James did not tarry in the village, but led his new friends through it, along the main road. He gave brief replies to those who greeted him on his way through, but kept them going, not stopping to chat even to those who seemed to be trying to start a conversation. They did not look happy to see a goblin in the village, but seemed contact enough that its hands were tied and it would be unable to cause any trouble. The goblin looked just as displeased to be there, and was only more irritated that it could not stop to rest.
“James,” Cerys whispered to him hoarsely, “what is the rush? Why can’t we stop to talk?”
He looked down at her for a moment, and then turned his eyes forward again. “I will explain the details when we get to the manor house. For now, at least let me get you there before night is upon us.”
“You keep mentioning that we should not be out after dark,” Cerys replied. “What happens during the night in Carawick.”
Shaking his head, he did not answer her. They had come to the northern gate of the village, were the great, wide doors stood closed. James called to the guards, and then stepped away from Cerys to talk to them.
“Let us through, soldier. My father the baron needs to meet my party right away.”
“But sir, the gates are closed,” one of the guards replied. “The sun is nearly down.”
“Then it is not yet night,” James told him, the urgency clear in the way he spoke. “Open them enough for us to pass, and you may lock them again.”
“Your father would not want you take a risk like this,” the other guard added. “You know that any one of the taverns would make all of you welcome guests for the night.”
“I do know that. All the same, time is of the essence. I can hold my own out there, and look after my friends.” He grasped his blade as he said those words, as though that were explanation enough for them. “Now let us pass.”
The guards looked to one another. Even with their helmets covering much of their faces, Cerys thought that they did not look at all pleased with the situation. Still, they did as they had been ordered. One of them climbed back into the towers to operate the gears for the gate, while the other planted himself near the narrow opening.
“Safe journey, sir,” he said as the even-foot-tall door slowly creaked open. “Hail to Baron Lexavier pf Carawick!”
“Hail to the Baron of Carawick!” the other guard called back from the tower.
James nodded to them, and then grabbed Cerys’s hand. “Let’s go,” he said, and led her through the narrow opening. He had the goblin still in tow, and Himeko, Peter, and Bayani followed them through. The door was quickly pulled shut again, followed by the sounds of extra security measures being taken. Cerys guess that it was a wooden bar across both doors, and some kind of chains and locks, from the sounds she heard.
James drew in a long a breath, and with an air of complete seriousness told them, “Now is the time for us to hurry. The darkened landscape is no place to find yourself, no matter how hard my father works to keep Carawick safe. I cannot explain it right now. You’ll either see it for yourself, or I will tell you once we are in the manor house. Keep alert, and don’t stop moving.”
The last of the daylight was quickly fading, and everyone nodded. They started along the path leading into the north. The road was straight and true, and though the manor house was not too far away, the fact that only James knew what happened after sunset was nerve-wracking. They were quiet, as though noise might be what attracted trouble. Or was there anything to attract? Why was not knowing so much worse than knowing?