Updated: May 24
Caoinlin spent another day in the forest, hauling timber. Word had spread through the town that the prisoners were to be transported. One of the men, the town miller, a robust red-cheeked fellow nicknamed Moppel, meaning “tubby” for his decently padded belly, approached her late in the afternoon.
“Tell us Mhasc Caoin, what road will they take to Bradenstream?”
Caoinlin peered into Moppel’s woody green eyes. “I’m not from around here, Moppel.”
Stout Moppel was undeterred. “But you will ride as protection for those black-eyed fiends, yes?”
“Protection?” She stripped off her gloves and slapped them against her thigh to loosen the dirt. “They are on their way to die. I don’t think I need be concerned with protecting them, do I?”
Moppel pursed his chapped lips and rubbed the back of his beefy neck. He glanced over his shoulder as a horse was brought by dragging a log.
“If they should die,” he ventured, “they should die here. The blood they split on this ground must know their blood if those deaths should be avenged.”
“The soldiers have their orders,” she replied with the full, disapproving force of her noble upbringing. “Perhaps you should discuss your concerns with Captain Duff. But as I understand, it is the king who wishes to see these men executed.”
A shadow swept over Moppel’s stubbled and sweaty face. “Then he should come here.”
Caoinlin tugged her gloves back on and turned back to her work, taking up her axe again and allowing the silence to grow strained. “Perhaps he should. But it is not our place to speak to the wont of the great king of the north.”
“But you, Mhasc Caoin,” he said eagerly, “you would not draw weapon to protect them, even if it was so they might reach the king alive?”
Atal’s aftertaste, peppery sweet, welled up on her tongue.
She swallowed it back, her throat tightening against the effort. “No, Moppel,” she answered. “My sword will never defend the life of an Ulic.”
Moppel nodded as though they’d made some sort of pact. Caoinlin feared they had.
Later, as she left the town hall, one of the few major structures to survive the attack unscathed, she noticed Carrigan walking swiftly from the northern gate toward the fort.
She hesitated and then went to the northern gate. Along the dark road or in the forest, the trees rustled with some purposeful movement. But she did not descend the road to investigate what it might be.