Chapter 4Where Things Smell

Though I had been wondering about it before, it didn't take long to understand why it was called Bleakfield. The few fields around the town were of a paler hue than usual. It wasn't immediately clear if the grain was truly lighter or if the dark surrounding trees made it seem that way. Nevertheless, the brown wood and thatch of the town itself gave it even more contrast. The town had a wall on this side, consisting of sharpened poles, with a guarded watchtower, but no guards below. There didn't seem to be a gate either. A small ditch a meter from the wall protected the ground from becoming too loose with damp, so the poles wouldn't falter. Most of the houses near the wall were no more than sticks, straw and mud to create a single room, but still offering protection from the rain. The center of town was a little more modern, with some houses of wattle and daub, a large enough inn to offer rooms for a small group, the town hall and of course a House.

It kind of surprised me, that there was only a single House here, not two as was more common. But perhaps they shared it. The House got a prime location, of course, opposite of the Town Hall, creating a large triangle with it and the inn. A market, if it could be called that, was held inside of that triangle, where people traded and worked. It wasn't as loud as one would expect, the animals present were mostly silent and people kept verbal negotiations within limits, surprisingly.

We didn't get off the horse to go into town. People respected others on horseback a little more and got out of the way faster. It made it easy to make our way to the House. It was bigger than the inn and consisted of a main building with two wings, both about the size of a house. There was a clay wall leading from the wings to a gate, creating a small square. Guards at the gate were eyeing me as soon as I came into view. They were only dressed in studded leather, but their intentions were clear. No one got in unless they had permission. Maybe times had been tough around here. Curiously enough, there was no indication on them if they were Light or Dark, reaffirming my suspicion that this House may be shared. It was not unheard of. One of the guards spoke as I got nearer.

"Halt." How predictable. "What is your business here?"

I tried to sound important, despite them being at least five years my senior. "I come from Dawnbridge, I seek the Master of Light to deliver news."

"Can you show proof?"

I nodded and opened the bag that hung from my shoulders, retrieving the simple order I had been given. The seal on the bottom should make it look important enough, even though it was just a standard emblem of Light. I wondered if the guards could read. I handed it over.

The guard looked at it and nodded. "Alright, you can come in. Is she with you?" He asked as he looked behind me.

"Yes, I am her guardian."

He nodded. "Carry on."

We entered the inner square, where a small open stable was occupied by only one horse. There wasn't anyone looking after it, but a few guys, mostly two or more years younger, stood nearby. They were dressed in simple cloth with black stripes, Dark. They moved a little back as I headed for the stable but kept glancing over to Deirdre behind me. I got off the horse and fastened it near the stables, so it could drink. I looked up at Deirdre and decided it was wise to keep her on the horse for as long as we stayed here. I couldn't take her inside, probably, but staying on a horse meant she was important or, at the very least, not for anyone else. While delivering the message was my first priority, it occurred to me that it might have been smart to get her some clothes first. Well, too late now.

"Will you be alright here?"

She nodded. "I'll be alright." She looked around curiously and possibly felt a little better for seeing Dark users here.

Now that I looked closer at the buildings, it was obvious that the center building wasn't actually used for anything other than events. There was a strong separation between the two wings, even the guys appeared to keep to their half. So it was a necessity, but not a liked one. I suppose a small town such as this didn't have space for two buildings like these. Maybe later. With a last look back at Deirdre, I headed for the main building. I presumed there would be someone to guide me to the Master of Light. The doors opened silently, allowing me to enter freely. It was simple, but beautiful enough. A simple room with tables and a small podium. Perhaps they ate here as well. A student or servant replacing candles on the wall looked at me and shrugged before returning to his duty. The smells in here were very recognizable. The smell of cheap candles, burning their fat inefficiently, the strange smell of parchment with a hint of molten wax. Lingering smells of dinner and wood were still present and reminded me that I would like a meal before nightfall.

I decided to ask the student, he looked like one of Light. "Where is the Master?"

He turned around again and shrugged. "The Master of Light is up those stairs."

A simple answer. "Thank you."

I walked up the stairs, smiling at soft creaks beneath my feet. There was only one door upstairs, leading to the right wing. I entered it and noticed another stairway on the far end, leading outside. I suppose that if it could be avoided, people would use the outer stairway rather than this one. The door directly next to me, on the left, looked important enough. I knocked politely.

"Enter." An old man's voice.

This door did creak, if only a little. The room beyond was quite spacious, with a window letting in some much needed light. It was quite stuffy in there, with the smell of dust, books and ink overshadowing the smells from downstairs. The man, gray-haired but no beard, looked up from a tome on his desk. He raised an eyebrow quizzically as if he wasn't expecting me. Perhaps he wasn't, who was to tell him a messenger arrived? I didn't see any of the guards telling anyone and presumably the rest was too busy.

He spoke calmly. "And you are?"

Politeness would be the best option. I needed to keep up the good name of the city. "Taran, sir. I bring news from Dawnbridge."

He nodded. "Let me see them?"

I hesitated. Even though he was obviously the Master here, protocol dictated I should ask for his seal first. It was important. "Your seal, sir?"

He smiled, having seen my hesitation. He held up his right hand, outside towards me, so I could see the seal-ring clearly on his finger. It was the final proof I needed. After a small nod to him, I opened my bag and gave him a small bundle of scrolls. I kept the parchment with the seal, as I would need it later on to prove my identity. Ambassadors were rarely granted a seal-ring of their own, especially not in such a short time. The man opened and read the scrolls one by one, nodding at some, sighing at another. I just waited patiently while he read, looking around as unobtrusively as possible, trying to be polite. But it was really hard to suppress my natural curiosity.

"Taran, was it?"

I nodded.

"Thank you for delivering these. I expect you will be staying at the inn?"

I nodded again. "Yes, sir."

He smiled. "Good, that will give me time to write some replies. Your horse can stay here if you wish, it will be taken good care of. Also, if you require food or items, the inn should provide a decent dinner and the market should suffice for anything else. Oh, and please tell the innkeeper I sent you and give him my regards."

"Thank you, sir. I will."

He nodded. "You may leave."