After a polite knock on the door, I got permission to enter. The voice was somewhat younger than the one from my castle but not terribly so. The wooden door opened smoothly and silently with little resistance. I went in and glanced around. There was a grey-haired man sitting behind a very sturdy desk, looking surprisingly fit for his age. The whole room was very practical, one wall dominated by books, all neatly in their place and another with a small experiment area, with some common tools on it. Of course, I had no more than a second before the man started to speak.
I bowed a little. "I bring news from Dawnbridge, Master."
He raised an eyebrow quizzically. "Oh? We haven't seen a messenger in weeks. Anything happen to him?"
"I don't know, I'm sorry, Master." I bowed politely. "May I see your seal?"
The master bowed his head and held up his hand in the familiar fashion, showing the seal ring. It looked quite old, a nice contrast to his reasonably young looking skin. I wondered if he had gotten the seal at a very young age or if he had inherited it. It was not unheard of. Satisfied with his proof, I opened my bag and handed over the letters.
"Here you are, Master."
He took them and looked for a second before putting them to the side. "You travelled through the woods, didn't you?"
"No, with my servant, she's an able swordsman."
He took this without a visible reaction. "Through the forest, so you've been in Stonesthrow?"
I was honestly surprised he would ask for this. "The abandoned village, yes."
He smiled. "What did you think of it? There's a lot of rumor going around and talk among the masters that it was Forest Spirits."
I hesitated for a moment, unsure if I should speak the truth. But at least I could tell what I thought, mostly. "Unlikely, spirits don't work in mysterious ways. If they had any reason to feel a grudge or take revenge, it would be clear for the surviving or remaining people. A warning has no purpose if it's not clear."
He looked amused. "Go on."
I blinked. "Eh... Well, it was hard to make sense of it, I didn't have the chance to ask anyone about it and there were a lot of tracks heading towards Rockwall. I understood that some of the people survived and they are living here in Rockwall now."
"Why did you choose to be a messenger? You appear to be a clever lad and very attentive."
Before I realized the answer came naturally. "I never fit in all that well and I like to learn about the world."
He smiled. "Do you have a place to stay tonight?"
I shook my head. "No." After a moment I added. "No, Master. I don't know anyone here."
He nodded in understanding. "You two can stay at the Inn, though if you'd prefer there's a room in the castle available as well." He looked at the letters. "Time is sparse, I will require two or three days to answer these."
I nodded politely. "Of course, Master. I will stay at the Inn as it will allow me to visit the market and look around."
He looked at me and smiled for a moment. "I assume you can read, the library is open to students and visitors and might provide some interesting material. Most other places, however, are not. Please take care where you tread."
"Yes, Master." A thought occurred to me. "Is there any research on mountain spirits?"
He raised an eyebrow again, slightly amused this time. "Yes, there are. Mostly gathered from more northern towns but still quite complete."
I bowed my head in thanks.
"You may go."
I turned around and moved for the door.
"One more thing."
I turned back to him. "Yes?"
"Be careful, rivalry between Dark and Light is probably much more intense here than in Dawnbridge."
I didn't know how to respond to that. I just nodded and turned back to the door again. When I closed it neatly behind it I stood still for a moment, listening to the castle. It wasn't as noisy as what I was used to, despite the late time of the day. It was still before dinner and students were probably practicing, studying or reading. This didn't really seem like the place where they'd get out of the castle to go to the Inn. I could be wrong, though.
There was a strange scent in the air around here that I only just noticed. A thick smell of oil or varnish that was a lot more present than I was used to. It wasn't bad, as such, but it made me wonder why it was there. It wasn't the door or the windows. And I assumed it wasn't the stone or the carpet on the floor. I shrugged and let it be, I shouldn't worry too much about everything. I was probably still a little worried because of everything. I also wondered if it would be equally easy to get into the Dark Castle.
Maybe it would.
I headed back to Deirdre, who'd stabled the horses and was still talking to the stable boy. It was kind of cute to see that he really liked talking to her, but I also felt a twinge of jealousy. I took a deep breath, hoping to push it away and stepped towards them with a smile.
Deirdre greeted me with a nod. "The horses can stay here for tonight."
I smiled and turned to the stable boy. "Is it possible to let them stay for three days?"
The boy looked a little surprised. "But she said..." He rallied himself. "It shouldn't be a problem, there's not that many horses stabled now and we're not expecting more until at least two weeks when the expedition to the mountains returns."
I nodded. "Thank you." I turned to Deirdre. "Have you got everything we need? We'll head for the Inn."
She nodded and picked up one of the saddle bags, leaving the other, larger one for me. I threw it over my shoulder and smiled at the stable-boy before we walked to the gates and through them. Deirdre was still smiling but didn't say a word until the boy was out of earshot. Of course as soon as we were safe, she spoke up again.
"He had a very interesting story."