The tower

"Which way then, druid?" said Lianna as they stopped at the edge of the cleared zone.  The trees were mostly nut trees; walnuts, hazelnuts and hickory nuts -- it was clear why the clearance had stopped when it reached them.  Mirko pointed, roughly south-west.

"You can sense the tower?" said Venne, lifting his head and looking interested.

"No, but the land slopes downwards in that direction, and flattens out over there.  We could see that back where we met the wolves.  If you're going to build a tower out here, you need to be near water, and you'll get bigger pools and wider rivers where the land starts to flatten."

"Oh."  Venne looked disappointed, and Lianna snorted.

"Hah, well, let's hope you're right then druid, because if we've not found it by dark we're camping out, and I don't see a tent between us."

They started off again, feet snapping dry twigs and rustling leaf litter, and the dry, earthy smell of the forest rose around them.  Mirko kept looking around, checking for signs of passage; James Wickhold had said that people had found the tower already.  For a few minutes he wondered if they were going the wrong way, and then he spotted a broken branch slightly to their left, and then a blue thread a little further left again.

"More left, I think," he said, and Lianna changed their course without a word.

The forest lightened ahead of them, and Lianna slowed them down.  They halted just inside the forest's edge, and looked at the clearing in front of them.  A tower rose three, maybe four stories high, just tall enough for a man on its roof to see over the tops of the trees, and the stonework splayed out in strange arching branches at the top, as though it wanted to be a tree itself.  There was something organic about it, as it it hadn't been shaped by human hands, and Mirko was struck by a sudden feeling of loneliness and loss.  On the far side of the tower the ground became rocky and rose slightly, and the rush of water could be heard.  A door was set into the tower facing them, wooden, iron-bound and closed, and narrow slit windows rose up until the strange, stone distortion at the top.  There window opened as bulbous ovals, like split, ripe grapes.

"Strange that Sir Wickhold never mentioned the unusual design of this tower," said Venne quietly.  "His men must have noticed it."

"Hah, and had he mentioned it I'd have asked for more money than just four crowns.  Now I wonder just what we'll find in here."

"He said his men had been in and looked around."

"We'll see the truth of that soon enough.  That door doesn't look like it's opened recently."

"Then let's get on," said Venne.  "Standing here isn't getting us any closer."

Lianna nodded, and drew her sword.  She edged forward, scanning the clearing, spending time studying the ground where it grew rocky, and only gradually crossing the ground between the forest and the door.  At the door she stared at it, and then looked at Venne.

"Well?  You said your apprentice skills could be used for other purposes."

Venne shot a quick glance at Mirko who didn't react, but turned away to watch the forest.  Venne approached the door and made a careful study of it without actually touching it anywhere.  Then he ran his hands lightly over the doorframe and the lintel, stopping at the top, surprised.  He stepped back, holding something.

"The door seems safe enough to me," he said, "and Lady Luck appears to be favouring us.  He opened his hand, showing a key.

The End

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