Pavil asked me not to mention to anyone about her ability to strike out at the ghouls with that bolt of blue light. I didn’t pry, but told her if she ever wanted to talk about it we could. She nodded gravely and said that perhaps at some point, but now she had to get Riven back to his sister. It’s strange to see how small and young they were. I mean, I was only twenty (in my mind) but twenty-two as far as others were concerned. Not old at all, but compared to these sixteen and seventeen year old kids, it felt like a lifetime.
Droo and Gordon rode on either side of Pavil once we were well away from Broadmire. No one else had seen the blue bolt, but they had seen her going to Riven’s rescue. If she didn’t have their respect previously, they certainly did now. As for loyalty, I think either boy would take a sword stroke for her if the need came to it. Those three could make a formidable force with some seasoning.
The return trip took a couple of hours. We were not going at a full gallop, but when we had gotten about a half a league away, Liz and Chloe rode ahead. Good thing too. By the time the rest of us rolled into camp, the fighting was over. But it was providence Liz and Chloe had showed up when they did. While they had stout hearts and strong backs, the lot of them were still farmers, weavers, coopers and such. Combat experience was not in their wheelhouse.
Three ghouls and half a dozen zombies had hit the camp in various waves. Those from the outlying farms we had avoided had risen up with the fall of night. Luckily they had no leader to direct their attacks so the fact we only lost three on the second watch, with another seven wounded was actually a relief. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not that callous over the loss of the three. It is just my experience that it could’ve been a whole lot worse.
Danby and two of his previous cronies had become heroes while we were gone. The change in their behavior had already been startling. Everyone had begun to notice. When the first attack came, they had been bedded down with an anticipation of taking the third watch.
Danby proved that he knew his way around a sword. Ordo and his boys had been hard pressed by the ghouls, with Jiardo taking a nasty bite to his leg. They’d managed to take down two zombies, but the ghouls had nearly overwhelmed them. Old Danby, who couldn’t be out of his thirties yet, had roused the camp, sent each of his friends in a different direction to organize the squads and see to the non-combatants.
Ordo told me that Danby had taken down one ghoul with that great useless sword of his. Then he’d distracted the second long enough for Bardo to drag Jiardo away and for Ordo to finish off the monster. He confessed that as boys they had been envious of Danby’s father and that fool sword, teasing Danby about it, making fun. Now he saw the errors of his childish ways and personally thanked Danby, which caught the man by surprise.
It makes me realize how a small kindness can heal wounds, no matter how old.
Liz and Chloe had come upon a group of three zombies who had killed two of the young women who were under Gizela’s and Belle’s tutelage. They were not quite old enough to marry, but had talked about that prospect constantly. The two older women, widows with their own children grown, had delighted in mentoring the young women. They had even begun teaching them how to use the staff in a fight.
They just didn’t have enough experience with the likes of the shambling dead. Liz appearing in the middle of the camp with Chloe, and the two of them attacking the zombies from behind had turned the tide of the battle.
By the time we rolled in, there was nothing much to do but comfort the wounded (and heal them, which caused some stir) and see to the dead.
After a bit of consultation with the elders of the caravan, I was allowed to cast a blessing over the dead, to insure that their mortal remains would not rise again to kill their kith and kin. It wasn’t a flashy bit of divine work, so it did not draw much attention.
The healing caused an outright fist fight between two of the older men: one for, one against. Old myths and prejudices are hard to eradicate. Liz and I healed the more seriously wounded but we also let the locals apply their salves and poultices to finish off the jobs. Not as effective as we would have delivered, but it saved us from outright exhaustion and let the others feel needed.
We called a full meeting, where I explained about Broadmire. There were a few gasps and angry retorts, but mostly they had expected a full scale slaughter after what we’d seen at the outlying farms. The use of undead was unprecedented, however, and started the whole argument about the use of magic once more.
I sent everyone to bed, except those on watch and promised that we would not break camp at the first light of day as was our wont. Instead we would make some hard decisions, talk about our options and what lay ahead of us on this trail.
I’m not sure many people slept that night. I know Liz and Lilith patrolled the camps when they should’ve been sleeping. Of course I know this because I had eschewed my own sleep for many hours as I comforted those who were afraid. Finally just before the dawn, I managed to catch a couple hours of sleep.
The rest of the night was uneventful. I just wish I could expect the next day to be the same. But I was not kidding myself. This was the first test of these people’s mettle and I am afraid that while they had lived under tyranny for generations, dealing with undead was just beyond the scope of many of them.
Tomorrow we would split the caravan, sending many folks home to pick up the pieces of their lives. It would be a kindness, I’m sure.