"You are safe!" Mariam said with relief, but keeping her voice low.
A smile quickly flashed across Catriona's face.
Derron also grinned to see the young huntress. He didn't even hesitate to nod Galt forward. Galt managed to get a solid grip on the buckets and began taking quick, short steps back towards the cottage. Derron said, "Good to see you, lass. Speak quickly. I may have a quick favor to ask of you."
"Ask away," Catriona nodded, her expression solemn once more. "Thelbane and a couple of other men are making their way north towards Clearwater."
Derron's expression darkened. "Never mind my favor. Could you catch up to them, say with one or two men?" It was obvious what he wanted to happen if they caught up. "If not, does he have any others nearby? We might go meet him."
"I can definitely try," Catriona answered. "I know the area around Long Lake, including the shortcuts. Thelbane is a stranger here. Unless he has some locals with him, he'll be forced to take the more obvious routes."
She frowned slightly. "As for if he has any others nearby, I don't know. If he had, I would have expected him to rejoin them here. Unless he has another motive for heading towards Clearwater."
She looked straight at the Steward. "Will you be joining me on the welcoming party? Your lord might not take too kindly to hearing only Thelbane's version of events if that weasel continues to have the luck of the evil."
Derron scowled. He wanted to go to Clearwater to 'meet' Thelbane. But his priority still was the boy, Ranulf, and his safety. If Derron left, and there were an attack on the cottage, the failure would be his alone. He finally replied, "I don't think I can afford to leave here. But rest assured that at least some of our men will ride hard on the road back to Clearwater, with a note for His Lordship. The question is now what do you wish to do. I have no authority to tell you what to do, or where to travel."
Catriona coolly assessed Derron for a moment, saying nothing as she thought.
After a short pause, she finally spoke. "Perhaps you should suggest what you would like done, and then I can decide if I share your interests." A half-smile flitted across her face. "Or give me enough reason, and thus ensure that our interests are mutual."
Derron shrugged. "I want what you want, I believe. You took him away to execute him, did you not? I don't trust him not to come back." He thought a moment then said, "I'll have to send Niko and two men to get to Clearwater ahead of him. If Thelbane doesn't go there, the effort won't be entirely wasted. Lord Draupaud can send more of the men out to find him." He looked at Catriona again. "If you wish to pursue him, I'll make sure my message to His Lordship grants you safety. I need to have Niko get ready."
"I'll see what I can do," Catriona replied. "I can try tracking him along the lakeshore, and see if I can learn anything more while Niko rides to Clearwater. If I have information about our mutual acquaintance, I'll get it to Niko...or back to you...one way or another."
He turned to Mariam once more. "I will see you back at the cottage." He lengthened his stride and walked with a definite purpose.
He saw his own men gathered around - Merivel, Niko and Hex among them. They appeared to be breakfasting amicably with the Knight and his Squire.
(Derron's thread continues in Morning Outside Marshend: Niko and Merivel)
After Derron left, Catriona glanced at Mariam. "If Keary ever reappears, tell him I went hunting. And that it's going to be a long Winter."
Mariam nodded in response. "He'll return," she said confidently. "And when he does, I shall tell him." She hesitated, and then said with a rush, "May the Old Ones protect you, my sister, and watch your ways as you walk."
A smile spread quickly across Catriona's face as she recognized the retired Septa's reaching out to acknowledge their different faiths. "And may the Seven keep you and yours safe during these trying times."
She reached over the stream to extend her hand to the older woman. "My thanks, Mariam, for all that you've done."
Mariam took her hand and clasped it. "Just remember," she said soberly, "when winter comes, you have a safe place to bide with me. And should ever any mistake you and lay false witness, tell them of your sister at Marshend who will swear to your parentage."
"Be well, my sister," Catriona answered with a warm smile.
As Mariam headed back towards the cottage, the hunter faded back into the grasses across the stream, leaving little trace of her passage.
(Catriona's thread continues in Morning Outside Marshend: Hex and Gwendla)