Chapter 12 Scene 4

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 51 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Dirk shook his head as he set down the tankard of ale he had been sipping. He looked at it to be sure, but it was still more than half full. Then he looked back through the leaded glass window at the Inn’s empty back yard. The small leaded panes were wavy and distorted, but he thought he had seen something moving outside.

He surveyed the other patron’s in Mabel’s common room, wondering if they had seen anything. One of Geoff’s young herders sat at the bar. He was tucking into his lunch with the single-minded determination that only the young can muster for food. Elspeth looked out the front window wistfully as she wiped down an empty table for perhaps the hundredth time that morning. No help from that quarter then.

Apart from these two, the common room was empty. All of the usual customers were off at the Bazaar no doubt. Dirk looked ruefully at the ale he would not get to finish and sighed.

“Elspeth, I’ll jes nip out to the dipper lass.” He set his payment on the table by his tankard as he rose.

“Thanks Dirk.” The willowy girl was already bustling over to tidy up the table as he stepped out onto the back porch.

Dirk eyed the empty yard shrewdly. He thought he had seen a shadow cross the lot. It could have been the shadow of a bird flying overhead. Or perhaps it was something else. Moving slowly across the yard Dirk scanned the ground closely. He swept it twice, finding a few old tracks going to and from the well. None of them were particularly recent. Again he smiled before scouring the area between the porch and the well more thoroughly. By now his own tracks were making the job very difficult.

At last he spotted something he had dismissed the first few times and gave it a closer look. There was an unusual track nearly a yard away from the porch. It looked like the smudged print of a small animal, perhaps a mountain cat or one of the town dogs. And it could have been one, except that Dirk knew it wasn’t.

It was the only fresh track in the yard. But it was on hard packed ground. And it was isolated, with no tracks leading up to it through the softer soil all around. It was possible that the other tracks had been swept away by the wind. But the wind was light today.

Dirk measured the distance between the porch and this track with his eyes. He slowly walked toward the well, bent over double as he searched. He found another of the strange prints a little over a yard away. It was a very light impression, barely indenting the patch of hard ground where he found it. He continued a yard farther before dropping to his knees with a low whistle. The soil here was also hardpacked, but his earlier searching efforts had completely obscured any tracks he might have found. He did find a tuft of stone flower with its waxy leaves creased. It was already springing back into shape though. In a few hours even this subtle impression would vanish. Dirk frowned as he mumbled under his breath. “…too clever for a beast, that…”

He rose and dusted his knees off, before walking to the edge of the well. He looked down into its dark depths but could see nothing out of the ordinary. Shaking his head with an incredulous smile, he headed back through Mabel’s Inn out onto the main thoroughfare and joined the traffic flowing north toward the market square and the Bazaar.

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