The young man took a long draw from the clay pipe, savoring the rich, foreign tobacco. He took one more draw, then snapped the tip off of the clay mouthpiece, and handed the pipe back to the old woman. Through the haze of blue smoke, the old woman grinned.
“You like the tobacco, do you? It is a fine blend from the north.” the old woman said to the young man.
“It is very fine indeed.” the young man answered while the old woman smoked.
The smoke was beginning to fill the small wooden shack, further obscuring it’s dark and shadow filled corners. A small fire burned in the fireplace, and an oil lamp hung from the one and only support beam overhead. The young man and the old woman sat in low chairs, near the fireplace. Outside, the old forest was alive with the subtle sounds of the night.
“Ah, but you did not come all the way out here in this cold to speak of fine tobacco…” the old woman said.
“No, I did not.” replied the young man. “I came to ask what you know of the killer that stalks the streets of Lover’s Hill. The killer that began killing when Captain Marsh came back to towne this spring.”
The old woman grumbled. “So many killers. Tis hard to keep a proper tally.” she said.
“True.” the young man answered.
“And are you certain that this killing is being done by the one killer?” the old woman asked.
“No. I am not. I believe that something else took the Greene girl. However, Gilliam Redsails, two criminals in the graveyard, and a gatekeeper that worked for Tranton Hille…these folk were killed by the same killer. Or were they?” the young man said.
The old woman barked out a small laugh. “Always so certain of what I know, are you not?” she said.
“I suppose that is my talent, madame, my gift. When I do not know a thing, I can always ken who it is that does know the thing.” the young man said.
“And your silver tongue is always able to talk those secrets loose.” the old woman replied.
The young man grinned. “Talk, or otherwise, yes. Never have I encountered a secret so tight that my tongue could not work my way in and pry it loose.” he said.
The old woman arched an eyebrow at the young man, and nearly let a smile show on her wrinkled lips. “I know not what happened to the two criminals in the graveyard. The monster that killed Rella Greene was found in the home of a fishmonger in south ward, already dead, the poor thing. Gilliam Redsails was most certainly killed by a scorned lover, the tart had many. As for Tranton Hille’s gatekeeper, I would slap a silver down that says he saw something he should not ought to, and was disposed of. Tranton Hille is a man of unspeakable desires, and he replaces or otherwise silences guards and retainers often.”
The young man sat in silence for a moment, ordering his thoughts. The moon broke through a hole in the otherwise cloudy night sky, and beams of pale light fell across the young man’s handsome face. As quick as they came, the moonbeams were gone again. The moon was once again covered by thin grey clouds.
“Everything begins at the top of the hill. Surely Tranton Hille has something to do with these other killings. I would slap a silver on it. I can see the shapes in the fog, but I cannot draw the lines between them. Not yet.” the young man said.
“My gorgeous boy, what is it that you think you will do if your trail of killings and secrets leads you up the hill, to Tranton Hille’s manse? As you have said, most trails of secrets and killings lead up the hill. Why has this one set such a deep hook in you?” the old woman asked.
“Because it is not clear to me. The trail is not clear enough.” the young man answered, gazing out of the window of the shack at the dark forest outside.
“Mayhap there is a shape in the fog that you are not counting.” the old woman said.
“Mayhap there is.” the young man answered, turning his gaze on the old woman.
“There is a man you should speak to. He lives near the docks, on Eel Alley. A man named Gurmond. He was the greatest Inquisitor that Lover’s Hill had ever seen. If your trail does indeed lead you up to Tranton Hille’s manse, he can help you.” the old woman said.
The young man stood up, and put on his coat. “And what is Gurmond’s pleasure in life? What are his loves?” he asked.
The old woman smiled. Her boy was so keen, so…sharp. “He is a widower, and a father to a young boy. A good father. A real father.” she answered. She watched the young man’s face closely.
“Is he?” the young man asked. He chewed his lip for a moment. The old woman could see that he was working in his mind, turning things over. “A real father wants nothing more than to provide for his child, does he not? Safety and sustenance, yes, these are the things he provides.” the young man said, rocking back on his heels, chewing his lip.
“Surely.” the old woman replied. She watched the young man chew his lip, rocking on his heels. She had not seen that in a long time, since he was a little one.
“Gurmond will help me. If indeed I am following the trail of the right killer.” the young man said. He stepped over to the shack’s door, and opened it. The cool, damp, autumn air crept into the shack. The old woman got up from her chair and came over to the young man at her door. The two of them hugged each other tightly.
“I suppose you are off, then? You could have at least done an old woman’s washing for her.” she jested.
The young man laughed, kissed the old woman on the cheek, and pulled back from the hug. “I do enough washing at that greasy tavern. Even so, next time I shall. I promise.” he said.
The old woman laughed at this, and pushed the young man out of the shack. “Out with you. Off into the deadly dangerous night with you, my beautiful wash boy.” she said, smiling.
“We both know that nothing out there in this deadly dangerous night would dare trouble me. Goodnight, mother. I will see you within a fortnight. I love you.” the young man said.
“I love you.” the old woman answered, and closed the door to her shack.
The young man pulled his coat tighter around him, and set out through the dark forest, back toward Lover’s Hill. A few hundreds paces later, he turned to look back on the little shack, the only spot of light in the gloom of the towering, old forest. He smiled, and continued on his way.