The Road to Rivense

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The Road to Rivense

Samuel Marshall
Part 2

Wind tore angrily at her hair, tangling it further. Elise reached up to brush at it, but the matted clumps would not come loose so easily. She gave up on it and looked back down the steep valley once more.

The path they’d travelled wound down the hillside through moorland heavy with bracken and gorse. It was worn deeper than an animal track, but not by much – no armies had come by this route. She lost sight of it some way downhill, when it entered a small copse. Far below even that, the Lea curved leisurely about the valley floor, its water a bright line against the wooded surrounds. Coming down from the lower slopes opposite, they’d forded the river mid-afternoon; now the sun sank low in the sky, and daylight edged towards gloom. How many more hills must they climb to reach this damned abbey?

She glanced aside. At least the nun, less fit, suffered worse. Charity lay sprawled on the ground, her gasping breaths subsiding almost to normal. The last steep climb had proven too much.

‘Enough rest,’ Elise ordered. ‘Any more, and you’ll stiffen up.’

She watched as the nun, wasting no energy on speech, levered herself up. Standing unsteadily, the woman nearly fell.

‘We’ve a few hours of daylight yet.’ Elise jerked her thumb upwards, along the trail. She would carry out her duty, get this woman safely to Rivense, but she meant to have it over with as quickly as possible. There was, too, a degree of satisfaction in the nun’s discomfort; after all, the woman was a tool of the oppressor, one very small part of the grinding machine that subjugated Elise’s people.

She watched Charity stagger a few paces, then settle into the rhythm of walking once more. It was a gentle slope across the hilltop, though ferocious gusts of wind frequently made both women pause.

Elise took the lead, pushing forward against the weather. Gradually, as they crested the summit, the landscape ahead began to reveal itself; yet more steep country, speckled hereabouts with boulders and crags. The path wound this way and that, avoiding the drop-offs and ravines which scarred the slopes. Some way below it vanished into forests that swathed the narrow valley in green, leaving only small patches bare. Opposite, a hill nearly as tall and steep as this last jutted into the greying sky. Elise sighed, even though – having studied maps of the area – she’d been expecting it.

‘Oughtn’t we to make camp soon?’ Charity asked neutrally, in the gaps between breaths.

Not begging, Elise noted. Yet. There was time. ‘We continue. It’s still light.’

‘Barely,’ Charity muttered, a low rejoinder fairly torn from her mouth by the rushing wind. The small woman swayed slightly in its impact, both feet anchored firmly on the ground.

‘Hurry off the slopes,’ Elise suggested with a thin smile, ‘before you get blown away. Weather’s worsening.’

The nun didn’t argue this time and they made good progress, scrambling down a dry streambed that formed the path here. Eventually, as they descended further, they left behind the fierce winds that had whipped the heights. In their place, dark clouds bulked overhead, deepening the gloom and threatening worse to come.

The trail had flattened out, leading gently downslope. Small stands of trees dotted the area, along with a profusion of bushes and ferns. Some way ahead, the path entered a copse, vanishing into blackness beneath the branches. A bird cawed harshly–

–and she was shoved sideways, off-balance and tired and the nun’s hand forcing her over, so she fell, and was gripping her dagger by the time she realised the nun had fallen too, by intent.

‘Men ahead,’ Charity hissed, ‘from the trees.’

She nodded and crawled further off the path, staying quiet and not mentioning how near she’d come to knifing her travelling companion. There was a clump of bushes a little way distant. She dragged herself behind it, ignoring a new ache in her ankle, something to do with the way she’d fallen.

The nun followed closely. They’d left a trail that a child could barely miss, in daylight. In this clouded dusk… it might pass unnoticed. Might.

She peeked through branches, couldn’t see anything – wait, there, on the path, a patch of shadows that moved. Several people, leaving the copse ahead.

She glanced aside for a moment, asked softly, ‘How in the Lady’s name did you spot that?’

The nun shrugged. ‘Good eyesight. There’s six of them, by the way. Soldiers.’

A Pathar patrol, then: they always travelled in sixes. Elise cursed softly and went on watching, putting aside for now the evident fact that a nun had demonstrated greater awareness than herself, an experienced freedom fighter. In a few moments she was able to make out the six, too, and the jagged outlines that spoke of armour and weaponry.

A thought struck her. ‘Whyn’t you go with them?’ she whispered. ‘They can deliver you to your damned abbey.’

‘You’d trust me?’

Elise shrugged uncomfortably. ‘A little.’ She hardened her voice. ‘If you were to betray me, you’d be first to the grave.’

There was a pause. Through the concealing branches she watched the Pathars, now quite clearly distinguishable, make their way up the trail.

Finally Charity asked softly, ‘Would you trust them?’

Elise managed to hold back an incredulous laugh. ‘Pathar soldiers? Not a shred of honour between them.’

Charity leant close to her ear, breathed, ‘Then you can hardly ask me to rely on them…’

There should be an answer to that, Elise thought, but the enemy was far too close for any more discussion. She watched them pass.

All six were men, short following the Pathar norm but muscled from harsh training. Each wore hardened leather and had a small shield buckled to one arm, ready for combat at short notice – necessary, in the occupied lands, Elise thought with grim satisfaction.

She saw no detail of their faces; the clouds still massed above, hastening night’s onset. They were mere enemies. She wished for a chance to attack, but there was none, not when she faced six to one odds, with no distance weapon, and an encumbrance to protect.

Even so, she half hoped the Pathars would spot their trail and force a battle. They had about reached that spot…

…and then passed it, without interrupting their march.

She let out a breath, tension gone. There would be no fighting. The Pathars would continue their mission, probably – since they marched late – carrying an urgent message to their main force. And she– she would have to find somewhere to camp. It had been amusing to test the nun’s endurance, but darkness approached.

With the soldiers gone, she stood carefully, prepared for the aching of her legs. She gained some small satisfaction from Charity’s pained wince as the nun followed suit.

‘We look for shelter–’ She broke off, feeling a droplet of rain. Another followed, and it seemed this one had brought friends; within seconds, a virtual downpour set in. ‘To the trees!’

Charity grabbed her shoulder. ‘Wait– I saw a house, out that way. Probably abandoned… we could sleep there.’ She pointed, patches of damp spreading rapidly across the top of her raised sleeve.

Here?’ Elise asked sceptically. She couldn’t see anything in that direction; hardly surprising, as the worsening deluge reduced visibility to a handful of paces.

The nun nodded.

‘Well, then–’ Elise began, interrupted by a flash of lightning. Thunder crashed immediately afterwards, and the rain’s hiss grew more intense. She shouted, to be heard, ‘Go!’

They half-ran, half-staggered across the open ground, struggling through the undergrowth that grabbed at their feet. It was several minutes before Elise caught her first glimpse of the house, in a moment when the rain slackened off. Stone-built, two-storied, it crouched firmly on the light slope. The shutters over its windows had been smashed, and the door torn down, but the roof seemed mostly intact. It looked like a typical farmhouse of this area – Elise realised suddenly that the level ground they had just crossed might have once been a field of crops.

The torrent of rain reduced to a gentle scattering, the storm blown almost to nothing as quickly as it had arrived.

‘Seems… empty,’ Charity gasped in the relative quiet, out of breath from their running.

Elise scowled. ‘Shame on your people. To drive out a lone farmer, out here in the middle of nowhere!’

The nun gave her a strange look but said nothing, still panting for air.

‘Well.’ Feeling deflated somehow, Elise led the way towards the gaping door. She entered the darkness, stepping past the clumps of grass and thistle that encroached on the room. A small squeak and scrabbling about suggested that somebody else had already taken up residence.

‘It might be cleaner upstairs,’ Charity suggested from behind. ‘To your left.’

Elise’s eyes had just barely adjusted enough to spot the wooden staircase. It seemed largely undamaged, as far as she could tell. She swung herself onto it cautiously; the first step creaked, but held. Testing each stair, she ascended cautiously, the nun following.

The upper floor’s small corridor was at least clear of weeds and seemed reasonably uninhabited. A cold draught blew through the small window at its end, accompanied by dim illumination that revealed three intact wooden doors.

Elise tried one. Inside, grey light shone from another half-open window, spilling over a small, dusty, but – miracle of miracles – seemingly intact bedroom. There was even a large bed. A shelf near it held the previous occupant’s various possessions, and a chest would presumably have contained clothes.

‘Much better!’ Charity said over Elise’s shoulder, startling her; she’d not been paying attention to the nun’s footsteps. ‘I tried the other rooms; they’re a bit the worse for damp. This one still has a shutter left, so…’

‘Well then,’ Elise said shortly, somehow irritated by the nun’s efficiency. ‘Let’s see if, perchance, we can even use this bed.’

They went to it. Blankets still rested on its slats, in surprisingly good condition after they shook free the resident spiders.

Elise shrugged. ‘Better than I’ve slept on in recent times.’

‘I can’t say the same,’ Charity admitted, ‘but it’ll do.’

They headed downstairs and outside to relieve themselves, the nun moving out of sight to protect her modesty. It was still raining, but that made little difference; Elise was drenched through already. Finished, she returned to the bedroom and sat on the floorboards, pondering. There was something she wanted to know…

Charity arrived, the small woman treading lightly enough that Elise was surprised once again by her entry. She moved to the bed and, claiming half of it for her own, lay down. The wood creaked slightly. Outside, rain hissed lightly against the ground and even the wind seemed tamed, sending a gentle breath around the room.

‘Elise,’ Charity said softly, staring across the room at her. Their faces were on the same level, with one lying on the bed and the other sitting on the floor. ‘You’ve trusted me, a few times…’

‘I’ve nearly killed you, a few times.’

The nun smiled – strange reaction. ‘True. But you don’t deny the first.’

Elise shrugged. ‘I get the impression that you understand honour. I value that, even in one whose religion espouses my people’s annihilation.’

‘That religion has been… twisted, a bit.’ She paused. ‘I think you have a different question.’

It didn’t seem surprising that she knew. ‘You noticed something before we entered. What?’

‘When did the Pathar army begin driving the Nysen from their homes?’

Elise was confused. ‘Two weeks past…’

‘How long has this house been abandoned?’

‘Oh.’ The point became clear.

‘Look on the shelf.’

Elise stood up, checked it. A stoneware mug, a box that might hold keepsakes… and, in pride of place, a circled star ornament. The Pathar religion’s sign.

‘I’m sure you know,’ Charity said, ‘that my people aren’t popular in the Nysen areas. A “lone farmer, out here in the middle of nowhere”… away from the forces that kept towns safe…’

Elise moved over to the bed, shrugging. ‘Some of your folk have been attacked. It’s a price you should understand, when you control our territory.’ She lay down, pointedly facing away from the nun.

Charity whispered a last comment, easy to hear in the quiet that had followed the storm. ‘“Shame on your people,” you said.’

Elise ignored the barb, willed sleep to come. Eventually, it did.

She awoke from dreamless sleep to a pale daylight that suffused the room. Outside, birds chirped and cooed, their sounds muffled and close. Her body ached with cramp, and she rolled over. Now she could see the window, a light grey rectangle. Fog.

It was no use lying here examining the weather, when she could be making progress on this fool’s mission. She gathered her strength and sat up, swinging her legs over the bedside despite the complaints of various muscles.

Charity sat cross-legged on the floorboards, facing the small circled star that remained on its shelf. Her head bowed in prayer, she looked the very picture of serenity.

Elise felt a surge of anger. ‘Enough of that. Let’s set off.’ She moved to the shelf, reached towards the ornament–

‘What happened to your people’s holy symbols?’ Charity asked sharply, interrupting mid-action.

Elise scowled, sensing another two-edged question. ‘They were ordered destroyed, two years ago, by your Archbishop. As you well know.’

‘You approve of that action?’

No, curse it!’ She put a hand threateningly on her sword-hilt. ‘Silence that clever tongue of yours and get out. Now.’

Charity nodded politely with no trace of fear and rose to her feet, leaving the room. Elise followed, still fingering her sword. Much good that did; she couldn’t in all honour kill the woman, and the nun probably knew it. They had an agreement.

They left the farmhouse, stopping for a moment to drink from a nearby spring that must have been used by the original inhabitants. Water eased her throat and did a little to quiet her stomach’s demands: she hadn’t eaten for a day and two nights. Nor had Charity, but the accursed nun was doubtless used to fasting.

Morning fog clung tenaciously to the hillside, brushing her face with damp and turning the house fifty paces away into a greying silhouette. Every other direction looked more or less alike, but the ground still sloped noticeably.

She set off without asking the nun’s opinion, heading downhill and a little to the left. This course should meet up with the path a little further on, if she judged it right.

They crossed a small paddock, stepping over the remains of a wooden fence that had once bordered it, then passed between trees that faded spookily into view. Huge gnarled oaks loomed close-packed overhead, their ancient shade deepening the gloom. A thin scattering of leaves coated the ground, but most had not yet fallen. It was easy walking through light undergrowth, the only difficulty being a criss-crossing of twisted roots that threatened to catch at their feet.

Even after a good hour’s travel, no path presented itself. She would have worried, except that they were still headed downwards toward the valley floor. The forest continued, slightly more varied hereabouts with ash and prickly hawthorn each gaining their footholds. Fog still cloaked the scene, though it had thinned a little. Even so, it might remain until midday, if there was no sun.

She glanced down to check her footing and then looked ahead, hoping for a sign of the elusive trail. There was none, only the pale outlines of trees, trees, more trees– and–

And a figure, lined faintly in the mist some way ahead and to her left, standing as if on guard.

She froze stock-still, a swift intake of breath behind her indicating that Charity had seen it too. Slowly she turned around, nodded back the way they’d came. The nun moved with similar caution, retracing their steps, and she followed. They continued for a few minutes, well after the shadowy threat had vanished into the mist.

‘A sentry, I’d swear,’ Elise suggested, when they stopped. She spoke quietly, not trusting the fog. It seemed to muffle sound, but sometimes certain noises carried further than expected. A bird squawked somewhere, and she almost jumped.

The nun nodded, not seeming to have any greater insight.

Elise shook her head, unsure. ‘I’ve never been here, only studied a map. But nothing was marked hereabouts…’

‘There was a place,’ Charity said cautiously, ‘a village, once. But nobody lives there now. It’s ruined.’

Elise blinked. ‘How would you know that?’

The nun paused, seeming a little uncomfortable. ‘I used to live around here.’

‘Oh? You might have mentioned that earlier, curse it.’


Elise turned her thoughts to the matter in hand. ‘With all these Pathars… perhaps they may have built a new outpost here.’ Perversely, the thought boosted her confidence. She might gain some information here, something worthwhile from this wasted trip.

She drew herself up, the decision made. ‘I must investigate. You needn’t come…’

‘And if I stayed here? You’d never find me again. I’m with you.’

Elise shrugged. ‘As you wish. Then lead on, if you know the area.’

Charity nodded and they set off again. She took them along a circuitous route, curving well to the right to avoid the sentry. Elise paid careful attention to the misty shadows at the edge of their vision, but the only enemies she spotted were illusions, tricks of the light that soon resolved themselves.

The ground began to level off. Eventually, the area ahead loomed brighter. They had reached the forest edge.

‘Stay here,’ Elise hissed, and went forward alone, moving cautiously from tree to tree. She finished up crouched behind concealing branches of holly, peering through.

Beyond this point the forest had been cleared systematically, clean-cut stumps revealing the recent felling. Several hundred paces distant, a wooden stockade twice Elise’s height loomed from the mist. Indistinct grey figures stood within it, looking out over the area from their high vantage.

She cursed softly. It clearly was a new staging post for the Pathar army. And there was no way she could get closer than this. She stared intently at the scene, trying to discover as much as possible. The remains of a few older buildings jutted from the ground near the new defensive wall, barely more than foundations – the deserted village Charity had mentioned. Nothing else seemed evident.

Still, the mere existence of such a base, and her rough estimate of its size, might be valuable information. She backed away carefully, using the trees for cover once more, and returned to the nun.

‘There is a new base,’ she reported. ‘Built over the village you mentioned.’

Charity nodded, and pointed to their left. ‘We have to circle around? Could go this way.’

‘Would that not cross the trail?’ Elise objected.

The nun shrugged. ‘Yes. But after that there’s cover almost to the brook.’

Elise nodded doubtfully and they set off. As it happened, though they approached the path with extreme caution, nobody was using it and they crossed without incident.

Charity led them quite some way through the woodland, eventually curving rightward where it gave way to a plain of tall grass. The mist was definitely beginning to lift, with the Pathar base’s lumpy outline just barely visible on the right as they struck out across the meadow.

A light murmuring of water announced the stream that centred this plain. Despite last night’s rain, it seemed not overfull. Perhaps it only reached the limit of its rough-edged channel after the thaws. For now it flowed lazily along, trickling around the boulders that occasionally impeded its route.

Elise judged the distance, took a run-up, leapt, and cleared the whole thing. She looked back, glancing worriedly at the Pathar outpost which seemed to grow more visible by the moment. ‘Make haste!’

The nun, somewhat smaller, detoured a few paces downstream to find a conveniently-placed rock, and crossed in two jumps. She stumbled on landing, falling onto her knees, so that Elise grabbed her impatiently and pulled her up. Together, they hurried across the grassland, avoiding occasional patches of softer ground marked by tall reeds. There was forest on this side of the valley too, not far distant. It was still some minutes before they made it to cover.

Charity sank to the ground, breathing hard, and Elise let her rest. They hadn’t quite run, but the pace had been fast nonetheless. She hoped they hadn’t been seen, and there was still a faint mist, but… well, there was nothing she could do now in any case.

‘So,’ Elise said at length, ‘which way now?’

The nun shook her head. ‘Aim uphill, I guess.’ She got to her feet again, recovered somewhat from the exertion.

They were indeed on a slope again, although a very gentle one. Elise took one last glance, from the edge of the trees, at the Pathar base – there was no activity, or at least none visible from this distance – then turned her attention forward. It appeared much like the woodland opposite; a mixture of trees, with light undergrowth. Easy walking.

Travel became even easier after a few minutes, when they chanced upon a faint trail – an animal track, or something once used by humans of the village. They followed it uphill. After a short distance, the path opened out.

A wide space among the trees, the clearing was hardly bare; grasses, small bushes, and wild flowers jostled for space and light. It was brighter here, though mist seemed to cling to the spot, giving everything a soft, faded aura. Elise shivered, chilled in the damp air.

‘We must walk around,’ she suggested. Tangled undergrowth extended until the trees began again, thirty paces or so across; it would be difficult to cross.

Not hearing a response, she glanced down at the nun. Charity stood staring into the clearing, her hands clasped as if in prayer. Feeling the gaze, she broke off and turned to face Elise. ‘Sorry – what?’

‘I said–’ Elise broke off. ‘No matter. What of this clearing? You know something, do you not?’

‘Yes,’ Charity said.

The pause that followed stretched for moments. Perhaps it was the nun’s serious tone, perhaps merely the air’s chill, but Elise felt a strange dread. She watched a light gust of wind brush the grasses, swirl the mist.

Finally she asked, ‘Well?’

Charity gestured at the clearing with an open palm. ‘This… it’s a grave. There was a dispute, and warriors swept down on the village. They killed everyone there, adults and children like. And dug a pit here for the bodies, in attempt to hide them.’

‘So.’ Elise sighed. ‘Was it your people or mine did this?’

Charity took a moment to respond, stretching the suspense. ‘It was Pathar soldiers, that time,’ she said finally. ‘Retaliating, after Pathar families were cast out of the village.’

Elise felt a strange relief at the news, more so than anger. ‘The house we stayed in?’

‘No, that came much later. Retaliation after retaliation after retaliation, you might say. The killings were five years ago.’

‘Five years?’ Something clicked in Elise’s memory. ‘Then–’

‘Yes. This is Elbrook, where your revolution started.’

She remembered now, from rallying meetings and noisy tavern discussions back when she’d been a mere child, hungry for blood and a chance to prove herself. Elbrook had been just a word, a village far distant from the Eastern Provinces of her home, an emblem for the recruiting campaign.

She’d taken the chance and the blood, in numerous operations against the soldiers and settlers who occupied Nysen lands. Now, when the Pathar authorities finally gave up pretending they could maintain peace through their oppression, it was here in the Northland that they struck first. So it was here she came, and found herself where it had originally started. Elbrook.

‘How do you know all this?’

Charity shrugged. ‘I was born here.’


‘Yes. I left for the abbey and my training. Then my parents were driven out of the village, before the massacre. I still had a few friends here…’

‘So.’ Elise stared into the clearing. She should have felt angry, perhaps, in the presence of so many martyrs. But the chill in the air here spoke of warning and dread, not rage.

She shook herself. ‘Let’s go.’

The nun nodded and they skirted the clearing, continued upslope. Elise couldn’t help but glance back one last time on the tangled vegetation, on the shimmering mist that clouded it. Elbrook. Quiet, foreboding – not the images she’d pick for the rallying cry. Not at all.

The track twisted sharply as it emerged from trees. It was a proper road they followed now, wide enough for a cart. Well they left this final forest: the rapid onset of darkness had caused her to stumble repeatedly on the shadowed trail.

Moonlight greeted them as they walked free from spreading branches; moon and stars both, the sky having cleared up during afternoon. Her spirits lifted at the sight, and more so when Charity pointed down the hillside.

‘Rivense Abbey.’

Lamplight shone from gracefully-curved windows of some large hall; moonlight glittered from the slates of its steep roof. A handful of smaller buildings surrounded it, dormitories and the like. The complex was surrounded by a tall wall.

It was still some way distant, set among fields bare now after the harvest. The road wound down toward it, branching a little before to reach the town. That was visible, too, or part of it before the corner of the hill; a decent-sized, untidy cluster of homes and businesses built close together as if for support on the slope.

They continued. Elise’s legs ached with the strain; she’d insisted they push on through dusk and now nightfall, and now she paid the price. The nun must have it even worse, though there had been no complaints.

The road divided, and they stopped together. Here the nun would leave, and her own duty be completed. The idea of parting felt strange, as if they’d been together much longer than two days. The battle for Leabridge seemed distant history.

‘Well… I thank you for your help,’ Charity said, glancing up at her. The nun’s face gleamed pale in the moonlight, smudged with dirt though it was.

And then Elise realised what had been bothering her this afternoon, or else the whole journey.

‘You didn’t need my help, did you? I owed you a debt, but… you’re hardly the type who fears each passing stranger, am I right?’

The nun smiled slightly. ‘Maybe.’ She gestured beside the road, where somebody had placed a large, flat rock. ‘If you want to talk about it, sit down.’

Elise sat. The stone was comfortable enough, perhaps smoothed by hundreds using it as a bench. Charity settled down by her side.

‘Well, then,’ Elise asked, ‘why did you ask me to come?’ A thought struck her, and she laughed. ‘You can’t have been expecting to make a convert for the abbey.’

The nun smiled. ‘No, not that.’

‘Then why? And–’ she’d been suspecting it– ‘you led me on purpose to that house, did you not? You knew it was there.’

‘It was a good shelter,’ Charity said neutrally.

‘The grave site, too,’ Elise persisted.

The small woman laughed, holding out both hands. ‘Okay. You caught me.’

‘But why–’ she began, and stopped, frustrated. ‘You keep making me ask more questions, curse it. Tell me something.’

‘Ah, but questions are important.’ The nun stretched out her arms, yawning, then looked back, all serious. ‘You seemed the type who didn’t ask enough.’

Elise blinked, perplexed.

‘“Was it your people or mine did this,”’ Charity quoted. ‘That’s a good question. Think on it the next time you begin some slaughter.’

‘Don’t make light of me,’ Elise said grimly. ‘I’ve killed dozens of your kind.’

She shrugged her narrow shoulders. ‘Oh, I’m not judging you. I’ll leave that to God. Or your Lady, if you prefer.’

‘Truth be told, I’m not much for religion.’

‘I’d guessed,’ the nun said dryly. ‘You might think on that, too.’

Elise sighed. ‘That’s truthfully the only reason you led me this dance? To have me ask questions?’

‘It is.’ She laughed softly. ‘I’m sorry if that bothers you. Let me grant a blessing in repayment.’

‘I don’t think–’

‘Nonsense. You’ll need it, if you’re to sneak into town under curfew.’

Charity stood quickly, rested both hands atop Elise’s head. The lightness of her touch brought back memories of the healing, back at the beginning of all this.

‘May my Lord, and your Lady, watch close over you.’

The nun paused a second, removed her hands. ‘There.’

Elise looked up at her, thoughtful. ‘That’s the second time you’ve said that.’


‘Mentioned both religions in one sentence.’

‘Oh.’ Charity smiled. ‘It’s a habit of mine. I came by it after asking some questions.’

‘They’d likely hang you for it…’ Elise wondered.

The nun shrugged, worsening a tear that had begun in the shoulder of her mud-spattered robes. She glanced at it, distracted. ‘I’d best be off. You, too.’

Elise got to her feet, took a step on her way, turned on a final whim. ‘Will I see you again?’

‘If you look for me.’ Charity smiled suddenly. ‘And they haven’t hanged me.’

She shook her head. ‘Fare well, then.’ It sounded strange somehow, an expression she’d more often used when her compatriots headed into danger. Charity waved in return anyway, starting along her own path.

Elise made her way down toward the town, trying to think of the practicalities: how she would sneak past its guard, how she would find someone who supported the cause to conceal her and – most important right now – give her a meal. Weary after two days’ exertions, she summoned together the last of the strength for the effort, forging a path away from the road toward the likeliest-looking section of wall.

Mere survival required her full concentration. But she couldn’t help thinking of the strange nun.


Charity’s smile flickered afresh in her mind.