The food was spiced a little, but quite well done. My mostly empty stomach welcomed the food warmly and almost squealed in glee at its arrival. The soft and tender chicken, the well-cooked vegetables and the bread, dipped in the salty gravy. Combined with the somewhat sweet cider, the meal was definitely worth having. It was so different from what we would get at the castle, where expensive spices reigned the meal. But here, simplicity of simple ingredients in a good balance was key. And tasty.
We finished our meal mostly in silence, both apparently hungry and finding our food more important than words. It passed quickly of course, after the meat and vegetables were finished and only the bread and gravy left, it was time for Deirdre to start her tale. If she wanted, of course.
"So, tell me?"
She took a bite off her bread and nodded. "Alright. I'm not going to tell everything now, it would take too long, but I'll try and tell the important things. As you've seen, I know Dark Magic. It was discovered fairly early and, coming from a not too poor family, I was instructed to go to the Castle of Shadow to study and practice my art. For the longest time all was well. I studied and trained as best as I could and was quite satisfied with what I had achieved. But..."
She took a deep breath. "The whole world still felt divided. They told us of the war but they usually only told how Light had condemned them to a life of Darkness and betrayal. How they were the victims of the war, even though to me it seemed like their revenge often went a little further than it had to. I was labelled as a betrayer behind my back, something I didn't know about until much later. It was when I started talking to the people of Light that trouble really started."
Her eyes looked at me with a sadness, the bread resting in her hand, forgotten. "It was just nice to speak to people that didn't know you, that didn't whisper behind your back. But unknown to me, the other students of Dark had seen me talking to the students of Light. I mean, to me they were just kids the same age as me. I was only thirteen then. The first time the Masters didn't do anything about it, not even a warning. But I felt less and less welcome on my own school."
I wasn't sure what to say, so I just nodded silently.
She smiled tiredly and continued. "They locked me in a room without warning a week after the third time I'd spoken to those students of Light. One Master came to the door and called me a traitor, a betrayer of my kin and that I would be put here until I saw reason. I didn't understand what reason it was I needed seeing. I asked him all kinds of things; what it was I did wrong, if I wasn't a good student, if I hurt anyone. They weren't clear on any of it."
Subtle tears were rolling down her cheeks, shining beautifully in the light of the candle. Her story continued. "They kept me there for weeks, months. No one was allowed to see me. They didn't let me out of there, replacing things in my room after they drugged me through my food. I learned to recognize the poisons and avoided them to find out how they did it. ... It was a week ago that I escaped from that place, using my dark arts to weaken the door, timing it with one of the time they tried to give me poisons. I've just been running through the forest, getting as far away from Rockwall as possible."
She suddenly clasped her hands in front of her mouth, she'd said too much. Rockwall... It's one of the outer region cities, close to the mountains. The largest city near the border, with two Castles very like Dawnbridge. Of course, with it being on the edge of the kingdom, it was probably one of those places where the vendetta between Light and Dark was still very much a part of life. Even though they were accepted by law, most of them still thought that the war was going on somehow. But... I didn't know it was that behind on the times. Although, maybe it was me still living in a fairy tale idea of the world.
She looked at me with fearful eyes. "I really shouldn't have said that, don't tell anyone."
"I won't." It occurred to me it might be tactful to change the subject. "So, you walked through the forest for a week?"
She nodded. "Yes, the sheets were fairly new, a pixie brought it to me a day before I met you. The rest of the time I'd been walking around in the clothing that I took from the Castle, torn mostly to shreds. Fortunately, by then I knew how to take care of myself by finding berries and water. Beasts somehow left me alone and I only saw spirits one other time."
That surprised me. "They're usually not that nice."
She shrugged. "It felt as if they were helping me by leaving me alone. I was very thankful for that. I didn't dare to go along the main roads, afraid someone would recognize me. I know it was stupid of me to fall asleep on the road, but to be honest I don't even exactly remember how I got there. I was so tired. I must have slept for hours."
"I'm surprised that no one else found you..."
She nodded. "Yes, it could have gone much worse, perhaps the forest spirits protected me."
A large group entered the inn loudly, talking to each other in carelessly voluminous voices. They looked like workers form the field just finished with their tasks. As I glanced to one of the windows I noticed it'd become darker outside already. The innkeeper, to my surprise, gave them a kind nod. I supposed they payed well and didn't cause any trouble. Probably local.
I turned back to Deirdre. "Perhaps they did." I ate the last bit of my bread. "Are you done eating?"
She took another small bite from her bread and nodded. "Yes."
I smiled. "Then, shall we go for a short walk outside before we go to sleep?"
She looked at me with a thankful smile. "Sure, but I'd first like to know if you don't think different of me and that you will still take me with you?"
A smile formed on my lips automatically.