They left the bonfire circle and kept going. Soon enough they had left behind the lilting songs of the night-worshippers, and found what appeared to be the edge the fortuneteller’s market. Most every tent was hung with signs replete with mystical eyes and weird symbols, stars and hands held upright to show a decorated palm. The market was brisk given the hour, even lively, but not anywhere near as noisy as the market-stalls they’d passed earlier. Those selling their arts here did not hawk loudly, but sat within their tent awnings awaiting custom. “I suppose it doesn’t befit mystery to be too raucous,” said Caewen.
“True enough. Hrm.”
It didn’t take long to find the burnt space where a tent had clearly been standing until recently. A large blackened area marked out a rough oblong shape where oily ashes sat cold on the ground. Caewen and Dapplegrim walked over to it, and took in the scene, but there was little enough to see. Just a big burnt area.
“Well,” said Dapplegrim. “This is exciting. I’m certainly glad that we walked the whole way through the crowds celebrating Old Night and Chaos to stand beside a patch of burnt grass. Hurm.”
“Hush you.” Caewen took a few paces around the burnt space. “Do you smell anything?”
“Burnt canvas,” he sniffed, “But burnt human fat and marrow and flesh too. And cooked snake, or something very like a snake. The corpses were all carried away…” another huff of air through nostrils, “Hurm… about a day ago.”
“The fire will have happened sometime before that then.” She slowly traced her way down the edge, thinking over what she was seeing. “There are other tents nearby. Yet, the fire seems to have been quite restricted. It didn’t spread at all.”
A voice called out to her, “Almost as if there was magic at work?”
She turned around. Across the way, two men sat outside a smaller tent, watching. One was young, with harshly angular but handsome features, and sandy hair, worn long. He was dressed richly in black and white, with intricate knotwork patterns along the hems of his tunic and cloak. In one hand he had a small harp that seemed to be carved from a single piece of jet coloured wood. He had a sword, and that had a hilt of similar black wood, strung around with blood red ribbons. Beside him sat an older, and somewhat more rotund man, with a whiskery face and bright orange and black clothing, patterned in intricate woven scrawls.
It was the younger of the two men who had called to her. He beckoned, and spoke again: his voice was oddly harmonious, with deeper currents of hints and promises running through it. “The flames spread quick and killed everyone inside within a minute or less. We heard the yells and cries from here, but could do nothing.”
“Were you looking to consult.” said the other, man, his voice jolly and more rounded in tone. “We two are not soothful sorts, unfortunately, but we could suggest a name or two.” He picked up a gilt cup from a low table that had been set out before them, and took a drink.
Caewen and Dapplegrim exchanged looks and walked over, slowly. “No. That’s alright,” she said. “Did you see how the fire started?”
“Questions, questions,” said the younger man. “But first, names, or so-callings, or at least, indications of personhood, taking after some manner or another. A gesture. A whisper. Seven steps of a half-forgotten dance. A painted icon, offered, in gilt and scarlet.” He smiled and struck a note from the harp. “I have many names, of course, but here I am called Harper. And my none too serious friend generally goes by the Old Riddler.”
“I’m Caewen and this is Dapplegrim.”
“Giving away your birthname so casually?” The Old Riddler then turned over those warm, round tones over in his throat, chuckling. “You are either very powerful, or very foolish.”
“Or both,” said Dapplegrim. “We tend to advise people that one can be both.”
“That is true,” agreed the young man who called himself Harper. “What was your interest in the Brotherhood of the Runic Serpent?”
The attractive harper with his aware, searching eyes and rich voice was making Caewen feel uncomfortable. She started playing with the edge of her belt buckle, then to be less obvious moved her hands out of sight. How much honesty could she risk with these too. There seemed no point in being outright deceptive, but equally no reason to tell them too much of herself or what she was doing. Her right hand found a safe place in her purse, and fidgeted with the coins and trinkets there. “We’re just looking into the fire, that’s all. There have been some deaths around the moot. It seems odd is all.”
“An investigation? How exciting. And you are appointed as–?” said the Old Riddler.
“No one and nothing. Just looking into things.”
“That is a dangerous pastime.” The young man gave her a grave look, as if he were trying to decide if she were lying to them. His eyes were pale, like moonlight and cloud. He was clearly of the northern lands, beyond the borderlands of the night. How far north, she wasn’t sure. “Hm,” he said, in the end, perhaps coming to a conclusion, but keeping it to himself. “There have been some deaths. We have noticed it too. There was the worm that got loose. And the killing of the snake-speakers here. A draig-rider and his mount were both slain over on the far side of the moot yesterday, under rather odd circumstances. They both just slumped over and stopped breathing. Almost as if they had been poisoned, or killed dead with sorcery. But who would risk that? Surely the goddess of the tor would exact justice.”
“Surely,” agreed Caewen.
“It’s all rather odd,” said the Old Riddler. “You know, I saw the fire start. It was as if a spell had been put on the tent from afar–but again–who would be mad enough to do that? And why, in all the Clay-o-the-Green, our benevolent goddess hasn’t done something about it, I do not know.” He put rather too much emphasis on benevolent, as if he was making a joke at the goddess’s expense.
“Did you see anyone about here at all? Anything suspicious?”
They both shook their heads.
Harper spoke then, saying quietly, “No, I’m afraid not. I didn’t feel anything either, and I’ve a good sense for when something untoward is happening. It would take an ancient and potent sort of magic to veil mischief from me, but I wonder if that is the truth of it? Someone or something is going about under some mechanism of concealment,” he mused.