It would be good to see Guarf again, Matty considered with anticipation. The grueling, noxious grit of Blade’s Edge, and the sharp edges of Terrokar Forest had left her feeling drained and anemic. Guarf’s bolstering hospitality was just the antidote. Her tour of duty wasn’t completed yet, but she needed respite.
Threads of wispy cobwebs spooled bony leaves around the doorstep, making interesting spindle figurines on either side of the threshold. Matty frowned. This wasn’t like Guarf to leave the outside of his home looking unkempt. Rubbery weeds grew in the bushes, and the crocuses seemed already wilted, though it was their time to bloom and thrive. She tried the door—locked. Under a small clay dragon statue he kept a key. “As if this would fool a thief,” she thought, owing that the dragon figurine was garish and obvious. But the key was missing.
Walking around to the back, the latch on the gate was unhinged, opening up apprehension. The back window curtains were drawn, and no light peeked out. A cat hissed at her, and bolted to the Widow Shannon’s next door. Following quickly, perhaps the Widow would know where Guarf was, or at least be able to let her in.
As Matty knocked on the door, the cat that had hissed now circled arabesques and plies between her hooves. The Widow opened her big oak door, and greeted Matty warmly, but with a slight furrow in her brow.
“Aye, it’s Mataoka! Good to see you, girl!”
“Pardon me, Mrs. Shannon, but please, I don’t mean to interrupt your supper time, but I was looking for Guarf. Normally he leaves a key for me, but it’s gone. You don’t have any news from him, do you?”
“No, lassie, I am sorry. He took off in a hurry, only asking me to keep the key and his cat safe. He didn’t seem too upset, but he didn’t seem too happy either. I’ll fetch the key for you, if you plan on staying a while.” And she bustled off, the cat following close behind. (Cats know where their next meals come from, and this one decided to hedge his bets and stick close to the big Dwarf lady.) Matty thanked her, and left, a little surprised the Widow didn’t invite her in for supper.
When she entered, the whole place was fairly tidy, but the dust sprites overpopulated the realm of his kingdom. She began to look for clues. The piles of books were still everywhere, but less laundry. There was a pipe in the smoking dish, and the box of matches was open. The kitchen was orderly, but a butter knife, sticky with marmalade, and a cup festooned with tea-leaf confetti, inhabited the sink, and seemed almost embarrassed when Matty spied them, as if they had been caught in an indecent act. Her room was clean, but his, she didn’t want to open the door, afraid…afraid of what? That he would be in there, sick, or worse? She shut the thought down immediately, and opened the door. Nothing. The bed was made to military precision, cut corners and sharp pillows, looking more like a granite statue of a bed than a soft nest. She left, but kept the door open, (maybe subconsciously so no mental ghosts would sneak in and she would have to go through the dread all over again), and went to the weapons’ cases. All spotless, save for a few missing, or, she hoped, being used in good stead by their owner. Guarf never went anywhere without his best armor, so Matty took this as a hopeful sign.
But, there was this: from what she could surmise, no note, no explanation was to be found. She did the unthinkable and sat in his chair.
From this vantage point, she spied it. On the mantelpiece, behind the Knights of the Silver Hand commendations, a stiff white linen envelope, with her name on it, written in formal, school-taught script, the kind of handwriting that is beat into the fingers of those who begin their disciplined training at very young ages.
It only said: Matty, I’ll be gone for a while. Be polite to the widow, and don’t worry. All will be well. Guarf
No mention of where he went, why, or for how long. If she could have measured time in dust specs, she would have guess he’d been gone almost a month. She could easily go next door and ask the Widow, but this was almost her home, as Guarf allowed, and she just wanted to stay.
And she wanted to sit and think.
The house was the kind of quiet where mouse whispers can be heard. The clock had not been wound in some time, so the ticking had ceased. She just listened to the quiet. A rush, a whoosh, and a skittering of more leaves to increase the tapestry of webs and dried petals announced some thick spring rain.
“Think about this logically,” she told herself, not realizing she was talking to herself out loud. She knew he was a faithful paladin, so perhaps there was some call to service or ceremony he wanted to attend, and perhaps had left in a hurry because he didn’t want to miss it. He was also a fun-loving Dwarf, so maybe there was some secret Dwarf custom or festivities that he wanted to attend. She dismissed those two because first of all, if there were something to do with paladins Luperci would have told her, and boasted of it. Shamans are rarely celebrated. And, if it were a secret Dwarf society function, wouldn’t the Widow be in attendance, too?
Or maybe…it was a woman. That would explain why the Widow seemed a bit put out, and the quick exit he seemed to have made. Matty couldn’t imagine it a union between the Widow and Guarf, but shrugged, what do butter knives and teacups have to say to one another, either?
Matty decided to dust, clean up, crack open a window and let in some spring air, although it was cold. What she didn’t know was, and what she should have known, was that it was indeed a woman, a young woman at that, but not in the way she may have suspected. It was just somebody who needed help in a dire time, and Guarf was being a true and loyal friend, as usual. He was after all, a paladin.