When the work was finally done, Dimitrion asked if the helpers had noticed anything. But unfortunately none of them could help him.
He decided to ask Merthan, but he had fallen asleep at Therbens side. The Halfelf closed the door again and rubbed his eyes while thinking. The loss of the female would affect the rest of the horde and make them nervous. The male will also die, because Straban, like Sawane, were living together till death and cannot survive without their partner. A new couple would have to be caught and that meant a journey of several days for which there was no time left at the moment. Too much had to be done in spring and the poisoner could strike again in the meantime. Dimitrion spent hours with fruitless brooding. Only one thing occurred to him: being a landlord is more strenuous than he had thought.
On the same evening, a group of people from the village came up to the property. They carried torches and were led by the village council, along with the priest and Nirven. From the bench where the halfelf was sitting, he saw a couple that seemed to be very distraught because the woman was crying bitterly and her husband tried to comfort her even though the tears were in his eyes. The village council pointed to the lord of the manor and they rushed to him. Dimitrion got up and greeted the people.
»Lord, something terrible has happened,« said Jergen, the village council member.
He was wrapped in a coat and in the fading light you could only see a pair of cloth trousers and a cotton jacket. On his head was a cap that made him recognisable as the village councilman.
»Sit down Jergen you look exhausted. Now, tell me that urgent matter you´re speaking of.«
»Thank you, Lord.« Jergen sat down under a wheezing breath on the bench offered and dabbed with a cloth the sweat droplets from his forehead. After two deep breaths he began to tell stories. »The children have been kidnapped.«
»Which children?« Dimitrion asked.
The village priest stepped forward, at his side the couple that the halfelf had already noticed before.
» These are Weaver Kemen and his wife Gritt,« said the priest Birdan.
»They came to me in the afternoon and said they missed their son. He may be a little stray, but he was always at home for the meals, but he was not at home for lunch or supper. They looked for him in the village and asked the neighbours if they had seen their son. Hefrim, the blacksmith then said that he saw a boy who was walking towards the mountains. Afterwards they came to me and we got the village council and the healer to hold a meeting. We agreed that we should consult with you.«
»Weaver Kemen, step forward and tell me what your son looks like and what his name is. And your wife, have a seat? You`re pregnant, aren`t you?«, said Dimitrion.
The woman nodded under her sobbing and sat down next to the still panting village council.«
»Yes, sir,« said Kemen, and with his wife in his arms he stood before him and with a shaky voice he told him what he was demanded.
»His name is Jillen a-and he`s ten years old, his h-hair is brown and his eyes are dark brown too and he`s almost up to my chest. He is a good boy … a little explorer, because that is what he wants to become … Lord, and he is constantly wandering around in the village or fields or on the edge of the forest. Gritt says he was wearing a short green pants and a brown shirt today. He´s probably wearing his explorer`s cap, sir, he wouldn´t go anywhere without it. A small, flat, dark red cap I gave him for his eighth birthday two years ago.«
Gritt fell into heavy crying again and Dimitrion noticed that her belly was curving and suspected that she was pregnant.
»Hefrim, you saw the boy running into the mountains?«
»Yes, Lord. I forged some chain links this morning and during a short break the boy walked past my smithy and greeted me politely. I asked him where he was going and he said he saw a squirrel yesterday and today he wanted to look for it again. I wished him good luck and then he ran towards the mountains. That`s all, sir.«
»Thank you, Hefrim. I suggest that we should get Serrin, who is living in the woods and mountains, and she could be very useful to us with her knowledge. We`ll get some more torches and try to find a lead. We don`t have much time before the sun goes down.«
They all agreed and after they had taken Serrin with them, they went looking for the missing boy. In the first hour they found no trace. After two more hours it began to get dark, when they heard the deep voice of Hefrim calling. Immediately all ran to him and the blacksmith held a cap in his hand.
»That looks like the cap of the boy,« said the priest.
They had left the couple in Magruns care, they were too exhausted to participate on a rescue mission.
»Then we have our first lead. The boy was here and something must have happened to him. I can see that the boy must have run towards the village again. The footprints are wider than normal and they come from the southwest. Then he hid behind that tree. The tracks end there and the ground is agitated. We should retrace the trail, maybe we`ll find something to tell us more. Hopefully we will find him before it gets dark and we have to stop the search,« said Dimitrion, and the villagers were amazed by his findings. Very few knew the abilities of other races like the almost extinct elves and dwarves. Most of the villagers were farmers and their land was their lives. »I can also detect traces of something else, but I can`t pinpoint them.«
»Maybe the boy was trying to save himself from a pack of boar. When they see their brood threatened, they attack anything. If the boy is hiding around here, we should find him soon,« said Nirven.
Dimitrion nodded, but he didn`t believed in a pack of boar.
They followed the unknown footprints and the halfelf recognized by the depth that someone must have carried the boy. Besides, he guessed there must have been three of them. After less than half an hour, the tracks ended at a mountain stream. The trees were further apart and they saw the moons rising in the evening sky. The stream was deep and cold. They followed the course of the curve that disappeared after a bend in the rock and continued to flow underground. It had become dark by now and they lit the torches.
»Serrin, do you know where the underground line leads?«
» It`s heading south. We can`t go there, the terrain is too rugged. If I`m right, the stream will not return to the surface until past the mountain range.«
»If the boy fell in or was pushed, he drowned for sure,« whispered the Halfelf. »In any case, we`re ending the search for today. We go back and return tomorrow, then everyone can see more and the more eyes help us, the sooner we may find something,« he shouted to the villagers. On the way back, it began to rain. With a last worried glance he led the group back to the estate. On the way he thought about the traces he had seen. He didn`t know any animal or creature they fit or were native to these forests. There was no blood either, so the boy wasn`t torn by animals. As long as they didn`t know how he had actually been, he assumed that he was still alive and they would find him. Was there a connection between the probable poisoning of the female straban and the disappearance of the weaver`s son?
Caught in his thoughts, Dimitrion noticed the rain only when his wet hair fell into his face. To match today`s day, they would all come home wet and cold.
Magrun and Hildrin were already expecting them with blankets and a bowl of steaming chicken soup. They dried themselves and sipped the steaming soup. The kitchen maid approached Dimitrion. »Lord, I`ve put out new clothes for you.«
»Thank you, Hildrin.«
Hildrin turned red and looked around secretly to see if someone was watching her. It was not appropriate that a landlord showed his maids, at least in public, feelings or even kissed them. Hildrin hurried on to serve the next soup. Dimitrion also became aware of what he had just done, but nobody seemed to have noticed. Except Serrin. She looked over at the halfelf and he saw that she was trying to hide her knowing smile behind the bowl. Magrun told him that she had brought the couple of weavers into a chamber so that the woman could rest.
»When do we want to continue our search tomorrow?«, Jergen asked.
Dimitrion accompanied them to the exit and when everyone had gone, he changed his clothes and went with Magrun to the chamber where the couple was accommodated. Magrun knocked on the door. Kemen opened.
»Lord, you are back. Did you find my son?«, he asked hopefully.
Dimitrion looked down. »Not yet. We only found his cap.« He handed it to him. Kemen ran tears over his cheeks as he held the cap against his chest. Dimitrion felt sorry for the weaver. In the back part of the chamber his wife awoke with red eyes. She recognized the landlord and hurried to the door. »Rest,« said the Halfelf. »Night has come and it´s raining. We´ll continue in the morning. . Do not give up hope. Your son´s all right. He will be hiding in a cave and will have forgotten time when he was on a research trip,« he tried to encourage them.
Gritt leaned against her husband and he embraced her.
»Thank you, Lord,« she said.
»You can stay here in the chamber. The rain makes the paths treacherous and I don´t want you to lose your grip and slip. Magrun will take care of you and bring you something to eat. Rest now, we´ll find your son.«
In the meantime, Magrun had disappeared into the kitchen to come back with bowls of chicken soup. Serrin followed her. She had cups of a bitter smelling tea in her hands and gave them to the couple to drink. Dimitrion left Kemen and Gritt alone and went to the chimney room to warm up. Serrin stepped in and stood next to the sitting halfelf.
»What did you give them to drink?«
»A calming tea. It won´t harm the unborn life.«
»That`s good. A little rest will do us all good.«
Serrin slipped into an armchair. They sat together in silence for a while.
»What do you think, happened to the boy?«
»He was probably dragged into a nest by an animal as prey or he drowned. I have little hope. The facts are simply too unclear to create a reasonable picture of what really happened. I don´t know of any animal that leaves such footprints, and the rain will wash away all other clues.«
»I agree, but we must not give up. People trust you very much. Our last landlord wouldn´t have dared to care about it.«
Dimitrion looked at the herbalist.
»What happened to him? When I took over the land, he was still living in the village, and then one day I didn´t heard from him again.«
Serrin´s eyes flashed briefly.
»Well, who knows? Maybe he just joined the rats he descended from?«
A corner of Serrins mouth twitched unnoticeable.
»Did you …?«
Serrin stood up and walked over to the halfelf.
»Sleep well, lord of the manor.«
She touched him at the shoulder to say goodbye, then she went to the door. She waited briefly.
»Hildrin is a good girl, landlord. She lost her parents early and Magrun took her in and raised her to be a good and lovable person. She deserves an equally good man.«
An old legend came to mind and he asked, «You´re one of the three Graanforest sisters, aren´t you?«
Serrin did not answer his question, but kept talking.
»The boy lives, but he´s already far away. You must hurry if you want to find him in time, lord of the manor,«she answered quietly.
»Where´s the boy?«, the Halfelf asked.
»Far away. That`s all I can tell you. The Graanforest is uneasy. The animals are scared and the trees whisper.«
»And what are the trees whispering about, Serrin?«
But there was no answer. Serrin had gone and Dimitrion was alone in the room. The fire flickered and crackled. The halfelf suddenly had his eyes closed and he fell asleep in the armchair. He rose up and looked around the room in confusion. The moons shone through the windows and the fire was burnt down. He looked up asleep and went to his bedroom. There the next surprise awaited him. He saw a bulge under the sheets and as he approached the bed, something underneath was stirring and he knocked it aside.
Hildrin lay there wearing only a short nightgown and looked at him with shy eyes. The little moonlight shone on her seductive curves and the flickering candlelight lit her beautiful face. After reassuring herself that Dimitrion was returning her feelings, Serrin once again had giving her courage and when everyone had left and the housework was done, she secretly withdrew to the bedroom and waited for him. No further words were necessary. Dimitrion undressed and went to bed. She snuggled up to him and her warmth spread through his body. A delicate lavender scent filled the room. They looked at each other and then they gave themselves completely to love. And when there´s love, there´s also pain.
Following the course of the underground stream, after a dozen meters you came to a place that led to a cave the size of a house. The walls were covered with moss and some light shone through the stream. The boy, tied up and gagged, was laying on the cold ground and watched his sleeping kidnappers anxiously. He rubbed his shackles on a ledge and hoped that the lizards would not wake up. Jillen had fled when the bird began to choke and spit. Without anyone noticing him, he snuck away. Arriving home, he grabbed bread, cheese and sausage. He wanted to stay in the forest for a few days until no one thought of the dead bird any more. Mom and Dad would be very angry and when dad was angry with him, which was rarely the case, he put Jillen over his knee and then he couldn`t sit properly for a week. The creature was moving. Jillen held still. But the creature kept sleeping. Jillen cut the ropes faster and faster and he felt that the fibres were beginning to break loose. It couldn`t be long before he was finally free. Luckily, they had not tied his legs that would give him more time to flee. The boy saw the creature moving again. But this time he continued to cut open his shackles.
They broke away from his wrists and he was free. Free. He took the gag out of his mouth and as he rubbed his deaf hands, he collected saliva. The gag left his mouth dreadfully dry and his hands hurt. Jillen slowly crawled towards the creek. A meter, then two. Jillen`s heart pounded loudly. Then he was at the creek and he was about to jump in when he heard a hissing sound behind him. His heart stopped and Jillen jumped away desperately. Too late. A claw grabbed him and pulled him back into the cave. A second, angry hissing sounded and the last thing the boy saw was a claw hand snapping at his head.