With oddly jolting, sudden motions he waved a hand at the forest and said, “You came out of the Crow Hall. I saw you. Blimey. That is something. I mean, not many people are willing to walk through there. Herself of the Deathly might take an interest in you.” And then he looked at Dapplegrim and Caewen again, eyeing them up and down a bit, as if suddenly suspicious. “You didn’t, well, you know, come into possession of anything did you? I know it’d be nothing of my business, but it would be news, wouldn’t it? If that were to happen.”
“No,” said Caewen. “I’m afraid we did not.”
“Ah well,” he said, after a moment, “Would have been a good tale. Nonetheless. Nonetheless.” He patted his chest. “Call me Twit.” He waved a hand at them and his face turned into a mock-frown with half-lidded eyes. “Now, now. Don’t ask. I’ll get to that right away. Cause everyone asks. Twit? What sort of name is that? My full and proper name is Twit le de Bird of the family le de Bird. Much as my pappie and grandpappie and great grandpappies all the way back, I am in the gossip business, you see. Utterings. Newsings. Musings. Rumours. Tattles. Drolls. You name ’em, I got ‘im. Tall tales. Short tales. Little squiggly tales with an odd ending that really makes you think. When people say they heard it from a little birdie, they mean me.” He scratched his nose. “Well, half the time they mean me. The other half the time, if they are proper wizards, like this lot, they probably actually were talking to birds. Wizards are like that, aren’t they?”
Despite herself, Caewen found herself taking something of a liking the strange man. She smiled. “I see. Um. Do you have any rumours for sale?”
“Funny you should ask.” He pulled out a bundle of pages tied up with a ribbon. Writ in red-letter chancery, and common blackletter and southron too, in case that is your preference. All the most tantalising news there is. Just one silver penny a sheet.” Each sheet did have three blocks of writing, each in a different lettering. Presumably it was the same news repeated three times.
“Ah,” said Caewen. A hotness of flushing blood ran up her face. A slight awkward knot in her throat developed, and she said, “I don’t know my letters. Sorry.”
“Oh, no, I apologise, myself. I shouldn’t have assumed. I shouldn’t have. Not right to assume such a thing, is it? Now, another option, is that I can just tell you the best bits, quietly, under my breath so to speak. Though you have to promise not to go tattling it all over the place. I have a business to keep up after all.”
“Alright.” Caewen fished around in her purse and pulled out a silver penny. She was still rather well stocked with coins, even this long after her time with the Wisht and the goule-thing.
He looked at the coin, a shine in his eyes, but also he looked somehow conflicted. He started to reach for it, but let his hand fall. “Ah. Blimey, what is to become of me? Look, you seem like a nice lass. Are you a nice lass?”
“I suppose,” said Caewen.
“She’s awful,” said Dapplegrim. “The other day I wanted to eat some cow, and she simply refused to pay for it.”
“There was no one to pay! We can’t just eat a cow when we find one beside the road. You know that.”
“Always with the rules. Don’t eat this. Don’t eat that. Don’t make the stall bigger by knocking down walls. Don’t dig up graves.” Dapplegrim snorted. “No one uses their body when they’re dead. What good is it leaving it to rot? It’s enough to drive me crazy.”
“Well,” said Twit to Caewen, “I’ll take your word for it over his. The thing is, when I ask for a silver, I’m not really asking for a silver. You should come back to me with a price about a quarter of that, and then we argue, and finally, after an enjoyable bout of to-and-fro, we agree on a price about halfway between what I first asked, and what you first offered.” He jabbed a thumb at the crowd on the road. “If you are going to take yourself along with that lot, you best not just hand over whatever price someone asks first. You’ll end up being owned soul-and-flesh inside a day.”
“Oh. Well. Shall I offer four bits of copper or did you want to just take one half silver and some groats?”
“Ah. There’s no fun in it now, is there. Alright. Just hand it over. The half silver and groats will do.” He shook his head. “What my dead old pappie would say, I do not know.” A sigh. “So. Lean in a bit. I’ll tell you the important bits, but quietly.”
They did, Caewen and Dapplegrim leaning down to hear him whisper.