The charm of the book shop was lost on Adwin moments after they walked in. The proprietor obviously did not think they belonged there and the one client that seemed to be present was perched on the edge of a chair. He was very well dressed, maybe a lord, looking over the rim of his spectacles and certainly of the opinion that whatever was about to happen would be entertaining. Then Tipper had dropped her professors name, Vlith, Vrith? Attitudes changed quickly, Tipper and the other two fell into a conversation about books and literature that Adwin had a hard time following. So, he had wandered around the shop looking at old books, maps and scrolls, the selection seemed very diverse. After his third slow circulation through the building, including all the little rooms on the second level, he was getting impatient. He had seen a few interesting things, including a stack of paper-bound books from Maldorn, while one nook on the second level had a small shrine to the goddess that stood at the entry. Mostly he was just hungry and was very glad when they finally left. Though, he did end up offering to pay for the three books Tipper had wanted as they were very expensive and she had not brought that much weight with her. He had paid with two gold coins, Tipper had noted the coins and been curious, though she said nothing. Adwin could not help but feel like he had just made a mistake
They ate at a small cafe, outside, because it was too crowded inside for Tipper to be comfortable. Fish soup and fried spicy bread, Adwin was enjoying all the different sorts of food he had been trying since coming to the city. Tipper did not say much as they ate. Afterwards, he had walked her most of the way back to the university. She had a shift at the Arcanium gate starting on the eighteenth hour until days end. She gave him a hug goodbye and suggested they should all get together over the solstice week and celebrate Yule together.
As the two of them went their separate ways Adwin felt agitated, maybe even a little sad. What had started as a simple decision to take the better paying job was becoming much more than he expected. First there was the evasiveness towards Tipper regarding where and who he was working for. Now he was taking on his third position with Roburns Trading Company, where the stated objective was to acquire properties for said company. The fact that the properties in question were all related to the Fingures’ operation was likely beside the point. He knew Tipper disliked the company, for personal reasons, as well the company’s operational procedures seemed contrary to her principles. Tied into that was the fact that he was so caught up with Addath or the idea of her at the very least. Tipper did not seem like the type that would mind another woman in Adwin’s life, in fact she had encouraged it, but not telling her about it seemed dishonest. To top it all, he and Mokha’s little heist seemed to be having a much larger impact on events than he possibly could have foreseen. With a heavy heart and brooding mind Adwin started back for the Inner Quarter.
On his way back he had spotted the fellow with the floppy hat entering a tavern up the street, ahead of him. Adwin wondered what the chances were he would see the same guy here and also in the centre of town. Then he had a sudden realization that the hat was his floppy hat and the guy was likely working for the Fingures. He looked around to see if he could spot any of the usual suspects but saw neither Nasty nor the ladies who had robbed him. He almost went into the tavern to demand his hat back, but thought better of it considering it could be a Fingures operation. Though maybe it was just the first door the guy ducked into. Either way, confronting the fellow in public would not be a good idea. Feeling somewhat panicked Adwin ducked out of sight into the mouth of an alleyway. Mokha had said to stay calm should he run into any of the Fingures, to move away from and try to lose anyone he spotted following him. Mokha had also said not to be a hero, no confrontations, especially if he were alone.
So Adwin headed out of the area towards the west side of the city, away from anything he was associated with. He checked frequently to see if he was being followed and stopped at a street vendor for a while, he had a cup of brew and a sausage. It was pretty tasty. No one seemed to be following him so he headed northward skirting the centre of the city. It was getting dark early due of the cloud cover and it had also started to snow again. Adwin passed through the transport junction point at the northwest tower, he did a bit of a double loop around the junction and then came down into the old area around GoldHaven Theatre. He was fairly sure by this point that no one was following him. Through the lamplit snowy streets Adwin made his way to Dohporra Courtyard.
The girl was there, she had a small lantern. “Thought it was you. Adwin, right?”
He sighed, “That’s me.”
“Great. I think it was really nice of you to get all that stuff for Heklertha.”
“You said to be generous.”
“Well when you did not show up after four days I just kind of forgot about you. Then an eight-day later you reappear. That was a really nice cloak you bought her.”
Adwin did not know what to say and her intensity was kind of getting under his skin. “Are we going to chat here all night?”
“No. You’re the one who’s late.”
“Alright, let’s not be more late.”
“Gods, you’re annoying.” She led him down a side street then up a flight of stairs and came up onto the upper level of one of the dwarven built houses. Without knocking, the girl opened the door and entered.
Adwin followed after a glance down the stairs to make sure there were no Fingures trailing him. He saw no one. The first thing he noticed as he stepped inside was that it was very warm and cozy. There were also more people here than he expected. Beside Heklertha, there were two other older women, the three of them sat at one end of the main room in nice chairs. Both the unknown women had musical instruments, the lady to the right of Heklertha had a fancy looking lap harp, the woman to the left had a small selection of woodwind instruments laid out on a small table beside her. There was also a dozen or so youth, mostly young women and three young men. They were sitting or lounging on the floor, on blankets or big pillows and a few sat to one side along a bench.
Heklertha smiled at him and after he had removed his poncho and boots she invited him to come in, “Everyone, this is Adwin of Willik’s Hold. He’s the young man who gave me the nice cloak I was showing you earlier and a generous basket of food. He wants to hear the story, The Elf, The Tree and The Maiden.”
Everyone looked at him and smiled or said hello. Other than the three older women everyone else was near or just past their name-day. Many of the young women looked him over with appraising interest. He had the urge to turn around and leave for fear he might be married off on the spot. Yet, he steeled himself and sat facing Heklertha in the indicated chair, while the young woman he had followed here brought him a small mug of mead then sat in the chair beside him. The others settled after of bit of quiet conversation, the harpist did a final tuning of her instrument and the flutist selected her largest woodwind. When Heklertha asked if everyone was set, the musicians gave affirming nods and Adwin adjusted himself to a more comfortable position in the chair.
Everyone was focused on Heklertha, the flutist gently played a few notes, her instrument had a deep melancholy sound. Heklertha began her tale, “Once there was a young maiden, of the city of GreensBridge. She was fair featured and of a wild heart. Many a suitor had been to the door of her parents, with written verse and songs to impress. Her suitors also brought gifts to express their intent and to win favour with the maiden and her kin. The maiden had no interest towards any who offered however, for by her mind she was set for greater things and soon she would be gone from the city and all she knew. Yet as fate would have it, her adventure was closer to home than she realized…”