Taking the road up to Far Spire was no easy feat. Kithri may be small, but I’d not slept and the weight of her after my adrenaline crash nearly did me in. It was two full hours after sunrise by the time I was high enough to make out the top of the keep. It remained intact from my vantage so that did not prepare me for what had happened since we’d left. What was it, three days since we’d entered under cover of night in the company of the Hand troops. I don’t think I really got a very good look at the village in any case. And while I had heard that one of the caravan warehouses had burned, the sight I saw once I topped the ridge surprised me.
Fully one third of the village lay in ruin. Villagers were walking through the wreckage, sifting for any valuable that they could recover, or perhaps searching for loved ones. The gate of the keep was open and the guard that paced the ramparts were in full gear. This wasn’t a light day of staring over the road in boredom. Far Spire was a bee hive of activity that indicated it had survived a raid.
When I cut from the road toward the village, three men with halberds and chain shirts approached me, demanding I state my business. They wore the colors of Captain Kershaw’s troops which was a relief. Of course, the good Bishop and his bully boys running northward like they were being chased by ghosts should’ve clued me in.
I sat Kithri down on the road, making sure she was not bounced around too harshly, and stood to speak to the three men. They were nervous, but saw I was no threat. In the end I asked to speak with Sebastian or Captain Kershaw and that garnered me a few curious looks. One of the three took off at a run and I sat down, resting my legs and holding Kithri’s head in my lap. I stroked her hair while I waited, marveling at the way her skin glowed with health even though she hadn’t eaten in days and days — nor drunk a drop in the same. If that had been me, I would be dead already.
It took nearly a half an hour for anything to happen. The two guardsmen had gone back to watching the road, but I knew full well they were watching me. I wanted to present myself as non-threatening as possible and I seemed to have accomplished it. As their fellow returned with Sebastian, they stood a little straighter, but did not appear concerned.
Sebastian on the other hand took one look at me, threw his hands up in the air and spun to talk with the guardsmen. The two who had waited were sent back to their post and the third, who had already sprinted in the rain soaked morning to fetch the wily warrior was tasked to run back once more and fetch something or someone else.
Imagine my surprise when he walked over to the two men on watch and ignored me as if I were a beggar covered in sores. We waited a full hour before the guardsman returned, this time with a wagon, or old horse, several crates and boxes, and a frowning Captain Kershaw.
I stood then, resting Kithri down gently and waited.
“Why are you here?” Kershaw asked, her face tight. “Where are the others?”
And that was a blow I had not expected. The shock on my face caught her off guard as well and her tone softened. I explained what had happened and my theory on Blargle and Liz and how I’d assumed they were trapped back inside the tunnel. Kershaw called Sebastian over and sent him off on an errand. Then she helped me get Kithri loaded in the wagon. The crates and barrels contained arrows for Liz, salted meet, hard tack, some fresh vegetables and one barrel of wine. “Not our best,” she assured me.
Turns out that after we left to go down the tunnel, the rider had returned from Blackstone Landing. He reported that the governor had recalled the Hand of the One True God to help protect his small port city which had been suffering from a spate of piracy. Bishop Cirila and Captain Kershaw had gotten into an argument. He had offered to remain behind with a token force, take control of the garrison and send his own troops back.
Kershaw informed him they he was not welcome, and that without confirmation of his usurpation of her command, he had better move back to Blackstone. They had almost come to blows. Her troop only numbered thirty-five with some locals who were more of an emergency militia swelling that to just over sixty. The Hand had nearly that number but all of their men were seasoned veterans. And, unfortunately there were Hand sympathizers in the village and depending how the confrontation went, may have backed the good bishop.
But the decision was taken from her when the gnolls attacked. Over one hundred gnolls attacked the village, killing and burning. She was surprised we hadn’t heard the commotion from where we were, but when I explained the situation she only nodded.
The Hand troops were the first hit, which likely saved the village. They occupied most of the gnolls, only allowing a handful to slip into the village and start burning. They lost seventeen civilians and nine of her guard. The Hand lost ten.
Overall a success. Not that those who had lost out would be cheering anytime soon. The good Bishop grudgingly left, stating that if his presence was not wanted, that perhaps they could tend to the next gnoll attack without his support. He was very angry.
But he was already livid that we had left without his intervention. He had no idea how that had been accomplished, but he said he would warn his archbishop Cavanaugh in Blackstone Landing, and perhaps all the way up to Cardinal Heath on Black Spire Island, the regional headquarters of the Hand of the One True God. He accused her of being in league with demons and that he was see to it that she was dealt with.
Honestly I think his beef with Captain Kershaw was as much a fact that she was a woman than anything else. She ran a fine command, was liked by her troops, had a key sense of how to keep the village under control without an iron fist. All in all, I think she would be seen as a competent leader deserving of praise.
Made me like Cirila that much less, which I didn’t think was possible. The man thought his brand of law was all that mattered, and even though he was purported to be on the side of good, I had my doubts. I guess it takes all kinds to keep the world balanced enough so that it didn’t fall off that turtle’s back.