There were many that stopped to watch as the two cloaked men were escorted by the sentry to the guardhouse. It would be easy for them to escape from the sentry, but that would throw any pretense of innocence out of the equation. What’s more, they’d be in the middle of a smuggler’s town, with heavily guarded posts at the entrances. They kept their heads down, concealing their faces, Aaren wanted it so that no one would recognise them when if they saw them again.
Aaren had said that body language was the most important asset to criminals or accused ones in this case. If they were to be escorted, holding their heads in shame, they would be deemed as guilty as the sentry accused them of being. If they walked casually across the grounds like nothing was out of place, most would think it was merely a checkup. As fitted his act, Aaren made sure he took a curious look around the town, but he kept himself covered, while Eamonn kept his eyes fixed on where the sentry was taking them.
The day was coming to an end. Men and women were walking through the streets, mothers calling for their children to keep up and men laughing in their groups as they headed for the inns. The guard ushered them down several confined alleyways. They took few turns before the sentry finally called them to a halt.
“In there, and don’t speak until you’re spoken to. When you do keep your voice down.” he instructed. Aaren frowned at that, perhaps things were not as they had seemed. Aaren gestured Eamonn to follow the sentry, took another look around the walkway then made his way inside.
They were made to check in with another sentry who stood guard in the office hall. “You know where to find him, David.”
The man stepped to the side, letting them access to the door, to survey the hall. The sentry, Aaren and Eamonn now knew to be David, knocked on the door, waited for approval and led them into the headman’s quarters, leaving the door slightly ajar.
“Two prisoners to report, sir” David began, indicating the cloaked men. The headman kept his head down, continuing on with whatever paperwork he was filling out.
“They left this morning,” David continued, “hinting they were going to fish by the lake. Then when they came back this afternoon, they had only a couple of fish with them, when I asked them why that was, they clammed up. I believe they’re hiding something. What that is, I’m not sure, but I have my suspicions.”
David stepped aside to present the two men to his superior, allowing the man to see them in the light of the room. The headman placed his writing materials aside and finally looked up at his two prisoners. He looked young, and a little green to be in his position, but there was a look of confidence in him that was not too dissimilar to the sort of rugged look they’d seen in the drunk man at the inn the previous day.
“I see. We’ve had some problems with these gentlemen already.” He said in an attempt at a course manner. He was small in stature, gangly with a sort of bookish air to him, as if he held himself above everyone else. “Why do people insist on getting up to no good?” he asked no one in particular, “don’t go looking for trouble and it won’t find you. Simple fishermen,” He spat, “you boys looked like you could fish as well as David, here, can shoot with that crossbow of his.”
David flushed at the insult, his accuracy with his crossbow was a sore point. When it came to the monthly competition based on hitting the bull’s-eye of a target, he would find himself at the bottom of the ranks. It was an easy tournament and it was a spectacle for the locals, but he rarely proceeded farther than the first knock-out round. His lack of success led to many making fun of him, rather than moving and letting him forget it.
Eamonn looked sidelong at the sentry, he was surprised to see this reaction. The man looked perfectly capable, maybe he was kept around for other abilities.
“Sure the boy looks strong enough,” the headman agreed, moving their attention on from David’s apparent lack in his skill at arms, “but he doesn’t have it in all the right places. Needs more on him in the arms than he does, and now we find you guys going out to fish in one of the best ports and returning without a single one of our prized carp? It just doesn’t add up, so that has me wondering, what are you doing here?”
The headman sat up in his chair, he adopted a look of expectation.
Aaren hesitated a moment. So far, they hadn’t gotten any leads and Aaren didn’t have the resources at his disposal to run a full surveillance team throughout the town, he’d need this man on his side if he were to get anywhere. He needed answers first, he thought he could trust this man, his first thoughts told he could, he had to make sure. He had to buy a little more time to draw out a little more information. Then, he decided, he would give the full account. “We’ve come from further north.” He said.
The headman didn’t move. “We came down here, through Myrtle, we left our horses there.” There was a look to the sentry David, who stepped away to the door, Eamonn watch as he beckoned the guard outside and whispered to him for a few moments. Outside, Eamonn could hear the entrance door open and close, they would be heading for Myrtle, Eamonn thought.
“That doesn’t explain why you chose to go fishing here?” The headman interrupted.
Aaren shook his head, it was a fair point. “We’re looking for someone, a friend of ours.”
The headman cocked his head to the side, “Blackden is an interesting place to come looking for a friend, despite our best efforts, the smuggling profession continues to thrive here. Many use the fishing trade as a cover.” The headman raised his eyebrows, the implication was obvious that he thought Aaren and Eamonn were hiding behind the false identity of simple fishermen.
“Now, give me a reason not to throw you my cells and throw away the key?”
Aaren smiled, he’d heard enough to convince him, he stroked his chin and stepped forward to take a seat opposite the headman. “We are members of the Ayleserowan Royal Commission. We’ve been tracking a criminal from Faraday, we think that he managed to slip into the town a couple of days ago, our intelligence says that he’s on some job that could put someone in danger. Our intentions are to find him and bring him to justice.”
The headman sat back in his chair, listening as Aaren described the mission, still intent on locking the two up in his cells for a while, but then it got interesting for him. “This is where you come in. At this stage we have no leads, so we headed out of town today, to get a feel for the routines and life in the town and in Myrtle. We wanted to assess where the townspeople frequented and what areas were left alone.”
Eamonn looked across at Aaren, he wasn’t aware of any of these details, he’d only been looking out for signs of Dallin or men he might be involved with. “I found that the backstreets are routinely checked, however it’s when they aren’t that they begin to attract some unwanted guests. That’s where we need to start. Secondly, David here,” Aaren said, gesturing the sentry by the door, “told us to keep our voices down. That makes me nervous, it means that we’re not in control. We need to wrestle back some of that control, maybe not today, but it’s something we need to look into further down the track.”
The headman nodded. Aaren stopped, thinking over how to phrase the next part. “I am sorry though that you haven’t been involved with any of this. As you said when we came in, you can’t trust anyone in a smugglers town, the same goes for us coming here. We don’t know who is on our side and couldn’t take any chances before we were certain.”
The headman looked from one to the other, they both looked honest enough. The boy was easy to read, the older one seemed genuine. It seemed in his best interests to put his lot in with them.
“Ok. I’ll help you find your man. On three conditions; you fill me in on everything that’s lead to you being here, I want names and locations. If there’s a threat to the people here, that might attract more people of a similar nature and I’m already having difficulties before you showed up. That coincides with the second point; once we’re done with this threat, you assist me with removing some of the local criminals. Third and most important, when we’ve caught this guy and whoever he’s in league with and the local criminals are gone, you lot go home. It’s bad enough having these smugglers around, we need to clean this place out and having people snooping around here looking for things is not going to help. Do we have a deal?”
There was an unsettling silence as the headman’s conditions were laid out to Aaren, it seemed to be pretty straight forward, he had no intentions of staying around longer than he needed to and Blackden had been corrupted for long enough.
“Agreed.” Aaren replied flatly.
There was one stipulation Aaren had, “For the moment, I suggest we focus on dealing with the task at hand. There’ll be plenty of time later once we’ve handled things for us to discuss how we got here. If everything goes to plan, I’ll be happy to spend a little time sorting out the locals.”
Satisfied they had cleared the air and were on the same side, Aaren thrust his hand out to shake the headman’s hand, “My name is Aaren Fairweather. This is my student, Eamonn Reeves. We’re from the Commission.”
The headman shook the commissioner’s hand tightly and considered the boy again. The boy might be slim, though he could see how he would fit as a member of the Commission. He was tall, fairly slim and strongly built throughout his core, whereas the fishermen they had initially claimed to be were bulky through their shoulders and arms, these two were strong throughout, Aaren was bigger and stronger than Eamonn, but he looked young and fit.
“Braum is the name.” he responded, turning back to face Aaren. “What can you tell me about this man you’re looking for?”
“He’s managed to escape our nets for years, we’ve been constantly on the lookout for him, waiting for him to make a mistake. Each time we close in on him, he slips away again, popping up some time later, he’s a dangerous target and we can’t take him lightly.”
Braum fingered his chin, he tapped his index finger lightly on the desk, the rhythm of the tapping seemed dull in the large office room. “Why in god’s name would he come here? Who would be here to support him? Smugglers don’t help one another unless they see a profit in it for them…”
Aaren spread his hands out. The gesture said “that’s the issue” and replied. “There would be a huge profit in it for the smugglers, but as you’ve said they wouldn’t trust him. He’d have to have some connections here already, someone he’s knows and each time I think of it I only have one answer.” Aaren leaned closer to the desk Braum was seated behind, keeping his voice lower than it was before. “Have you heard of the name, Blane Montgomery?”
The question hung in the air for several seconds, Aaren saw him thinking over the name, Braum had always prided himself on putting names to faces, of course he knew of people having either name of Blane or Montgomery, the two names together didn’t seem to ring any bells in his mind. He rapidly shook his head, “I’m afraid not, it’s been difficult enough to simply catch wind of any movements of the local thugs, let alone any of the imports.”
Resignedly, Aaren took several calming deep breaths; they were so close now, they’d come all this way and Aaren knew Dallin was here. If only the headman knew who –
“There was a report that came in from one of the sentries about a rather brash fellow by the name of Declan… Dylan…Dalton or something like that.”
Aaren exchanged a glance with Eamonn, “Dallin, maybe?”
Braum shrugged, “It could have been. He arrived early yesterday. He was the only new face that came through our gates in the morning. All the others are locals, the imports don’t start flowing in for another few weeks. With it being the off-season for our tournaments, Blackden will be quiet until the end of winter. My man said he had no look of a fisherman about him, more of a hunter in fact.”
A slow smile broke out over Aaren’s features, Eamonn looked quizzically at his mentor. Aaren looked out of the corner of his eye and nodded, almost imperceptibly, at his student. That alone told Eamonn that this was the man they were after.
“Do you know him?” asked Braum. Aaren smiled grimly, “Only too well.” he answered.
“There are reports written up on anyone who comes through here, I’ll need to read through it again to be sure, the sentry reported his arrival to me personally. At the time, we thought nothing of it.”
“What did he look like?” Aaren put in.
Startled by the sudden question, Braum stammered and baulked at the question, Aaren continued to pile on the questions, giving Braum no time to answer each one. “Was he about my height? Short rusty coloured hair with a short beard in the same tone?” He threw the questions quickly at the headman.
A deep frown formed on the headman’s face as he finally managed to find his voice. “All of that and more, my man told me that he looked a little nervous, like he was constantly checking over his shoulder, expecting something to come up behind him.”
“Did he mention anything about what he was going to do here?” Aaren ventured, he had a feeling he knew, and he’d expressed his concerns with Eamonn that Dallin could be after his mentor, he wanted to know as soon as he could.
“The sentry mentioned something about him meeting up with an associate of his. Something to do with an exchange. My man was certain that he was going to be seeing someone. The meeting was going to be the day after tomorrow” The headman added that last bit in as an afterthought.
Nodding in acknowledgement of the words, Aaren leaned back in his chair, throwing one leg over the other to contemplate this news. He’d need to allow himself a day to scout and another to prepare for whatever he and Eamonn could come up with to bring Dallin down. He considered Eamonn for a moment then announced what everyone was expecting, “Well. We’re going to have to take him down during the meet then, aren’t we?”