We stood up and headed for the exit. I gave a thankful nod, accompanied by a smile, to the Innkeeper. It was important to show gratitude, the meal had been both very tasty as well as filling. The market was a lot emptier, with about half of the merchants having gone home, maybe to eat. Deirdre walked more on her own now, she felt a lot more confident now. In fact, she didn't feel much like a victim at all, just someone who had tried to do right but finally figured out that what she was taught was right, wasn't what she thought was right. And she gave them the benefit of the doubt until she could take no more.
We walked for a while to find a nice spot, which wasn't as easy as I thought. The town had no river, only a well, and the fields were calm but outside the wall. There was no other choice though, the town itself was just houses, no frills or anything. So, we headed outside of the town walls and onto the fields, choosing the closest field and heading to the other side of it, to the edge of the forest. It was nice and quiet here and, by luck, there was a fallen tree that served perfectly as a bench. In fact, when I looked around a little more careful, it looked like people had been here more often, like workers getting a rest for a moment. We should be safe here, as animals that hunted, didn't come close to town.
"It's nice and quiet here."
I smiled. "Yes." I felt that I needed to thank her for her story somehow, that and I had another question. "Thank you."
She looked surprised. "For what?"
"For telling all of it. Are you... Do you know why forest spirits don't like humans?"
She looked at me quizzically. "I've been told it was because we took the forest."
I smiled. "No, that just makes them angry at us for a while. The problem is that humans don't feel right to them. Our magic isn't natural anymore and we force it, so we're 'wrong'."
She frowned. "How do you know this?"
"I've always been good with animals and, in a sense, forest spirits are just like animals. They're very honest and true to themselves. Even in their trickster ways, they don't do it to hurt us as such. They just like to play and lack the knowledge of consequence."
She nods. "So you talked to them?"
I couldn't help but smile a bit proudly, I knew it wasn't very common for people to talk to them. "Only once, to a faun. Though if I'm honest, it did manage to lure me a little too far into the forest at the time." I blushed, but only a little. "After we talked, he helped me out again, after I asked."
Her eyes were open in fascination. "How did it speak?"
"Like us, with a strong accent though. It takes a little getting used to. I think they have their own language among themselves, but didn't get to hear it."
She smiled. "Shame."
The noise of a breaking twig made us look around. Something, an animal perhaps, was behind us in the forest. It sounded not too big, perhaps a deer, but it was walking in our direction. Since we'd only been talking and not making a lot of other noise, it might just be a curious animal. Although, this close to the city, it was unlikely. It walked closer and closer, the rustling of the leaves giving away its position to us. Did it know we were here?
The bushes around here made it impossible to see what it was and, for fear of chasing it away, we didn't dare to move. We both kind of held our breath as the creature moved. It walked slower now and stopped, a few meters from where we sat. Somehow, I felt its gaze on me, watching and weighing, unsure what to do. I wanted to stretch out with Light, see more, but it would be the same as moving. When I blinked, I had been staring at the forest for so long, the moment fractured and the creature ran away, swiftly and audibly through the forest. It wasn't entirely clear to me if it was an animal or a spirit, four or two legs.
"What was that?" Deirdre asked softly.
"I don't know."
"It felt strange, like it was watching us."
I nodded. "I felt it too."
She looked up at the sky. "We should go back."
I nodded. "Yes, we should."
We got up and headed back to the gate, following the path along the field. I did look back at the forest, but there was no noise now, nothing that gave away its presence. Of course I knew the forest, even close to town, was full of life. Just, usually, the smaller critters and birds. My attention turned back to the city before we reached the gate, noticing how quiet the town had become. Some people were inside now, awake for perhaps an hour more before they went to bed as well, others perhaps already sleeping. Even the inn, when we got to it, was much emptier again. The innkeeper greeted us with a slightly annoying 'knowing smile' when he saw us return together. I let it pass, he had been very kind and rumors didn't bother me. Tomorrow I was going to leave this town behind me, anyway.
We went upstairs.