As expected, the village was quite small. There were maybe ten houses we could see, including a sort of town hall/pub building, a gather place for the people. Outside one of the other houses appeared to be an anvil, outside another a sort of bread-oven. All of the houses here had a simple stone base that would protect against ground-water, made by gravel and possibly clay stamped together. The rest was just wood and thatch, no indication of rooms or anything. Just a roof and four walls, enough to sleep and eat in. Everything was there to live, plenty comfort for a lovely life.
Except the people.
My eyes were still looking everywhere as we rode in, but there was simply no one there. Doors, or what passed for them, hung half-open and showing the empty houses behind them. Mostly things appeared to have been plundered from this place, only leaving what was too heavy to carry or just not worth anything. A few wooden toys, a small dolly, some minor tools were all that was left. A ghost town, but, hopefully, without ghosts.
"What happened here?" Deirdre was looking around as well.
"I don't know, there's no blood, no bodies. And nothing appears to have decayed yet, really. Whatever happened couldn't have been long ago."
"Rain could have cleaned the blood and most other things."
I smiled. "That still doesn't explain why there's no one here. It looks as if they left this place in a hurry, taking with them what they could carry and that it was looted perhaps a few times after."
Deirdre looked at me. "Not a bad conclusion, but why would they have left?"
I shrugged. "No idea." It occurred to me that the horses weren't nervous at all. I knew that animals often were more sensitive to the wrongness of a place than humans were, but in this case they seemed perfectly at ease. And they were right, this place didn't feel a place of death or battle. Just an empty place that was once inhabited.
"Forest creatures?" She looked around again. "I also see no signs of any fighting." She sniffed the air. "Smell that?"
I did my best, trying to dissect everything I could smell. There as the smell of compost, dark as an undertone, and some flowers. The smell of wet wood and thatch, but nothing special. No fire, ashes, food or otherwise. I wasn't quite sure what she meant.
She nodded. "Exactly, nothing bad nor good. There would be a stench if any food or anything else was left to rot, so everything was taken. But why?"
"Should we look inside?"
She got off the horse and tied it to a post in front of the hall or pub, waiting for me to do the same. After I fastened the horse properly as well, we headed in and looked around. It was a large room, basically, enough for about twenty, thirty people. There were some benches and tables broken, but a few of them were just standing around. Even the three empty beer-mugs on the tables gave no clue to the whole situation. But no food, no cutlery or anything else. Although...
Deirdre pointed up.
There was a strange thing up there, a circle of bent twigs with ropes creating an almost spiderweb shape. It was hung up way close to the roof, I wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't looked up. It was hard to tell how long it'd been there though. As far as I could tell there were actual spiderwebs in it, but there were more webs present throughout the room, between the legs of tables and chairs. They all looked fresh though, little dust clung to them but they were still visible in the low light.
It was getting late, actually.
Deirdre frowned in thought. "Not this one, one of the houses if we can keep the horses inside. There doesn't appear to be anything wrong here, as such. Maybe the people here had been asked to move to Rockwall or something. We should ask about it when we get there."
I smiled. "Sounds like a good idea, let's find a house then."
We went outside, unfastened the horses and walked around for a minute, checking the houses. The one with the anvil in front of it looked to be roomy enough for us and the horses, as well as being one of the more solid houses, with a slightly higher roof. Not that strange, blacksmiths usually got more space to work in. We made them comfortable and gave them some food. We had hoped that there would be more here, our rations were growing thinner. We'd be alright to Rockwall if we didn't waste too much, but we did have to give it due consideration.
We were still preparing the blankets for ourselves when we heard someone speak to us in a lavish and warm voice.
"They just disappeared."
A voice laced with honey and mede, coming from a girl in the doorway that looked beautiful, naked and frail. She looked very much like Maeve, with her light skin, shapely form and her deep brown hair, but that couldn't be true, could it? We had rode most of the time, how could she have made her way over here. She was still beautiful and I felt a light blush trying to crawl it's way to my cheeks. I suppressed it.
I spoke softly, one word that implied a lot of questions. "Maeve?"
The nymph smiled, I wasn't sure if there was much charm involved, but it was one of the most beautiful smiles I'd seen. Her voice again bright and warm like the summer sun.