I was observing him carefully, finally being able to do it without restrictions. He was sitting right in front of me and telling the Council of what he had found out about the disappearances in the village. He was handsome indeed but not one of those rich, plain and empty men who were successful with ladies. Judging by his appearance and profession he was rather feared than desired, Daile would be disappointed. He had a very distinctive, though a bit gloomy look with a long triangular face, long nose and pale skin. His brown eyes were big, deep and sad; they were giving me no chance to avoid his glance. They were sending me a serious look under long black eyebrows as if asking ‘Who are you?’
I could have posed to him the same exact question. He wasn’t a common warrior, of this I could be sure. I could sense an active intellect and a deep emotional life in him; the features he were hiding as they were not appreciated in his profession. He could kill hybrids and people, he could have a stone – like face, his appearance could intimidate those less courageous but I was not deceived at all, he was a complex human being, not a killing machine. My gaze wandered to his mouth, it had a beautiful and sensual shape with full lips which made me feel like I wanted to run to him at once and kiss him passionately. ‘Ailintho behave!’, I scorned myself in thoughts. ‘Control yourself and listen to what he is actually talking about!’
‘I was told that three inhabitants of the village were missing in the forest so I went searching. Forgive me if I had trespassed on druid lands, that was not my intention. I usually get along well with druids and clerics and I don’t search for any reasons to quarrel with them.’
Orthus nodded his head.
‘The forest is free from boundaries and we would never attack any travellers who lost their way here.’
I was sitting on his right together with five other druids, that was the whole council of our community. The room was spacious and brightened by the light of setting sun, we have gathered by the round table to listen to the words of a stranger.
‘So did you find any traces when you were exploring the forest?’
‘I did. Not the ones the villagers would think of, though.’
‘They did not seem like hybrid or animal ones, did they?’, I guessed.
‘Neither of them.’
Orthus and I looked at each other instinctively. No hybrid then, just as we expected.
‘So what were these?’
‘Human ones. You have an unexpected guest in your forest.’
A murmur passed through the druids but Wanlorn remained unmoved.
‘But these may be the footsteps of someone from our community!’, Dargo protested. He was responsible for keeping an eye on the forest so implying that someone had bypassed the guards without his knowledge was like an insult to him.
‘Is somebody in your community crippled?’, Wanlorn asked still sending us this severe, serious look.
‘No. Nobody we know’, Orthus responded. I felt anxiety growing slowly in his aura but he remained calm.
‘Then it must be a vagabond’, the warrior nodded his head. ‘One footprint was regular but the other vague, without clear shape. That person must have been halting all the way here.’
Druids began murmuring again. As long as I remembered we have never had an unknown intruder in the forest.
‘The trace begins in the western part of the forest and leads to the northern one, it doesn’t come in any way close to the village situated on the south. Whoever or whatever that was, it is not responsible for the disappearance of the villagers.’
Silence fell after the warrior’s words but was soon broken by Marimo, a druidess responsible for the contacts with villagers.
‘If it’s not a monster or an animal that captured the inhabitants then why do they disappear?’
‘I cannot be sure but I was analysing the situation and I think I have an explanation for that, too’, he leaned back and sat on the chair comfortably. ‘From my recollection of the mayor’s words, it seems there were three cases. The first missing person was a heavy drinker, it’s possible he fell down and drowned in the river while being intoxicated. The waters could have taken his body with their flow. Missing number two seems like a rogue, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone killed him in an argument or revenge and then hid the body. If he hadn’t got any family or friends then no one was determined to find out what happened to him. The third person seems like a decent one but the winter was severe, perhaps he got frozen while being away from the village. As I said, I cannot be sure. But I can see that all three cases don’t necessarily have to be connected to one another nor to the mysterious crippled creature wandering through your forest.’
‘It makes sense’, I nodded. I had to admit he was observant and his conclusions seemed logical. ‘All we need to find out is where our unwanted guest came from and possibly send him there again.’
‘This is what I am going to do, m’am’, he almost smiled looking at me. ‘That’s what they pay me for.’
‘We would be glad if you helped us get rid of an intruder’, Orthus spoke. ‘And our community of druids will add on something more to the sum the villagers will pay you for solving the puzzle.’
‘Very well. I’ll start searching the forest tomorrow in the morning.’
‘We’ll provide you any help you need.’
‘I’d be grateful for a guide. If it wasn’t for Lady Ailintho, I would get lost in the forest’, he bowed his head slightly in my direction and I got angry again sensing his irony.
‘That is correct’, in response I bowed my head, too and raised the left corner of my mouth in a spiteful smile. I was just telling the truth!
‘Sir, you’ll go with Ailintho then’, Orthus stood up from his chair. ‘But first you need to rest. You’ll find a meal, warm bath and a bed in our community, please make yourself comfortable.’
Wanlorn thanked him in just a couple of words and left the room with the rest of druids. I did notice that just before he disappeared he turned his head and looked at me but I pretended I didn’t see it.
‘Who is he, Ailintho?’, Orthus asked when we were alone in the room. ‘What are you sensing in him?’
‘A warrior, but not a typical one’, I answered immediately. ‘He was wearing his helm, which was blocking his thoughts, so I didn’t find out much about him. But I could feel his energy without any problems. He’s intelligent and courageous, that’s for sure, but he’s also hurt and drained emotionally. He must have lost a lot of people who were dear to him.’
Orthus nodded his head.
‘That’s what I suspected, too. I want to send you to search the forest with him because you can read people like writings on a piece of paper, however if you had sensed anything dangerous in him, just tell me and I will send someone else.’
I was thinking for a moment recalling the streams of energy emanating from his body and then I shook my head.
‘No, Master, he is not dangerous. Broken but not dangerous. I have nothing to be afraid of.’
As long as I was in the forest, I was safe from any danger. I bid Orthus good night and went to my chamber. I had to go to bed soon as I was about to get up very early in the morning.