the castle, looming over the market. "That's the Castle of Light. The Castle of Dark over there is very different." On the other side of the market, quite a bit away, was the Castle of Dark. It wasn't really Gothic or anything, but there was a certain darkness to it that permeated the stones and created shadows that were just a tiny bit deeper than normal.
Of course, I knew that they'd used ash in the mortar during its construction. They thought it would be nice to have a slightly dark hue to the stones. It didn't make that much of a difference in the end, as the huge stones still looked grey, mossy and bland, but the slight tint was enough to remove doubt from most onlookers as to which castle was which.
Deirdre smiled. "I see. The rumors where true then, it really does look darker. Is it really the dried blood of fallen enemies?"
I grinned. "No, just ash."
She nodded. "Thought as much." She winked playfully to me. "Stories always try and grow more impressive than the truth."
I smiled. "Very true. I'll be on my way to the Castle, they'll be waiting for this."
She waved. "Good luck, I'll see you soon."
As I turned the horse I actually felt like I missed her already. It was weird saying goodbye, even for now. At last I headed for the castle, leaving most of my worries on Deirdre behind for now. I hoped my little betrayal would go unnoticed. Part of me even wanted to be used for the next task, as it might mean a lot more clarification without the know of the Masters. But, I also looked forward to being trained by Deirdre. It would be nice to use my suppressed power finally. It had felt really nice to have it out in the open somewhat as it was still a part of me that I could never truly show to the world.
As I neared the gates, I made sure to talk to the guards and warn them of Deirdre's arrival so they would let her pass. It would be several more hours before they'd change so it should be fine for now. The castle was very simple in it's layout. Through the walls you'd get to the inner square, with the stables immediately to the right, the guard quarters next to them towards the gate and the student quarters on the other side. The far side was the great hall, the library and the Master quarters and the left side was mostly taken up the by the armory and other depots. It was very busy here, with some groups practicing sword fighting and magic and others even trying to jump over obstacles on horseback. It was a small city in itself, almost completely contained except for the growing of food. I led the horse to the stables and gave a nod to the stable boy on duty, John. I took the bags with me and headed for the Masters quarters.
Hoping all would go well.