“Once you pass the millstream, I can no longer protect you,” Darret said regretfully.
“You have been more than generous with your help already,” Ariand said with a smile before giving the big blacksmith a hug.
“I hope you will find what you are after beyond the hills,” he said. He then handed her a bundle of bread and cheese his wife had prepared and turned so she couldn’t see the fear in his eyes.
Ariand quickly crossed over the mill course and headed into the hills beyond.
The next day Finders from the guild arrived and questioned the villagers about the blue-haired girl that had passed that way. Most villagers answered honestly that they knew nothing of such a girl, but when Darret’s wife, Darla attempted to make a similar claim the hooded Finder took a look at his blackthorn staff and shook his head disapprovingly. Before she really knew what was happening Darla blurted out that the girl had spent two nights at the forge and that her husband had led her to the village boundary the previous morning.
“Where did you take the girl?” a Finder snapped at the huge smith.
“What girl?” Darret inquired.
The Finder looked at his staff, then at Darret, then at the staff again. He then with some confusion looked to one of his two companions, who came and placed the tip of his own staff againt the carvings of the first man’s staff.
“Where did you take the girl with the blue hair?”
“Surely you are mad. No one has blue hair, though Maggi at the tavern has red locks,” the smith said.
The third staff was added and Darret was asked the question for a third time. While the lead Finder momentarily caught a glimpse of a sapphire-maned figure in his mind’s eye it was too fleeting to make sense of.
“Where did you take Ariand?” he shouted.
“Oh, Ariand. Why didn’t you say so?” the blacksmith replied smugly. “I saw her off on the Port Road. She said she wanted to sail far away. Can’t say I blame her personally, always wanted to see the world myself too.”
The ploy bought the girl a little time, but it was not long until the Finders were back on her trail, and headed into the mountains just before an untimely snow-storm brought their search to an end.