I felt the pressure of leaving before the sun had fully risen in the sky. I wasn’t the only one. Many folks were loading wagons and rousting friends and family to get moving. They would press hard to make it back to River Crossing as soon as possible. They would share the news and the stories with those there before dividing up to their new assignments. They were motivated and eager to get on with it.
By the time they had all begun moving back down the road, I was left alone with Brindle, Lilith and Ingrid. Ingrid would be apprenticing with Lilith for a while yet. She had much to learn about the blades, and skills crucial to the life she had taken upon herself. She would stay with us until we killed the witch, or we died trying and I knew we had no way to dissuade her. If we sent her away she’d just go on her own, damn the costs. This way we had a chance to help assuage some of the hate and guilt, and see that she has some skills with those blades. Assassins are usually more aligned with murder of innocents for money. Not the best career path in my opinion. The Quietus had been arbitrators for neutrality, keeping the balance in a world where good and evil is a spectrum more than a division readily discernible.
And there was the group who had gone into Broadmire and set the place on fire. Either they were survivors who managed to escape Eronel’s wrath, or they were cronies left behind to sow havoc in her wake. Seemed a little redundant with the undead, but who can truly fathom the mind of the psychotically motivated?
Lilith and Ingrid packed their gear then spent the first hour after dawn sparring with wooden blades. Lilith was a good teacher, fair and true, but she did not hold back. I lost count of the times that she rapped Ingrid with those wooden blades, cracking knuckles, elbows and twice the bridge of her nose. Ingrid ended that hour with nicks and bruises that would’ve sent most new aspirants to their beds crying about unfair teachers. Instead Ingrid begged to continue when Lilith called the end of that morning’s session.
I rose, expecting that we would be leaving, but Lilith sent Ingrid off on a wild goose chase. The nearest farm was easily a league away and Ingrid was to run there and back. Lilith sat herself on a rock along the road and motioned for the girl to take off running. They exchanged hard looks for a moment and I thought Ingrid was going to say something. In the end she drew a deep breath, sheathed her wooden blades, and took off running.
Running alone in a land known to have undead was not my idea of a fair bit of training, but when I said something, Lilith smirked at me and told me I could run with her if I was so inclined. She didn’t exactly say I had grown soft, but there was a hint of that. I chose to ignore the perceived jibe and spent some quality time poring over my maps, adding touches here and there denoting roads and trails, landmarks and farms. Not that I had a lot to do. I just didn’t want to sit there and watch the horizon, waiting for the angry girl to return. Worse, I didn’t want to put too much thought into the chances she’d have if she encountered a ghoul. It was a long hour. I had risen several times, thinking to mount my horse and go after the girl, but Lilith just glared at me.
Soon enough, Ingrid came running into camp. I thought she’d be staggering, but there was no way she was going to show weakness in front of Lilith. I’d seen those stubborn looks, the set jaw, the tightened shoulders with many folks back at the monastery. Conflict and frustration are easy signs to pick up. Of course, this battle of wills was just evolving.
Lilith let her get a drink, then the next thing I know, we are riding toward Broadmire at a crisp pace. Ingrid didn’t even have time to regain her wind before we were galloping down the road.
The way Ingrid and Lilith were glaring at one another, I was glad for Brindel’s company. The dog didn’t demand anything but a little affection, and not much at that. He was an independent individual in my books and that seemed to be just how he liked it.
I was shocked how well he kept up with our horses. I had the big war horse that Reginald had abandoned, but Ingrid was riding a horse that had been part of a team. Her horse seemed a little confused at certain points without another horse or the harness to give her clear direction. Looked like Ingrid and her mount both had a lot to learn.
When we were more than half way to Broadmire, Lilith asked me a question and gave me a look that told me to do something. The only thing I could think to do was to call a halt, and when I did, I was rewarded with a smile and a wink from Lilith. Ingrid was too busy sliding off her horse and flopping down into the grass.
Of course, me calling a break was so obviously not Lilith, so her surly teacher personae was intact. I didn’t really subscribe to her methodologies, but Ingrid seemed a kind of young person who had to be broken down before she could be reshaped.
I shared my water with Brindle, taking a bowl from my saddle bags to allow the great dog to drink half my water. He was obviously winded, but happy for the run. He licked me once on the hand and I scratched his ears for a minute. Then he grabbed my water skin and trotted over to Ingrid and dropped it on her chest. She only grunted. Brindle nudged her with his huge head and she rolled onto her side and began drinking my water. She drank all of it which caused Lilith to raise her eyebrows at me. We could always get more, so I wasn’t worried about that. When Ingrid suddenly bolted to her knees and started throwing up, Lilith had to cover her face. The girl had a lot to learn. I just hope we all survived it.