It was late morning when the town fully woke from its slumber. Aaren and Eamonn had spent the night in comfort in one of the inn’s second floor rooms. Eamonn, in particular, enjoyed the nice soft beds after more than a week on the road sleeping on nothing but hard ground. Eamonn woke, rolled back the covers of his bed and did his morning stretching. He wasn’t surprised to see Aaren already awake, watching the streets from the chair beside the window.
“Morning.” he greeted his mentor. They were sharing the two bed room, paying a little less for it as Aaren always tried to do. They could have taken separate rooms, they would only be in Blackden for a short stay, then Aaren thought against, there was no point in taking up more room than they needed to. Besides, the pair had been living together for several months so they were used to being around the other.
Aaren kept his eyes fixed on the streets, constantly scanning for anything out of the ordinary. He grunted in reply to Eamonn’s greeting. Eamonn pulled on his cloak and soft leather boots that were at the foot of his bed along with the rest of his belongings, now he noticed the dirt that had been traipsed through the place, he saw it ended just before the seat Aaren was in.
“I see you’ve been busy, out and about.” he stated. Aaren briefly looked back at the boy, grunting again.
Eamonn straightened his bed covers, placing the decorative pillows that had been placed there the night before and moved to survey the town alongside Aaren.
“Anything noteworthy?” he asked, Aaren’s brows formed into a frown as he looked further down the alleyway that led from the inn. “Not until now” he said. Following his line of sight, Eamonn watched as a heavily bearded man checked his surroundings. The tall and stickily built figure looked around himself as though he had something to hide. The man withdrew a key from his shirt pocket and thrust it into the lock of one of the doors and entered quickly, closing the door behind him with a light thud.
Eamonn and Aaren stayed by the window, waiting for the man to return, it was some time before they saw the door finally open again, admitting the same man grinning and talking quietly to someone behind the door. The door was angled so they could only see shadowed figure inside the door, not enough details to ascertain who it might be.
The door closed quietly and the man stood, straightened his shirt and correcting the collar as he checked his surroundings again. The man seemed to be content he’d gone unnoticed and walked towards the inn, Aaren pulled Eamonn back slightly out of view, people seldom looked up, but this might just be one of that few occasions they bother and Aaren didn’t want the man to know they had been spying on him. From behind the curtain, they watched figure dip below the level of the window as he entered.
“I think it’s time we had some breakfast” Aaren suggested. They waited a few more minutes. Aaren didn’t want to be there too quickly, they’d wait for the man to order and receive his food. When he judged ample time had passed, Aaren motioned for Eamonn to head down the stairs to breakfast.
Aaren picked a spot towards the back of the inn, seated so that Eamonn and his backs were to the closest walls. There was a young woman serving the customers, judging by her resemblance to the inn owner’s wife who was busy navigating her way around the eating room, they picked her as their daughter. The previous night, when they had arrived, the owner had remarked that he had a daughter about the same age as Eamonn. She was likely this same daughter. The slim girl arrived at the table opposite the commissioners, pouring a cup of coffee into a man’s mug before focusing her attention on her new customers.
“Good morning” she said in a cheerful voice, the young girl, so used to seeing the rough side of the townspeople, was only too glad to see a few new arrivals this morning, especially when they were two quite attractive men.
“What can I get for you? We’ve some lovely choices this morning, my mother baked some delicious fresh bread that comes with the house jam we make, or we can do you a proper hot breakfast with some sausage, eggs and bacon with the bread toasted and a grilled tomato on the side. What do you think?”
Aaren could sense the eagerness of the boy beside him and instantly knew which of the two options he favoured, “We’ll have two helpings of the hot breakfast. The boy will have the usual serving, while I’ll have spinach as well. Just leave the tomatoes off instead for me.” The girl nodded quickly, noting down the amendments to the order as Aaren continued, “Some coffee for the table with a little sugar if you’ve got it and some freshly squeezed juice if you offer it. Water if not” Aaren told the girl, looking to see the massive grin on the boy’s face on his left.
The girl nodded and turned to walk away. “That should definitely do us for the morning” he told his young friend. They talked in lowered voices, Aaren remarking on the quality of the men around them. He finally picked out the man from earlier, as unobtrusively as he could, he directed his pupil’s focus to him off to the side of the room. They were still scrutinizing the man when the serving girl returned. “Excuse me” the girl interrupted. “My mother can do an orange or an apple juice for you” she said, directing the words to Eamonn.
The boy looked from the beautiful girl to his mentor and back, mumbling incoherently to her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.” The girl replied in an amused tone. “He’ll have the orange juice.” Aaren put in, seeing the obvious embarrassment in the boy. Again the girl nodded and smiled at Eamonn before making her way back to the kitchen.
Eamonn blushed at the girl, before a stern look from Aaren caught his attention again. “Finished are we?” he teased. Now, Eamonn smiled at his teacher and settled again in his chair, checking around him to see if there was anyone trying to overhear what they were about to discuss.
“First of all, breakfast, main reason why we’re here. We’ll need a good meal under our belts if we’re to get anything worthwhile done today.”
Then Aaren turned to consider the room, making it seem as though he was simply looking up at the roof, taking in the beautiful features and age of the craftsmanship it would have taken to create such a feeling, in reality, he was taking in everyone around him. “I was hoping that perhaps there might have been a few more people here by now so we could try and get a little information out of them that could help us find Dallin.” He began. Eamonn absentmindedly nodded, feigning ignorance and simply bobbing his heard at his teacher’s words.
“Remember, he’s the one we’re after. If something else comes up in the meantime, we’ll do what we can to alert the local authorities, but we’ll need to remain out of the spotlight. If we know that something is going on in town, then so will he. Whenever we catch up with him, forsake anyone else and try to deal with him as quickly as possible.” Aaren looked around the room ahead of him, he kept his body language and facial features neutral, once more trying to play down their purpose for being here.
Eamonn shot him a quick look, catching his mentor’s gaze before looking to his right. “Front of house, three tables to the right of the entrance, I have a feeling he’s onto us” Eamonn said, speaking in little more than a whisper.
Aaren turned to look the man straight in the eyes, a dangerous look of contempt visible in both men. “Got a problem, friend?” Aaren’s tone indicated that such a relationship definitely did not exist.
The thick set man stood, walked a few paces, his ample girth bouncing as he went. He took a swig of brew from his mug and wiped one of his many chins from the dribbles that had escaped his mouth.
“I was about to ask you the same question” the man sneered before taking another drink. “Out-of-towners, I see. Well, what would people, such as you, be doing in a place like Blackden, I wonder?” he pondered, again a hint of contempt creeping into his words as his dark eyes bored into the youth’s. Eamonn was beginning to sweat under the gaze of the drinker.
“Fishing” Aaren replied flatly. “We heard the season was in full swing, and they were aplenty.” He elaborated in a straight forward manner. The man had reached their table now. “Fishing?” The man replied interrogatively. He pulled out a chair and rested his arms atop the backrest and took another drink from his mug. “Funny place to come to and stay in a room while you fish, most of the ripe spots have inns of their own further out, they’d cater to your needs I think.” He told them.
Seeing the obvious challenge, Aaren deigned to humour the man. “We were waiting on some of our friends from further west to arrive here before we made our way out. Not that it’s any of your business.” He told the man, a hint of a smile creeping into his features. It was not a smile of joy, more like how a jackal sizes up its prey.
The man drank the rest of his brew and held his mug out, his elbow resting on the backing of the chair, awaiting the girl to refill it. “You know the problem with having too many visitors in the middle of the fishing season?” The stranger asked. Aaren knew it to be rhetorical, and felt no such compunction in offering an answer, that would only fuel the man’s suspicions. Instead, he shrugged dismissively. The man gestured again with his empty mug, snarling as the girl approached from behind. She was careful to keep her distance from the unpleasant character as she poured some sort of reeking cheap ale into the mug. When it was nearly full, she quickly retreated from the table, so as to keep out of arms’ reach as quickly as she arrived. The man made no attempts to thank the girl before continuing.
“It’s bad for business.” He told them as he stood from the chair, bumping it into the table as the innkeeper’s wife brought drinks for Eamonn and Aaren. Like her daughter, she too kept her distance from the man, her lip curling in disgust.
“You get so many people coming and going, always keeping their eyes open to anything suspicious. Bad reputation this place has, mores the pity.” He added in an undertone.
“This place has gotten so bad,” the thick set man continued “that they’re only ever here for as long as they need to be. But the trade goes bad, and it becomes difficult for the locals to keep up payments and such.” He told them, “Which is why, whenever I meet a new comer, I let ’em know that I’m onto them, so they don’t go ‘round snoopin’ for things they ought not to know about” he said. The man placed his emptied mug on the serving bar, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, then turned towards the door, laughing to himself as closed the door, leaving the men to their breakfast.
“Well he was certainly pleasant.” Aaren said, his words heavy with sarcasm as the ring of the closing door echoed through the inn.
They’d gone through the rest of their breakfast uninterrupted, Eamonn in particular enjoyed his well-cooked homemade sausages. There had been a hint of spice that added just a little extra to the morsels, the serving girl had told him it had been from the addition of a chilli powder they sourced from one of the locals at their store at the markets. The local of course had been bringing trade in from the west for some years, the innkeeper soon found that it gave his meats that extra punch that it needed.
Aaren thanked the serving girl’s patience through the incident with the stranger, and paid well for the meal before excusing themselves. They had, however, spent little more time discussing their pursuant, Aaren had been keen on trying to pick up on others’ conversations when possible.
“We’ll make our way out of the town.” Aaren replied, covering his eyes from the glare of the sun as they emerged from the inn. He looked at the angle and position in the sky. Judging it was still before noon, it meant they had work to do. “We’ll try to find a vantage point where we can possibly get a view of most of the town, that bell tower we saw last night should put us in a decent position, though we should be careful, I don’t want anyone questioning why we’re there. I want us to be in position to watch for the movements of the workers, if our man happens to leave throughout the day I want to know where he goes.”
“Why would he leave?” Eamonn asked. Once more, Aaren grinned at his student. “He won’t.” Aaren responded and moved off towards the east entrance once more leaving Eamonn to think things through.
“We’ll need some fishing gear to take with us, if the sentry from last night is back on guard now or later on this afternoon, we’ll need to show that we weren’t lying to him. Later this afternoon, we should enter through the western entrance. We’ll wait until most of the workers start to return home for the evening. Tonight we can have a look around the grounds and see if we can get any information out of some people any of the other establishments.”
With a plan in order, they hurried along to one of the fishermen shops to purchase some equipment and bait before. The man in charge had watched them as they approached and sized them up as inexperienced buyers, he was onto them quickly, knowing that newcomers often panicked at the sight of a shop owner.
The older one, he saw, had picked up some old and shoddy rod and the boy was inspecting one of the broken reels beside it.
“Good morning, my friend. Welcome to my shop.”
Aaren didn’t look up from the rod in his hands, instead, he pointed to the small pile of rods and reels that appeared to be well-past their best. “We’ll take three rods and reels, and some bait. I assume you sell bait here?”
The man looked at them, stunned. No one comes here looking through his old stock, he wasn’t even given the chance to pull his usual trickery of “giving” the man a discount. He’d been beaten to the punch. He bobbed his several times, “I’ve got some worms, or mackerel if you prefer. But that’ll cost you extra.” He added hastily. He realised he wouldn’t be able to get his money’s worth out of these two, he decided quickly that he’d overprice them on the bait.
Aaren handed over several coins, a ten silver piece and several one pieces as payment. A fair price as far as he was concerned. “I want worms.” He requested.
The man shook his head at the coins in his hand, “I need another two silver then.” He didn’t, the money he’d been given was enough to cover the costs, he simply enjoyed taking advantage of new customers, he of course, had no loyalty to them.
Aaren muttered something under his breath and pulled out another silver and a fifty bronze piece, “I need the rest of what I’ve got.” He said moodily. The man grinned and accepted the money, slipping it into his pockets while the rest went into the money tin he had. Aaren pretended not to notice this.
“Come on, son.” He said, hinting for Eamonn to take the small bucket of worms the man gathered for them, Aaren picked up three of the better rods and the appropriate reels. There was a small hanger on the side and Aaren fumbled one of the rods, dropping it to his feet. The stall owner quickly looked at him and Aaren waved as if to say he was fine and the man moved on to his next customer. Aaren quickly straightened, took a final glance at the man and pulled a small rucksack that was sitting loosely on the hanger and stuffed it quickly into the bait bucket.
“We’ll head for the east entrance, I doubt the same men will be on duty, if they are, it’ll show we’re really here for fishing.”
It was a new group of men on duty, and the man called a greeting to them, hailing them for a quick inspection. Still, Aaren knew better than to let his guard slip. “Morning” he called pleasantly to the sentry and nodded politely to the man. “Off to do a spot of fishing are we?” the sentry asked, gesturing to the fishing rods they carried.
Aaren, seeming to fit the sort of innocent stereotype he’d adopted from several fishermen he’d seen pass by that morning, looked up at the fishing rods and then indicated with the bait bucket and the rucksack they’d “use” for fishing. “Well it certainly looks that way, where would you say would be the best spot?” he asked the man.
“Well there are a number of different places you could try, the Emerald Lake seems to be the prime location over the last week or so. I’ve heard that some of the smaller inlets that run off the river are thriving quite well too. You could try one of them. It depends on the day and time I guess.” He said and then pointed out to the trail that led south, “The closest is a kilometer or so that way. When you come to a sudden dip in the trail, head off to the right and it’ll be another hundred meters or so.”
Aaren glanced down at Eamonn, then back at the sentry. It didn’t matter where they went. It was all a ruse anyway. “We’ll give the lake a look I’d think, I take it’s just here?” He asked directing the guard to the map that he carried of the local area. The man nodded briefly and they were off through the gate, leaving the sentry to resume his post.