pathfinder: beyond the vale
Part 3 – Falcon’s Hollow
Cirice walked disconsolately down the track that Gorvo had pointed out to her. She had no idea where the path led. The night was dark and wet, and the wind stung her cheeks. She thought guiltily about her little house and how only a few days before she had been wishing that she could be anywhere else – now she could only think of the warmth when the fire was roaring in the hearth. She shivered and hugged herself tightly while cursing herself for picking up the heavy crossbow she now carried rather than a cloak or a shawl from the burning building. Trick followed silently, his feral eyes floating some way behind her in the gloom.
A few hours passed and although summer was barely on the turn, her bare feet were cold and sore from the harsh ground underfoot. She was used to walking though grass and leaf litter so made ground seemed very hard. She began to think of turning back. At least in the woods there was shelter from the wind and rain even if there were vicious sprites! Perhaps she could hide, she thought, knowing full well that she wouldn’t stand a chance of remaining hidden from Fey creatures on their own ground.
As the sky began to pale with the first flush of dawn, she spotted the flickering orange light of watch fires, and as she got closer the palisade of a settlement and a guard post emerged from the gloom. She saw guards holding crossbows, atop the wall looking down at her. Beneath them were enormous double doors, made from whole tree trunks lashed together side by side, tightly closed.
“What are you doing outside the walls at this time?” A deep voice called out, not unkindly. The voice spoke in a language she was familiar with although his pronunciation was strange. She was used to reading, rather than hearing, words. The language was that of men and was spoken of in books as “the common tongue”. She called back “Open the door!”. Her raised voice sounded strangely thin and her accent was nothing like his.
“You’ll have to wait until sunup, I’m afraid. You Urchins know you’re to be inside these walls by nightfall!” He turned to his companion “Galivanting about in the middle of the night without so much as a cloak about her! What must she be have been thinking?”
She sat down on the least muddy patch of ground she could find, off to one side of the great door. She has no idea what she’d do when she got inside but it seemed the only thing to do was wait, she dozed a little as Trick materialised and lay beside her, sharing the silence.
Daylight came and when the gates slowly opened, she picked up her bag and walked through them, Trick rapidly made himself scarce, but she knew he wouldn’t be far away. Already there were more people moving in and out through the gates than she had ever seen. Men, women, and children and… other people. She hasn’t walked too far when she spotted a woman vigorously sweeping dust off the front step of a building with a painted signboard hanging over the door depicting a duck. Writing beneath proclaimed this establishment to be “The Sitting Duck”. The woman was attacking the dust with such ferocity that the plume hit Cirice full in the face. She sneezed, closing her eyes tightly, and used her sleeve to try and rub the grit from her now streaming eyes.
“Oh dear. I’m sorry about that! Come here girl. Let me help you!” The woman spat on a none too clean looking handkerchief and began dabbing at her face. The familiarity surprised Cirice but she tried not to show her discomfort. Cirice didn’t have a clue what to say to her so she simply intoned the first thing that crossed her mind.
“Fairies burnt my house down…” The woman looked at her severely for a second, looking for a hint of humour or mischief in Cirice’s pale face but seeing none went back to picking at a piece of dirt at the edge of her eye.
“Poor thing” she said quietly, mostly to herself. “Must be addled,” and then to Cirice she said. “Why don’t you come in and have some stew. It’s last night’s but I reckon it’ll be alright. My name’s Jalene”
Jalene steered Cirice towards a little table in the corner of a low-ceilinged room full of little tables and chairs, which smelled heavily of smoke and hops. Jalene soon placed a bowl of steaming stew in front of her and Cirice suddenly realised how hungry she was. She had no idea what was in the bowl but took the proffered wooden spoon and began to eat immediately.
Jalene busied herself and seemed almost to forget about her, and more because she had no idea where else to go, Cirice stayed there while she and her possessions slowly dried out in the warmth of the room.
Later, men came in and crowded around the wooden bar at the far end of the room from Cirice, drinking foaming amber fluid called “beer” from great carved wooden mugs. They must have been very thirsty as the older man behind the bar could barely fill their mugs fast enough! Their voices became louder and their language coarser, the longer they stayed and drank.
Eventually, a particularly repellent brute in filthy leathers, with thick greying stubble and small piggy eyes noticed Cirice and walked over to her table to speak to her.
“Are you from the Rouge Lady?”, he asked laughing and grinning from ear to ear, displaying the gaps in his black teeth. She shook her head but didn’t speak. He looked disappointed but seemed determined to make sport with her, nonetheless.
“My friends and I have been workin’ ‘ard all night. Why don’t you dance for us, eh?”
Jalene piped up from somewhere behind the bar “Leave ‘er be. I’m not sure she’s all there…”
“Mind yer own business Jalene. I’m only ‘avin’ a bit of fun.” he said as he leant over her. His breath stank of beer and rotten teeth and Cirice tried to suppress her nausea. “Why don’t you hop up on this table ‘ere and give us a little dance?”
She looked him in the eye, trying her best to hide her disgust, “I don’t know how to dance” she said innocently. “perhaps you could climb up on the table and show us how it’s done…”
The huge man blushed to the roots of his hair as his friends at the bar erupted in fits of laughter. He left her alone and returned sheepishly to the bar where many backs were slapped, and beer was spilled on every surface.
She decided to leave before things got any more raucous. She managed to catch Jalene’s eye and nodded in silent thanks before she crept out of the door. Luckily, none of the men noticed.
She followed the main street and found herself in a wide cobbled square filled with tables loaded with fruit and vegetables. This was a poor selection compared to the rich, wild fare of the woods but at length she found a bruised but tolerable apple on one of the tables and she was about to bite into it when a woman challenged her. “What are you doing? You have to pay for that!” Cirice snatched the apple back from her mouth. She was dimly aware of “commerce” from her reading but surely you didn’t have to pay for things that fell from trees and could simply be gathered up!
She searched for the words. “What do you want for it?”
“Three copper” the woman snapped a little irritably.
The middle-aged woman eyed her suspiciously as she pulled out her coin purse, but her eyes grew wide when Cirice fished out a handful of Gold and Silver coins to look at them. “Three?” Cirice repeated, as she handed the woman three gold coins. She made to walk off but the woman, whose wide eyes shined greedily said “Are you sure that’s all you want? I have many fruits. How about a nice pear? Or some of these pretty flowers?”
A man’s voice called across the square “I saw that! I don’t tolerate theft and you know it!”
Cirice turned in a panic “I promise I didn’t steal it! I just paid for it with coin!” but the approaching man wasn’t talking to her. He was talking to the red-faced market stall holder.
“Give this young lady her right change, now, and we’ll say no more about it.”
The woman quickly plucked out a significant handful of silver and copper coins, as well as two of the gold pieces Cirice had originally given her and handed them over. The man took them from her and handed them to Cirice who put them in her coin purse with a slight air of confusion.
“You’ve got to keep your wits about you dealing with the Low Market lot.” He said in a low voice. “They’ll have your coin and the shirt off your back too if you’re not careful! I’m Deldrin, the sheriff and if you somehow managed to miss it, this here is Falcon’s hollow.” He spread his arms expansively to encompass the settlement.
“Now I don’t believe I’ve seen you here before. New arrival?” Cirice nodded. Deldrin was handsome, with sandy hair, an ever-present smile, and a twinkle in his eye. He was wearing well-worn studded leather armour and had a wood cutter’s axe slung over one shoulder.
“Fairies burned my house down, so I had to come here.” She repeated. He raised his eyebrows.
“Are you looking for somewhere to stay?” he asked kindly. Cirice nodded again.
“Lady Cirthana at the temple of Iomedae might have room for you. You can’t miss her; she’s got a face like one these old gargoyles” he said as he pointed to the worn carven devils attached to the eaves of some of the older buildings around the square. “She has a kind heart though.” He laughed but Cirice only looked at the gargoyles and nodded.
“Follow this lane here. It’s a great big temple with wooden pillars.” he pointed towards a building partially obscured by intervening shops. “and no matter what anyone says to you do not set foot in the Rouge Lady if you know what’s good for you!” this last was to her back as she was already heading toward the temple.
She arrived at the temple a few minutes later and rapped on the doors a little meekly, with her knuckles. The door was thick and heavy, and no one seemed to have heard so she rather self-consciously tried again with her staff. Eventually a formidable looking middle-aged woman opened the door and peered out at her. She had a matronly air but was quite handsome.
“What do you want?” she said.
“Fairies burned my house down, so I had to come here – the town, er Falcon’s Hollow, I mean. A nice man named Deldrin said I should come to see Lady Cirthana if I needed a place to stay. He said that you had a face like a gargoyle, so I recognised you straightaway!” she said with a self-congratulatory grin.
The woman scowled and then laughed. “I’ll make him pay for that…”
“Come inside. I have a room you can stay in but it’s not permanent, this is a temple, not a flophouse… and no gentleman callers, this isn’t the rouge lady either!” Cirice nodded as she was led to a small but comfortable bedroom. She wondered what could possibly be so wrong with the Rouge Lady and what gentleman callers were.
The woman rapidly disappeared to resume whatever she was clearly so busy with leaving Cirice to admire the curtains, to see whether the fabric would clash with her dress, and to try out the straw mattress which was a bit lumpy but to her seemed the very height of luxury.
A few minutes later she heard someone banging desperately on the door. She peered through a crack in her door and saw that it was Deldrin. By the sound of it he was being remonstrated for comparing Lady Cirthana to a gargoyle but eventually Lady Cirthana relented and led him inside.
Red faced, Deldrin spoke to Cirice. “Did you say that you were attacked by Fey, just now?”
“Yes,” she replied, “They burned my house and tried to kill me.”
“Is that right. Would you be so kind as to come and tell your story to some other people?”
She nodded and picked up her things.
“Right. Let’s go…” he said.