Northern Kestrel Pine Barrens
1st Set of Compassion, Month of Foundations 8178
The day’s travel had yet to begin. Scout Asikeos sat hunched over his knees, hands over his head. Gregoire rest a hand on the distraught man’s shoulder. Aged eyes peered over to where Obret sat, water skin in hand, eyes distant. Boots paced near to them. They shifted with hesitation before Hakken ventured, “and you are positive he–”
The Commander’s face tightened in its gaunt grimace as he drew a heaving sigh. “His opinions on the Erahs were hardly a secret.”
“And the Jaed?” Hakken retorted.
Shaking his head, Gregoire sighed. “Nothing to be done now.”
“I should have put an arrow in his eye. I failed to–”
“No, Dhon. You did right. Discovered, we would have not learned of this.” Gregoire squeezed his shoulder then pat it lightly before stepping away.
Hakken regarded Obret. “What of Tyro Sar?”
Waving a hand, the Commander dismissed the concern. “There is no trauma in his witness. Catharsis more than anything. I wager he is just tired.”
Dhon raised his head. “He is still a good rider. Shall I take him, push on to the Purlieu?”
Hakken crossed his arms, awaited Gregoire’s reply. Staring at the sky, the older man stood in contemplation until finally Hakken decided, “for now, we will continue as planned. You and Tyro Sar can rejoin the ranks until given further orders. We’ll need to press on soon, so rest while you can.”
Dhon acknowledged then left to check on Obret. Gregoire glanced to Hakken, not making true eye contact, a false, skimming pass of his gaze. “Make sure everyone is ready to go.”
“And Druje?” Hakken stared as Gregoire walked away. “Commander?”
The man strode through camp until he found Hereth. They were seated on a vnesh, scratching notes into a journal. Not so much as a side-eye glared his way as Gregoire came to lean against a nearby tree. “You been up there this whole time?”
“I’ve no tolerance for bullys or bull-pish today, old man.”
Tugging off his gloves, the man tucked them under his belt. “Sir Ancil is dead. Ganroth crushed his skull.”
“I’m certain the Ejadian brain-trust will be sorely lacking.” The end of the pencil scratched at their nose. Hereth then slipped it into the leather loop and closed the book. “And you gave me good news to soften what?”
Lowering his eyes to the ground, Gregoire pursed his lips, fought for the words to begin. Suddenly Hereth barked a laugh before moving to descend the vnesh. “OH…bad news AND you need advice. How the arrogant pricks do wither.”
Gregoire cleared his throat, eyes cast aside, as he waited for Hereth to finish their gloating. The squeak of the hinged knee was nearly gone. They’d fixed it better than expected. Its quiet creak stopped just beside him.
“All right…bad news first.”
“Scout Asikeos cannot confirm if Revas and Legionaire Lachlan escaped, but given that Goron gave them up prior to execution, it is not likely.”
“Such as it is.” Hereth’s tone was empty. “You need me, why?”
Gregoire arched a brow their way, then exhaled. The soul-weary commander stared down at his boot, digging at the dirt with one toe. “He also gave up troop movements. IF Teigne Runii is still alive, the Purlieu might be a giant trap. I could be marching us to–”
“Oh, Nabaar’s left ball, Gregoire. You think one of these soldiers gives a pish so long as what they’re facing down with swords and pikes is, at least, a Shae or Ganroth– not some Tellorath revenant? Least they’d die with honor not drug off screaming to Naaris-knows-where to be eaten by things chanting ‘hungry.’ Tello-sake stop whining like a nursling.” Hereth crossed their arms to stop flailing them in their agitation. The scowl conveyed more than enough.
“What about Belks? If he hadn’t disobeyed me, Dhon could be dead too… we’d be blind.”
Hereth shrugged in dismissal. “Arrogant son-of-a-pasheth will just turn his nose up at whatever punishment you try to dole out. Could make an example but it wouldn’t be for his benefit. Tello-pish would just spite you anyway. Just leave it.”
“You think Runii’s dead?”
“I think it doesn’t tello matter one way or the other.” Hereth met his his eyes with a stern furrow to their brow. “Whole bull-pish legend was the Jaed blood kept the Old Gods from rising, yeah? Well, something’s awake. Whatever the tello it is is hungry. So, new Jaed, no new Jaed… what fucking difference does it make? Ain’t bringing Fursten back. Ain’t bringing a goddamn one of them back.”
Turning away, Hereth started back toward the vnesh. They paused to lean over, retrieving someone’s discarded waterskin. Discovering it to be empty, they huffed then slung it over the saddlehorn. “Let me know when it’s time to ride. Down now, may as well give my ass a rest.”
“Of course.” Gregoire murmured with hesitation. More words lingered between them, now did not seem the time. “Thank you, Hereth.”
“That’s what I’m here for…poultices for bruised soft spots,” they mumbled into the vnesh’s flank as Gregoire started away.
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