There was one thing that Runarian was better at than the other pages... probably, though he didn't know it, better at than most of the citizens of Elmwic. Runarian could read. Both his mother and father were literate and had a considerable inventory of books for people of their class. His mother read him stories since before he could remember, out of a family heirloom called "Scriblings on the Fae-folk"... but she never read him the end of the stories, she would always stop before the last page. As a result Runarian learned to read by the age of two and a half, desperate for the elusive conclusions.
His favorite story was "The Demon Bard." This was a rather gruesome tale of an evil Fae who visited villages on Crows Day, and would sing a spell that drew all of the children of the village into the graves-yard. Once there he would ask the children riddles, any child who couldn't solve the riddles was gobbled up on the spot. Runarian loved this story because he liked solving the riddles, once solved he would memorize the riddles and their answers so that he would be safe if when the Demon Bard came.
At Elmwic, there was not much to read, nor much time for it. There was a very small library run by Brother Palinor, the Vicar of the Keep, in which were housed a few old tomes, scrolls, and of course, the Vicar's own copy of the Writ of Eoh. But the library was mostly used for Elmwics financial record keeping. Runarian was not officially allowed in the library, pages had a history of not respecting the serenity of such a place, so Palinor had caught Runarian lurking out in the hall on several occasions, and finally pressed the lad into asking if he could read some of the books.
At first Palinor thought he was being mocked.
"You must think me an old fool? What did the other boys bet you to bother the old scholar? A day's work cleaning stables perhaps?" the Vicar chastised suspiciously.
Runarian was at a loss, flummoxed by the accusation. "I, no... I just... there aren't any books in the stables..."
Palinor raised an aging eyebrow, and withdrew a correspondence he had received that morning. "Pick up a few letters, have you? Tell me what you can make out here." The vicar handed over the small scroll.
Runarian unrolled the parchment carefully and looked at it for a brief moment. Palinor watched him intently, he had expected, at best, for the page to scrunch up his face and possibly make out the first embellished figure of the note, but was surprised to see fluid comprehension in the boys eyes. What's more, the young page was not reading aloud or sounding out words, and the old Vicar concluded that there was something of a special case before him.
Runarian read the note twice over, to be certain he understood it's full meaning, before responding. "It's from a Brother Altuous at Hellsmuth. There was apparently, a raid by some people called 'The Orik?' They're asking for medicinal herbs to help treat the injured. What's darjalen-tongue?"
Brother Altuous raised both eyebrows now, the boy had pronounced 'Darjalen' correctly, with the silent 'J'.
"It's a flower that grows near streams here. Very useful as an anesthetic" he responded plainly.
The boy tilted his head, reminding the Vicar of a small bird, or possibly a cat considering a bird. "What does it look like?"
"Darjalen-tongue? 'Has a wide green stem, star shaped leaves... " began the vicar...
"... And a yellow flower with a red stamen?" the lad interrupted.
"Yes." said the Vicar with deadpan astonishment.
"Would you like me to bring you some? I think I've seen it in the woods out passed where the pages practice archery."
Now the Vicar folded his arms. "Yes, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to restock after I send what we have to Hellsmuth..."
The boy nodded. Then looked hesitant. Then gave back the letter, stiffly. "Do you think..." he began, then paused considering his next words very carefully. "Would it be, not too inappropriate or imposing... for me to perhaps help you in the library some times?"
The Vicar now had a conundrum. Pages were not allowed in the library and he did not wish to set a precedent, also Knights were a bit sensitive about their personal servants doing work for anyone else, they considered it akin to borrowing their livestock or armor without permission. But first there were some puzzles that needed answers, or at least speculations he wished to confirm.
"You are the candle-makers son, aren't you?" The Vicar asked candidly.
"I saw your father's clock. An ingenious little piece of wax-work if I may say so."
Runarian nodded again, never quite sure how to respond when someone brought up the candle-clock.
"Then you are sir Aeduuard's page now..." began the Vicar, rhuminating on what to do next, "... as such you have duties to him exclusively. That is the way of things.
The page had an expression on his face like a child watching their favorite pet-animal flayed alive.
The Vicar continued. "Though I suppose... If a page were to be absolutely certain all of his duties were accomplished, and obligations obliged... I do believe he is allotted a bit of his own time a few days a week?"
Runarian brightened and nodded.
"Then I suppose it is not up to me where a page spent his time, so long as he were not to step foot in the library... which is a keep rule, and we must abide by rules... but I believe the small chapel next door is not off limits... or am I incorrect?" The vicar asked with the genesis of a smile and a twinkle in his eyes.
Runarian shook his head almost comically. "No, that is... you are not incorrect, your reasoning is sound by my counting."
"Well then, " the Vicar had finished, taking back the scroll... "If a page were to find himself there some evenings with some extra Darjalen root... or... or whatever herbs the medicinal cabinets might require, he might, by sheer coincidence happen upon a tome or a scroll that an aging old vicar might leave just lying about. Say... behind the pedestal on which resides the offering box?... I am always forgetting parchments there."
After that, encounter Runarian found his way to the little chapel every Tuesday evening, and each evening there would be some new parchment, sometimes a tome, sometimes the book of Eoh, sometimes something from the Vicar's private collection. For some reason his ritual chapel attendance was not looked upon with any amount of suspicion, while his forays into the woods every previous Monday, did garner him some rude or suspicious looks from the Keep's residents. Surprisingly the one time a soul was bothered enough by the mystery to give him a hard time about it (in this case the soul was the old scullery mistress), it was Sir Aeduuard who stepped in and told her to "Never mind a boy and his business," and to "Get back to ridding my dinner of the bitter taste of soot."
This Monday Runarian was clambering over some rocks along a small stream looking for Red-Maven, a little mushroom which preferred to grow near running water, when he was caught off guard by a strange sound.
At first he thought it was a flute, but a type of flute he'd never heard, the sounds were too dark, and too varied in tone. It was a melancholy sound, deep and sad and longing, but somehow inviting as well. Runarian followed the noise a little ways into the forest and came upon a small pool beneath a miniature waterfall. There on a mossy outcropping of limestone overlooking the falling water, was a goblin.
No... it wasn't a goblin, not that Runarian had ever seen one, so he couldn't be quite sure... but he decided the closest creature of reference was a boy. He wasn't quite sure of that either as the boy (or Goblin's) back appeared to be bent in a rather uncomfortable position, and his face was lopsided, one eye drifting lazily, while the other stared back at him with ruthless intelligence.
The Page and the Goblin-Boy continued to stare at one-another for a long minute, until Runarian realized that the music had stopped and asked, "Hey then, were you playing a flute?"
The Goblin-Boy arched the eyebrow of his good-eye which seemed to make his face look all the more lopsided. "I have no flute, see?" he opened his cloak to reveal a series of pockets, none containing the instrument in question.
"But I heard one... or" Runarian considered... "... It was like a flute, but it was too low, and made too many different sounds that flutes can't make... but it was coming from here, and now it's stopped and here you are."
The Goblin-boy looked more interestedly at the Page for a moment, then he threw his head back (just his head as his body below the neck didn't seem to bend that way) and laughed to the many leaves of the overhanging elms.
The leaves rustled in a gentle wind.
"Well then, what we have here is a riddle don't we?" The Goblin-Boy asked when his momentary mirth gave-way.
Runarian squinted at the figure, suspiciously.
"What is a flute but not a flute?" He asked.
Runarian cocked his head. "Well anything that makes noise by pushing air through-it is like a flute but not a flu... oh..." Runarian found the punctuation to his line of thought, concluding aloud, "... Then you were singing?"
The Goblin-Boy stood up. "Right you are." He said, then began descended the small-waterfall around a drier path of stones to its left.
"I've heard people sing though, even boys your age, and it never sounded like that."
The Goblin-Boy was breathing heavily now. "Well perhaps it's merely the echoes of the forest, then. Have you ever heard someone sing out here?" He countered.
"No, but I don't think that's what it was." Runarian stated flatly.
Now they were level, and Runarian saw that if the other boy could have stood straight up he would have been at least a head taller than the page.
The Goblin-Boy extended his hand in greeting, and Runarian noticed that it too was disfigured, the skin looked burnt and two of the fingers bent oddly at the middle joint.
Runarian took the Goblin-Boy's hand and shook it. "I am Runarian of Elmwic... at your service." he stated officiously, adding the last grace because he wasn't sure what else the appropriate greeting for a casual meeting of a half-goblin in the woods was.
"Dwindle... " said the Goblin-Boy "Dwindle, the Demon Bard."