Marri thanked him and made her way up the road, turned north and soon found herself at the door of Bingo Mossbelly. Said door was open and looking in, she could see the glassblower himself setting up his equipment and preparing his workshop for the day. Noises came from the kitchen behind him and Marri caught the occasional glimpse of a halfling woman bustling around.
Marri, always curious about everything, watched for a few moments, fascinated by the beautiful and delicate objects in the shop, and by the glassblower himself as he set up to begin working. Finally, a little afraid of breaking something, she moved cautiously into the shop. "Good day to you," she began cheerfully, "Quite beautiful things in here though I'm a bit afraid of breaking something! I'm looking for Patricia, if you please. I've a question for a priestess of our dear, plump Lady of the Cauldron!"
"Patty," called the glassblower, "someone to see you! I'm Bingo, sorry I can't shake hands at the moment." He shrugged with arms ful.
Patricia came out from the kitchen and Marri saw both the traditional triangle-over-a-line symbol of Esmeralda and the stylized grain sheaf of Charlemagnus, Esmeralda's son, usually just called Charlie, whose domain was Harvest and Brewing - and who was the closest thing the halflings had to a death god, which wasn't very close. "Good morning, Mistress," said the woman. "I'm Patricia Mossbelly. Would you like some breakfast while we talk?"
Although Marri had already eaten, she brightened up at the mention of food, and answered enthusiastically "I should love some!"
"Then come in and sit down," said the cheerful looking halfling. Soon the two were settled over a comfortable table with herbal tea in hand and fresh scones with butter and honey in hand. Marri looked up to find Patty regarding her with a penetrating gaze. "Now, what can I help you with?" she said with a twinkle in her eye as she leaned back in her chair.
Marri finished the bite of the excellent scone she was chewing while she considered what to say to the priestess. Making a decision, she settled on the truth and gave the priestess a very abbreviated version of how she had come to know Alistair. As she finished the last scone, she concluded her story with "And so we are extremely worried about him! We came here, Tibbi, I am sure you've heard about my talkative friend, and I, to see if we might find out something to help us help him! I had hoped for a bit of discretion, but," she sighed, "that is simply not something Tibbi is capable of, I am afraid. If Alastair is in trouble, we may be drawing that same trouble to us, or we may have to chase it to help him. I suppose some might think I have been a bit indiscreet in talking to you this way, but I do so very much hope that you may help us, and I would not want to put you in any danger without letting you know that you might be."
Patty listened to all of Marri's story with nods and the occasional sympathetic noise. When Marri finished, she considered a moment. "Alistair was here, that much you know. He did leave abruptly and that is a concern. I'll help you as much as I can. What can I do?"
"We do know he was here," Marri said eagerly having found someone she hoped would have more specific information to share, "but not exactly when, nor how long he stayed. Did he talk to anyone while he was here? Did he talk to you? Make any mention at all of where he might be going? Did he make any purchases? Were there any other strangers in the village at that time? Did he look concerned or worried? Was there any indication if he left by boat or by land? Did he have a horse? Did anyone threaten him? Did he threaten anyone? Did anything else strange happen at the time? Did he leave anything here - clothing or books or...."
Marri paused to draw breath.
"Slow down, slow down. Haste burns the meat," she said. "Now. Willy Hayfoot would know exactly when and how long he stayed and if he left anything. He talked to a few people, he was asking some odd questions. We talked a bit a few times, he wanted to know if anything strange had been happening, but he was particularly interested in things that had happened ten years or so ago. What else ... he arrived by boat, but I don't know how he left."
"You're right of course!" Marri said blushing. "I do get a bit carried away sometimes. But," she continued," I am very worried. May I ask what kind of odd questions? I mean... what made them odd? And did anything odd happen ten years ago?"
"Well, I think it was ten years ago he first visited. I moved here eight years ago when Clement Gandergoose went to the Great Kitchen. In fact," she mused, "my first duty was to officiate at his burial. As to the questions, he was asking about anything odd. That's odd because nothing odd happens here, and we like it that way. We haven't had raiders in many many years, few strangers since the coach road doesn't run this way ..." she kind of trailed off. "We were going to talk again, but he went away before we could. I think he had some specific 'odd things' to ask about."
"But he didn't have the time to ask them. Oh dear." Marri thought for a moment. "I don't suppose Alastair happened to mention where he was coming from? Oh, and exactly when did he disappear?"
"He came in the boat from the west. What do you mean, when? What day or what time of day? I don't know in either case. He was always a wanderer, often out walking before most folks were out of bed. Sometime the first time I'd see him was when he returned from a ramble at noon or later."
"Well," Marri said, "is there anything specific you can think of that might help us find him? We don't know when he left, or how, or what direction he went, or what he was interested in. I feel as if we are chasing a bit of flour someone has thrown into the wind."
Patty nodded sypmathetically. "If I think of anything, I'll certainly let you know."
The two finished their snacks and Marri left the glassblowers. Down the street, at the wharf, she saw Tibbo just finishing up a chat with the gaffer there, and she went to meet him.
The two finished their snacks and Marri left the glassblowers. Marri reviewied what little she'd learned, thinking to herself, "Oh dear, I do hope Tibbi's had better luck."
Tibbo, meanwhile, had risen later and made his own inquiries afer breakfast before heading down almost to the Three Poles, since the last building but one was the smithy of Sam Curlback. When he arrived, Sam, watched by two young girls, was in the process of hammering out what looked to Tibbo like a spit or some sort of fire iron.
Tibbiddo watched for a bit, admiring the man's rhythmic cadence. Once he stopped to evaluate his work, Tibbiddo spoke up "You strike a good iron, friend." The halfling leaned up against the ledge and smiled in admiration, "Tibbiddo Stoutwaddle, of the Greenhill Stoutwaddles, I couldn't help but come over and see the man behind the beautiful sound."
The smith gave the iron two more sharp strokes, pulled it out and set it over an anvil, gave it another pair of firm blows with the hammer and seemed satisfied. He turned to quench it and then turned back to Tibbo with a smile. "You're the talker, then, staying at Hayfoot's."
"Aye, that I am," beamed Tibbiddo. "Always on the lookout for a good yarn to spin, I suspect you have heard your share and seen even more."
"Seen some, heard some, too," said the smith.
"Perhaps you know the story of a friend of mine," began Tibbiddo adopting a tone reminiscent of a lifelong friend. "At Hayfoot's they said he was a regular who up and disappeared unannounced. Most strange, and I fear trouble. Alastair's his name, heard of him?"
Tibbiddo took great care to study the smith, trying to get a read on his demeanor. Was there a change at the mention of Alastair, or was the man guarded to begin with? Reading people had often paid off for the halfling, a skill his uncle staked (and lost) his life on.
The smith seemed friendly enough, just reticent. Tibbo saw no change in his demeanor at the mention of Alistair. "Alistair? The tall man, wears a lot of grey, stayed at Hayfoot's? I know him, in passing. Seemed a nice sort. Came in by boat one day, stayed a few days then left."
"Yes, yes, that is what I heard. Left quickly, so I hear," commented Tibbiddo wistfully. "Do you know of anyone he spoke to when he was last here? Perhaps the captain of the boat, do you recall the name of the vessel?"
"Hmm. No, don't recall the ship. Old Dinky Pottlenose would though, he's the gaffer who sits all day on the wharf. You might ask Willy Hayfoot who else he talked to," said the smith.
"Very well then," said a satisfied Tibbiddo clapping his hands together as if he had just done a day's work. "Strike true and hard, and keep the bellows a-blowin'" commented the halfling as he began toward the wharf whistling some nautical sounding tune.
Tibbo had passed Dinky Pottlenose several times over the last few days but took this approach as an opportunity to look him over well. An older halfling, he was comfortably ensconced in a chair on the wharf near a canopy under which he could move if the weather was inclement or the sun too hot. A half barrel served as a table on which rested a few snacks, of course, and some pipeweed. The pipe itself was in Dinky's mouth as he ruminatively blew smoke rings and watched a fishing boat tack upriver.
Tibbiddo reached to his belt and procured the pouch of elven smoking herbs, hailing Dinky with a friendly shout. "Good day old timer, tis a good day for the seas," he said taking in a deep breath of the breeze. "Try some of this," he offered tossing the herbs to the barrel top.
The gaffer cocked an eye up at the gregarious halfing. "Hardly the seas, youngster, but a fine day to be on the river." He picked up the pouch and sniffed it. "Hmm. Dwarvish?" he asked, beginning to tap out his pipe. "Pull up a seat, my boy. I'm Dinky Pottlenose."
Dinky preened just a bit, "I daresay there's been some exaggeration, but I had a pretty good name up and down the river in my day."
"I suppose many claimed your friendship without ever meeting you, but I have to ask," fed Tibbiddo to man's ego, "did you know a Nobbo Stoutwaddle, he was my uncle." Tibbiddo tut-tutted, "May he rest in peace."
Dinky considered carefully, "I have to say I don't recall the name, but I met a great many people. Was he a riverman?"
"He considered himself a man of many careers, he might have said so," Tibbiddo answered truthfully knowing his uncle's penchant for stretching the truth. "Dinky, if I may call you that, another old friend came through these parts a while back and I was hoping you could help me find out what happened to him. Alastair, a fellow in gray, is the man."
"Oh, aye, Alistair," Dinky shook his head. "I've not the foggiest idea where he went. Excepting this, he didn't leave by water."
"How long did he stay? was there something different about this last trip that your eye picked out? I hear he left suddenly," Tibbiddo asked hanging every word Dinky was able to churn out.
"Asking more questions than usual, you say. To whom and about what?" asked the halfling.
"Everyone. He was always chatty. I though it was neighborly, but some might call it nosy. He spent some time to talking to Patty Mossbelly, the priestess. She married to Bingo the glassblower. He was staying at Hayfoot's and doubtless talked to Willy. I saw him talking to Lanky Fishbarrel and his son, Shorty," the gaffer pointed his pipe at the fishing boat. Oh, and Dopey Picklejaeger! Dopey was in town, selling some furs to the boat that Alistair came in on. I didn't hear too much of what they said, not being the nosey type myself," the old man said blithely indifferent to the fact that Tibbo nearly coughed himself senseless at this whopper. "But he was asking them, since they get around the most, if they'd seen anything strange in the area. I once saw a cucumber shaped like Waldo Riverheel's late mother's face. That was pretty strange. Good cook, but not what you'd call an attractive woman. Looked a little like a cucumber."
"A cucumber?" Tibbiddo winced at the mere thought of such a thing. "Is Dopey Picklejaeger in town? perhaps he is due in soon. I bet he could help me track down chatty Alastair."
"I haven't seen him today, but he might be. If he isn't he'll probably be in in a day or two. Check the Three Poles, that's where he usually stays and drinks and eats."
"That I shall," said Tibbiddo smoothing his outfit and bidding his host goodbye with a tip of the cap. The halfling looked up the road and saw Marri coming out of the glassblowers. He went to meet her. "Hail, there fair maiden!" he said at the top of his lungs drawing some looks. As he got closer he spoke in more hushed tones, "Have you found out anything about Alastair?"
Glancing around, she answered just as quietly, "Not as much as I would have hoped! Patty could really tell me little more than we had already learned in the tavern, I'm afraid! I hope you learned more!"
Tibbiddo, in lengthy discourse, filled Marri in on what he had learned from the old salt. Following that, he said "I was on my way to see if Dopey was still in town and could shed some light on their conversation. Care to accompany me?"
Marri considered for a moment then answered, "I suspect you may learn more alone." With a bright smile, as much for any onlookers as her friend, she continued a little louder "I think I'll return to the Inn."
Marri returned to Hayfoot's, were she found Weedy and Goosey tending to the daily chores of the Inn.
After chatting idly with the innkeepers, Marri settled down in the common room with a large mug of hot tea, and looked around to see if there seemed to be anyone new about. It was during the busy part of the day, so the room was fairly empty. She settled in with a sigh to think.
The Three Poles was a smaller establishment, Tibbo found, than Hayfoot's. It provided no rooms, and prided itelf rather on its food (which was excellent) rather than its beer (which was merely very good.) It was overseen by a husband and wife team, Berold and Wanda Plumpfanny, and one or the other was always in the kitchen while the other ranged about the room serving food and drink.
Tibbiddo came in and looked about The Three Poles, taking in the atmosphere. The halfling found an open seat and waved for a drink, and upon catching a whiff of what was cooking a bowl of that as well.
There were a number of things cooking, but the barley pottage was hot and ready. To call such a sublime blending of barley, chicken and leeks a simple barley pottage was a crime, for the skill of the cooks elevated it to art.
A spoonful found its way into Tibbiddo's mouth and the inspired exhaltation of its flavor was heard by all. "Mmmm-mmm-mmm! this is fantastic!" the halfling shouted before thrusting another serving into his gaping maw. In between his shoveling he called out, "my compliments to the chef, this is amazing!"
"Thankee, sir," said Wanda "Berold! Another convert!" A chuckle from the kitchen was the reply.
Tibbiddo slurped the last of his ambrosial meal and approached Wanda, dragging his sleeve across his chin. "That was good enough to serve across the realms! better than the fine meals served in merchant houses far and wide."
"Tibbiddo Stoutwaddle, of the Greenhill Stoutwaddles," he said by way of introduction with a bow. "I had heard this the place to find someone, and instead I have found a meal fit for a king!"
"You'll be the talker staying at Hayfoot's, then," said Wanda. "Glad you liked the meal. Who is it you're looking for, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Not at all," he bellowed and then leaned close as if entrusting her with a big secret. "I heard tell that Dopey Picklejaeger spoke to Alastair the Gray before the latter did leave abruptly. Tis the former I seek, to learn about the latter," he whispered looking about the establishment. Leaning back, he winked and said loudly, "that recipe would be worth a fortune along the trails I've walked!"
"So it's Dopey y'want? I h'aint seen him for a few days now, so he's about due, I would think. He allus drops in for a bite when he comes to town. I'll be happy to pass the word that you're looking for him," said Wanda.
"Most agreeable," said Tibbiddo with a nodding head. He patted his ample belly and once again thanked Wanda for the delicious meal before leaving The Three Poles and seeking out Marri to inform her that whatever lead he might have would take some more time.
He found her at Hayfoot's sipping meditatively on a cup of tea.
Plopping down beside her, Tibbiddo began telling her about the delicious meal and finally got around to the point. "She said that Dopey is due in soon, but that isn't very exact, I'm afraid. How long should we continue to chase this hare about the field?"
Marri listened carefully, envying her fellow halfling the wonderful meal he desc ribed in such detail.
"In fact, I have been pondering that very question," she said with a sigh, a lit tle frown between her eyes. "But we have learned so little! What will we tell ou r companions, where go next?" Shaking her head, the little halfling looked about as dejected as Tibbi had ever seen her.
"There there," he consoled, "I'm sure our friends have learned much more than we. In fact, I suspect Herger is buying Alastair a drink even as we speak." Tibbiddo could tell most fabrications with a timbre of truth, but even he found that whopper hard to fathom. "Perhaps we could wait for this Dopey fellow, give him a day and see what he might be willing to share. In the meantime, you must dine with me at The Three Poles; I am quite the favored son there, as you can imagine."
"I can imagine!" she said, appreciating Tibbi's effort to cheer her up. "And certainly a fine meal makes the time pass more quickly! If we are to stay for a bit longer, let us enjoy our fellow halfings' wonderful food and drink while we may. For," and here she lowered her voice, "who knows when we may dine so well again, if things go as it looks like they may, and we are off after our friend?"