We walked the early market place, where only the most common stands were present. Most notably the practical craftsmen for metal, wood or a combination of both. It took Deirdre little time to find what she sought. It was fun though, we kept up a sort of 'play' where she acted as a sort of advising servant. It was almost enough to make me pull her to me and tell her she shouldn't feel like a servant. She was good at it, playing the crowd. It occurred to me that in richer society, one must always play a tune. The rules among them were a lot quirkier than mine.
Of course I based this on the minimal knowledge I had in the area.
We found what we were looking for with the smith. It was basically some small tools to help open locks. It required some elegant talking to get him to show them and sell them. But our perfect teamwork made it seem like a breeze. With a blush I wondered if I was as inspiring to her as she was to me.
A question that would remain unanswered until I dared to ask it.
Which wasn't today.
We had some time to spend though. Deirdre's plan had to be executed in the early evening, else things might be discovered first. We had a two direct choices available to us. There was the option of practicing more, but that wasn't something we'd like to do for over ten hours. The other option was to try and find the people from Stonesthrow in the outer city parts and talk to them. Maybe we could piece something together on that mystery.
Easier said than done it appeared.
The guards were less than helpful on our inquiries and we had the feeling they didn't like it either. At first I just thought they didn't like people to dive into the mystery and spread more rumours and worries. But that didn't felt like what was going on. It was almost like someone higher up ordered them to be unhelpful.
We found them eventually, they were in a small group of hovels in a corner of the wall. In a way it was a good place, they were mostly left alone. But of course it meant they were away from the rest as well. From what I could see there were actually more places than they needed, which made me wonder what happened to the previous inhabitants.
As soon as we were spotted, the guy who was screaming at the gate yesterday immediately walked up. Deirdre walked politely one step behind. The guy headed for me immediately, I could almost see the flames rising in his eyes.
"Come here to laugh at us, have you? Weren't you on the horse when we were at the gate?" The man narrowed his eyes. "We have no need for your kind here, just go and leave us in peace."
I smiled kindly. "I'm just here to talk."
"Talk? You want to talk? We're probably not good enough to help out! I see what you're doing. You'll tell stories to your friends behind our backs and try to improve your status."
I sighed. "This isn't working."
Deirdre just giggled softly behind me while I simply walked past the man to the guy who looked like a smith. At least he had bulging muscles and a kind face. He appeared to be working hard to repair one of the hovels together with another man. There were three women and a child sitting and weaving baskets on the side.
The guy was still talking to us, annoyingly. "Leave from this place, tell the guards that we won't be chased away."
I approached him. "I'm sorry, may I speak?"
The man turned around, looked at me and Deirdre behind me. He actually looked quite intelligent and nodded. "Zeb, leave these people be."
He led us to a little circle with tree-trunks which served as chairs. He gestured us to sit and sat down himself, nodding to us to start speaking.
"We've been through Stonesthrow three days ago, noticing the absence of anything weird. Even our horses were relaxed riding through. And of course I heard some of the rumors about forest spirits, but that seems unlikely. I wanted to talk to the people who came from there so I might deliver some news back to Dawnbridge."
The man had just listened with a few nods. "Sounds fair. I suppose the most curious thing is that most of the people vanished without a visible trace. The few times we had dealings with forest spirits, they were quite... present. So I think it wasn't them."
I nodded. "But isn't that the rumour going around?"
He smiled. "Yes, but it's not coming from us. It almost looks as if someone is spreading it on purpose."
I shrugged. "Rumours have their own life though."
He nodded. "Yes, that's true."
Deirdre spoke up softly. "What do you think happened?"
The man looked surprised for a moment, then rubbed his neck. "Honestly? I don't know. It had to be either humans or some creatures we don't know. But we were nothings. They took my son from the same room. Me and my wife didn't even wake up."
I bowed my head. "I'm sorry, sir."
He hesitated for a moment. "There is this one thing though..."
I looked up.
"Well, My wife and I had the same dream. Where a large bird flew past, holding something in it's claws. I'm not sure if it means anything, as our son wasn't in either of our dreams."
"Did you ask any of the others?"
He nodded. "Mostly the same."