"So why are you after Herndon?" Cayle asked after they had been traveling for a while.
"It's complicated." Deanna replied in a terse voice that said that she did not want to discuss it. But Cayle was bored and feeling stubborn.
"I like complicated stories." He said.
"Too bad." She said, urging Krennan a little ahead of Cayle.
"Oh come on," He said, smiling. "You can't even give me a hint?"
"Nope." She threw back over her shoulder. "And if you were smart, you'd be focusing on how we're going to get Marianna."
He fell silent. She had a point, a very good point.
"Any idea where this Harriet might be keeping her?" He asked, urging his own horse forward.
"No," Deanna said with a frown. "I suspect a basement, as I didn't see a barn nearby."
"What do we do when we get there?" He asked. "Storm the place, swords twirling?"
"I was thinking a more subtle approach." She replied.
"Oh?" He prompted.
"Well, she hasn't met you yet, and if she saw me again she might get suspicious." She said. "I was thinking that if I could get passed her, I could investigate the backroom."
"So I'm the diversion?" He said.
"Pretty much." She said.
"Well, at least I have a purpose." He said.
* * *
When Cayle opened the door, he was hit by a variety of smells: ale, sweat, and smoke, both from pipes and the fireplace he could see as he walked towards the bar.
He stood at the bar, looking around the room, trying to surreptitiously spot Deanna, but there were several cloaked patrons, making spotting her difficult.
He saw someone seated in a corner, and thought he caught a flash of blonde hair when someone coughed at the bar, dragging his attention away from the crowd.
"Hello." A young woman said. She was pretty, with shoulder-length chestnut hair and sparkling gray eyes. She didn't look like a manipulative killer.
"Hi," He said, smiling his best smile.
"What can I get you?" She said, returning the smile.
"You're name, for starters." He said, his grin turning slightly impish.
She laughed. "My name is Harriet."
"A pretty name for a pretty girl." He said, earning himself another laugh.
"Well, aren't you smooth." She said.
"I'll have an ale, if you please."
"Coming right up." She said, turning to the massive shelves on her right, filled to the brim with alcohol.
Cayle sensed someone walk passed him, but dare not look, for fear that the slight movement of his head would draw Harriet's attention.
She turned back to him with a glass of ale. "Will there be anything else?"
"Depends," He said, sipping the ale. It was bitter and tasted like it's expiration date had come and went, but he didn't let his disgust show. "What do you recommend?"
She smiled. "Well, we have several specials available, would you like me to get you a menu?"
She turned to go to the backroom.
"No." He said sharply, making her turn back, a frown now creasing her face. "I would prefer if you could tell me."
"Why?" She asked, sounding suspicious now.
"Well, if I were to request a menu, then you would have to go and get it, depriving me of your presence." He said, smiling again. Internally, he was kicking himself for being so obvious, hoping that she would believe him.
She smiled in return again as she leaned on the bar. "Well, that's a bit unusual, but you're cute, so, just this once."
He only half-listened to what she listed, his thoughts distracted, hoping that Deanna would be able to find Marianna.
* * *
Deanna sat in the corner, her hood pulled up as far as it could go, watching as Cayle approached the bar and began speaking with Harriet.
She heard Harriet laugh at something Cayle had said. Flirting with Harriet, she corrected.
When Harriet turned to get him something to drink, she took her chance and quickly walked over to the bar, passing Cayle, and keeping a close eye on Harriet, lest she turn around and recognize her, even though she had her hood pulled up.
She made it into the backroom with no trouble, all the waitresses were on the floor, running orders and refilling drinks.
She looked around the small backroom, her eyes falling on a trapdoor.
She walked over and grabbed the handle, opening it as quietly as she could, casting anxious glances over her shoulder, hoping a waitress, or Harriet, didn't come back to get something or to investigate the noise.
The trapdoor revealed a short set of stairs, which she walked down, closing the door as she climbed down.
It was dark in the cellar and she felt around for something and found an oil lamp.
She felt in her pocket for her flint and lit the small wicker in the lamp, holding it in front of her as she took in her surroundings: she was in a food cellar.
She looked around, but there was no sign of Marianna.
She did a thorough inspection, but aside from some evidence of mice, there was no sign of the princess.
She was about to leave when she noticed a door that had been more or less camouflaged so as to go unnoticed.
She hurried over and noticed a padlock that had been purposely allowed to rust, so that it didn't reflect light anymore.
She pulled out her lock picking tools from her pocket, glad she had decided to bring them instead of leaving them in her saddlebag, and got to work.
She heard footsteps and froze.
She heard the cellar door open and she ducked down behind some wooden boxes, using her cloak to shield the light of the oil-lamp from view.
A waitress walked over to a water-tight box, taking a key out of her pocket, she unlocked it and pulled out something that looked like cheese, before quickly closing the lid and re-locking it, returning upstairs.
Deanna let out the breath she had been holding as the cellar went dark.
She walked back over to the door and set to work again. She was rewarded by a faint 'click' as the padlock unlocked.
She pulled the lock off and pushed the door open.
Inside was a small room, with a wooden pole set up in the middle.
She stared at the pole and started cursing.
The room was empty.