Derron ignored the newcomers and waited for Hex to arrive. No doubt the man had something to report, either about the hedge knight, or some other fresh puzzle.
He saw him speak to Niko, Niko nod and then, while the Dornish merchant headed back towards the hills, Niko came over towards Derron himself.
Derron stood there, trying to appear nonchalant. "What's the news?" he asked quietly.
"Wildlings," Niko said in a low voice as soon as he came close enough. "Master Hextall and Catriona are trying to scout them out, but I fear for what may have happened ... I saw a flashing; apparently Catriona's signal, but I did not know that at the time. I sent two men out to scout, but they have not returned."
Derron gritted his teeth and muttered, "Bandits, Boltons, and now wildlings make it a complete set." He sighed, then something struck him and he spoke without thinking. "You pulled men from watch to scout? That thins our lines. Well, line I suppose." He started pacing and thinking aloud. "If they're going to attack, there's little we can do to scare them off. And if they found men scouting, they'll suspect we're aware of them in any case. So I think there's little benefit in pretending we're not on edge."
"This one had no way to know that Hex was coming back, and if an enemy was approaching from another direction, this one thought it good that we know. If you do not approve then I apologize.
He faced Niko and said, "Quick as you can, start the word among the men on the perimeter. Shields up, weapons to hand. Those wildling bows could be the death of us all. I'll get the men in camp ready." He was already moving towards the fire, calling out, "Binnder!" The stout fellow got up from where he sat on a large rock by the fire and met Derron halfway.
Niko immediately set out to spread the word to come to arms, as he gathered his own and stood with the men to await the attack.
"We've a report of wildlings creeping up on us. Get the men ready for an immediate attack. No more pretending we're simply relaxing." Binnder scowled and moved to the men around the fire. Derron was heading back to Mariam. "Miss, unless you can tell me you're on good terms with wildlings, back inside and alert our watchers upstairs." He then walked towards the hedge knight and his man. "Sir, my men tell me you're been followed by wildlings. Unless they tell me they simply wish a word with you, I think we'd best prepare for a fight."
Mariam looked at him in horror - and then turned to hurry indoors.
The horses now watered, the hedgeknight approached Derron. "What trouble are you suspecting?" he asked.
Derron's eyebrows shot up at the unexpected question. "Wildlings come south of the wall for very few reasons. Usually to raid. Maybe they see us as easy pickings due to small numbers. They'd love to get our weapons and supplies." He paused, then asked, "Have you not dealt with them before? Where are you from, sir?"
"I've dealt with Wildings," said the hedgeknight shortly. "But I did not expect to encounter them this far south, so early in the year. There were bandits in the hills - a sizeable number that we stumbled across, as men may blunder into a next of hornets. There may have been Wildings among them, I'll grant."
Derron looked thoughtful. "There are many bandits out and about now. Some wildlings may be amongst them, 'tis true. A good point, one I had not considered. But tell me more of this anthill you kicked over. Numbers, colors, anything might be useful."
The knight sighed. "We rode into a village in the hills. The people seemed terrified .. and eventually we found out why. There was what they call a flock of fouls over the hill - a gathering of mercenaries, bandits and thugs ... almost every scoundrel in the North - and a good few from below the Neck.
"There may have been wildings amongst that number - we did not stay to find out."
Derron nodded. "Fair enough. Did you catch the name of the village perchance?" Derron or one of the other men might know it, and they could do their best to avoid the gathering of bounty hunters, for he was sure they were after Catriona.
The knight shook his head.
(Continued in Morning Outside Marshend)