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The day was crisp and clear. All night the Lord of Clearwater and those closest to him had stood vigil for the dead Lady of Clearwater: Ser Tomas Prinksett, Steward Thorne and the sellsword Nikomedes Sakellaris. Others perhaps had held private vigils for the unfortunate Lady, for as the people of Clearwater gathered in the Sept for the final ceremony, there were many reddedned eyes - none more so than Ranulf, the Lord and Lady's son. He stood by his father throughout the ceremony, but more than one person noticed that Lord Draupaud did not look at his son or speak to him at all.

"Ah," they said. "The boy reminds him too much of the Lady."

And when they heard the boy was to be sent away, they nodded sagely. No less than they had expected.

After the ceremony, many people repaired to the courtward. A big lumbering wagon was drawn up there, the sort of wheelhouse used to transport noble ladies and their goods. This, it was understood, was to carry the gear that would be used for the new home for the Lord's son, and also for the transportation of the Captain of the Guard's daughter who, it was understood, would be travelling with them, doubtless as a companion for the boy. Her horse was tied to the back of the wagon but, as a girl, no doubt she would weary quickly and wish to ride inside.

The men - and young Ranulf, it was assumed - would ride from the start.

Derron had spent plenty of time making sure the lads who worked in his forge would not get up to mischief in his absence. He even asked Linnel to check on them during his daily rounds. He had complete confidence in Linnel, even if Linnel didn't. He packed his travelling gear, which was not much. Other than his tack and harness, he had some changes of clothes, his sword and shield, and just in case they broke something, or it was needed in Marshend, his basic tools. He might not be able to craft something while there, unless the town possessed a forge, but he could make basic repairs if need be.

He sat on his bed above the forge and let out a huge breath. This would be a long journey on one sense. He would be glad to be back. His bag was already in the wagon, his weapons on his horse. Lancer lay beside him, the hound's head nestled in Derron's lap. He absentmindedly pet the grey-muzzled dog's head and said, "Well, boy, this may not be fun. But you and I should try to have fun while we can, eh?" Lancer was old. The last of the pups born to the previous Lord Draupaud shortly before his death during the war, Lancer had very long teeth that had been likened by a guard to lances; hence the dog's name. Despite his age he had always been a good companion to the smith, who tended to keep to himself. He didn't think Lancer would last much longer, certainly not the next winter. So he had decided that this trip would be a great outing for the dog. It might also keep Derron's mind off of things, and possibly even lighten everyone else's moods. He grinned at the dog and said, "Come on, boy. Let's go! Shade will be coming, too." Lancer perked up and followed Derron from the room, down the stairs and into the courtyard.

Derron mounted his horse while Lancer, well, frolicking might be beyond him. But his enthusiasm was evident from his wagging tail and bouncing feet. Derron nodded to Lord Draupaud and surveyed the group.

Aerin had packed her bow and blade, stowing them herself in the wagon since she did not expect anyone to think she would need them.

Along with a smaller parcel, some dried foodstuffs, some medicines from the Septa's room. They were easy to get, with everyone busy packing the Septa's things. And the small amount of coin she'd saved. That pack was hidden among the rest of the trunks in the wagon.

She gave her father a hug. But didn't tell him of her plans.

Instead she left a letter for him, hidden behind the etching he had of her mother. He looked at it rarely. Tried not to. It would be at least a week or more before he found her note.

By then the Septa and Ranulf would be in Marshend with Niko, and they would be thinking she was returning with Derron.

And Derron would be returning to Clearwater, thinking she was staying with Niko for a time.

And she would be off. With Shade.

She put down a rug for Shade to sleep on in the wagon. Near her hidden pack. And then swung astride her horse and waited to leave.

As for Niko himself, his attitude was still subdued, but less somber, as he tried to look on this as yet another beginning, rather than what it was. He was outfitted in the same manner in which he had been when he arrived- the travel-stained black leathers, and matching tack for his horse, the array of weaponry. The only addition was a well worn practice longsword that he had obtained when he began teaching Aerin, and a matching steel blade he had obtained from the armoury against the day they began practicing with live steel. At that, he looked at the girl, wondering what the Septa had been prepared to say about her father. He was not sure what to make of the whole situation, but he was relieved that Ser Tomas had agreed to assign Tyek and Eron to the attachment- if anything untoward happened, he'd be glad to have reliable backup.

But hopefully it would not come to pass that he'd need backup. As for now, he'd be glad when they were underway; he'd finished helping with preparations, and had taken to his horse after seeing to the Septa and Ranulf, and was studiously attempting to avoid looking back at Clearwater, choosing instead to look into the sun, waiting impatiently for this to be done.

The Septa was inside the wagon; had been carefully placed there even before it was brought into the courtyard. The wagon was to be her prison until they reached clear to Marshend.

Soon the procession set off, making its slow way across the meadows where Niko had first met the Lady. Progress with the big, heavy wagon would be slow; but nightfll they would encamp in a small valley, but the following day they would need to climb up to the monutain pass - the only way to pass down this side of the lake to Marshend at the bottom.

Aerin stayed close to the wagon, not starting conversations with any. Secretly she didn't want to talk to anyone except the Septa.

When the sun drew due overhead in the sky, it was suggested that perhaps Aerin or Ranulf should take sheltter in the wagon with the Septa. Ranulf shook his head vehemently, without speaking.

Derron rarely left Clearwater. When he did, it was usually for a fight, and friends had not returned with him. He had a funny feeling that though this was no war campaign, some of them might not come back. He glanced down to see Lancer trotting along by his side. Normally the hound would have been exploring, running all about. But with his age had come a lessening of energy. No doubt he would do some exploring when some new smell was detected, but for now he was content simply to be moving, stretching his legs.

Derron glanced back at the wagon and sighed. The Septa was a decent woman, but her latest impulse had been too generous. It was driving her out. Though at least she was alive and had a chance to redeem herself. At least, redeem herself in the eyes of everyone who did not know Ranulf's secret.

Aerin glanced at Ranulf coolly. Then rode up to the cart and climbed in, first tying her horse to the back. She made herself comfortable in the wagon, pulling out some food and preparing a light repast for the Septa and herself.

Considering the entourage travelling to Marshend, conversation was sparse. As for Niko, he was still brooding over events, and how he could have done anything differently. Tyek and Eron had long before stopped trying to draw him into conversation; though they and the other guards were trading stories and tall tales as they travelled, they could see that some burden weighed Niko down. They hadn't exactly become friends, but the pair were at least the most comradely to the lad, and every once in a while they would look up at him, more than a little worried. They had heard snippets of the conversation with the Septa, and with the other gossip, and the composition of the party had been able to piece together most of the disturbing tale, which was, they were sure, one of the reasons they were on this leisurely trip rather than attending to some boring duty back at Clearwater. But what they wondered, if they only speculated among the two of them, was how the journey would end.

As the day wore on, Lancer became increasingly tired. He was, however, reluctant to enter the wagon while Shade was there. Shade had very firm and fixed views on anyone or anything who invaded his personal space - an area that expanded and contracted with Shade's mood. Where dogs were concerned, Shade's personal space was usually about three miles in radius.

However, Shade had rested most of the day and ... well. He was a hunting cat. And fresh meat for dinner might be nice.

Aerin saw Lancer was tired. And saw Shade was restless.

"Go on," she told the ginger. "Let Lancer rest. I'll keep your rug warm," she promised. "Go hunt," she said encouragingly.

Derron watched hopefully, so that Lancer would get some rest. When they stopped for the evening, he had no doubt that the old hound would go explore to his heart's content. He just looked at Aeron and said, "If he begs for your lunch, don't give him any. The old mooch..." The affection for the old mooch was apparent in his voice.

Page last modified on June 12, 2006, at 05:20 PM