There was a man in the crowd that spoke for the others. Yelling against the guards with little regard for them, or himself. Actually, now that I payed more attention, the rest of the crowd looked more like followers who weren't exactly happy to be there. As Deirdre and I got closer, we started listening in on the 'conversation'.
"We've been chased away from our homes and now you refuse us entry to the city? The Magi will hear of this!"
The guard visible sighed. "Sir, you're free to enter the city, but I have to ask to leave your belonging with your designated places to sleep."
Now that I looked closer, most of the crowd was indeed carrying quite some things. Were they the people from Stonesthrow? The crowd was about six people, with the man that made seven. I tried to remember what Eavan had told us. Eleven people vanished... seven remained?
Deirdre was thinking the same as me. "The people from Stonesthrow?"
The man continued to yell. "The King will hear of this, you know. We've always been a respected community. And we still have one of the best smiths in the land. Let us pass or there will be trouble."
The guard looked really uncomfortable. "Just leave your belongings and you're free to talk to the Masters, Sir. There's no need to make a fuss."
I smiled a little, it wasn't about getting what you want, just about making trouble. At least that's what it looked like. Of course, it was getting late already and I didn't want to wait for this discussion to end naturally. I pressed forward with the horse, with Deirdre following behind me on hers. The crowd splitting to let us past.
The guards looked up at us as I smiled at them. "Message for the Castle of Light."
They nodded and moved aside, somehow this made the speaker even angrier. "You let them pass without any issue?"
The guards sighed, for just a moment I was tempted to say that Stonesthrow looked completely fine to me, that I just came from there and that no evil presence had been felt. That even the horses calmly walked those grounds. But I knew it was a bad idea to get mixed in all of this. Even though it was a mystery I'd love to discover, this was not the time and place. I did make a mental note to look them up after I was done with the castles, maybe they could shed some light on the whole situation.
We left the crowd behind us and entered the inner city.
Which wasn't as I expected it.
The houses here were almost all made of stone or lime, looking quite expensive one way but still humble in another. There were much more defined roads here as well, the hooves of horses creating sharp echoes with every step. Like Dawnbridge, there was a sort of market when we got to the center, but it was neatly divided into several professions. Tailors together, metalworkers somewhere else, food yet another place. All neatly organized. The Castles were opposite of each other not just in placement, but in design as well. Rather than the stones having a different hue, there was an elegant emblem above the entrance to the castle Grounds.
Though Deirdre didn't appear to feel completely at ease here, probably hoping she wouldn't see anyone who'd recognize her, she knew this place quite well. I had trouble feeling at ease because there was a sort of pressure around here. Maybe stricter rules but also a different type of behavior. For once the market's volume was quite a bit gentler than Dawnbridge.
It did help to think.
I noticed two Inns, both close to the Castles and some more important looking houses around the square. To my surprise, however, there was no visible City Hall or something like it. I rechecked, thinking I mistook one of the Inns, but for what I could see, they obviously weren't City Halls or such. People were walking in and out, mostly seeming without a care.
We headed for the Castle of Light, where no guards stopped us from going in. There was a guard-type person sitting near the entrance, but he hardly found us worthy of a glance. In fact, if I hadn't looked at him, I doubt he would have even noticed me. The castle's courtyard was much more practical as well. Almost perfectly square, the stables looked roomier and solid, but with little to no decoration. And same for the other buildings, it wasn't hard to guess what they were for. Storage next to the stables, armory on the left and halls, dormitory in front, extending on both sides.
The stones were surprisingly neat as well, much straighter than I was used to. I suppose it was a matter of materials. The stones didn't have to move very far, and everything they may have cut from these stones were probably used for the houses here or the hovels outside of the inner walls. Part of me wondered why these castles were so strong.
What was it they were expecting to need this protection from?
I left the horse to Deirdre and went into the main building, hoping to find some logic to the layout for the Master room. I had to ask, but only once. The building wasn't very complex, or decorated. Soon I was in front of a heavy wooden door, standing still for a moment before I dared to knock. Time for the next step.
Time for answers.