Carrion and Further Partings

Riding along the way from Edoras toward Marton was normally not so awful. Of course, she was usually aiming to bypass Marton, in case her welcome would have expired with Leoffrith's nominal exile, but this time she was planning to stop in on her way to Fréasburg.

What most made it awful was the fact that she couldn't really see Marton. Then, she started seeing scavengers. All sorts: four-legged, two-legged, winged, and some mounted. That and some traces of smoke from buildings that hadn't burnt out completely yet. This was a much more recent bit of devastation than what she'd encountered earlier at Langhold, and thus much more dangerous. Many of these scavengers were probably just the stragglers of the raid, still busy looting. And she was a big target. Well, mounted on one, at least.

This was too big a mess to try and skirt past to get to the Isen. Not this time, and not from here. It was time for a new plan. No more trying to consult in Fréasburg with Lady Hæneth. She was going to have to go with what camouflage she already had just for this current hazard, and detour north. The maps she'd seen before showed Gapholt as being the most likely place to the north, and she was coming from the northern side. There wasn't much she recalled as being available to the south, anyway, unless she wanted the long and possibly one-way trip to the Hornburg.

After a pause behind one of the outcroppings in the area, she proceeded north, trying to act like a lesser scavenger herself. No hurry. No particular alarm at seeing others. Just avoiding them because of not wanting to fight over the spoils, but looking over the fields and bodies as though looking to loot. Yes, that's right. Don't bother me, and I don't bother you. Good. And keep moving….

It was a most nerve-wracking day of such travel, but she made it to Gapholt without incident, where she found herself almost completely shut out of the town by a rabble of refugees and an overwhelmed set of guards. The fact that she was well-armed and armoured, on a war-steed with a pack animal in tow, however, made enough difference to get her some time with the guards for exchanging information.

The information wasn't what she'd wanted, of course, and they weren't going to risk the floodgates by admitting her into the town, either, but at least she knew what was up. She had to let Aduial get nasty with some of the refugees who kept trying to grab at her to ask her if she'd seen someone or another. She felt bad about it, but she hadn't seen anyone alive they'd care about, and couldn't identify any of the corpses she'd seen. She kept moving until she could make a cold camp out away from the town, and wore her dazed numbness as though it were another kind of armour, at least until she slept.

She woke without really wanting to, as the sky was barely coming light again. Her sleep had been an uneasy thing, filled with visions of corvids eating the eyes out of the bloating bodies of people she'd known, and filled with the rank stench of burning human flesh and hair. Between how she was feeling otherwise, and those sensations, she had trouble being motivated even to seeing to it that mare and goat were both fed, and didn't bother for herself. She knew Woodhurst wasn't that much further along the path she'd been following. Even if she couldn't find Leoffrith's aunties – though she expected they'd be fine – she'd be able to afford a meal in the tavern there.

Toward the end of that day, finally reaching Woodhurst, she found that some people were evacuating, with more apparently preparing to follow. She found Tatswiþ and Mildþryþ at home, though – and quickly had to reassure them that her presence without Leoffrith wasn't bad news regarding him.

After making sure they understood that he was still safely up north, and apparently doing wedding planning, they relaxed quite a bit. They were happy to see her, and to get that bit of more pleasant news. They were also packing up to take refuge in Aglarond, so she pitched in to help while gathering what news of the family she could.

It seemed that Lithiva and her husband from Brockhurst had survived, though the latter was gravely injured, and might not even survive the travel for all the aunties knew. Leoffweard and Leoffdan had also survived, and the latter was already at the Hornburg. Her own information about the state of things at Gapholt confirmed their suspicions that the family members there were still alive as well. It was, essentially, only those in Marton who were gone – but it seemed none of their family from there numbered among any of the refugees.

They fed her, not being about to set out on the road at night, and discussed her plans. They didn't like what they heard, but she had shown up in armour and had been travelling the Mark alone for almost two years now, so after some amount of "are you sure", they came up with ways to darken her hair with nut-based dyes, and she arranged to leave Rascal with them, for all it nearly broke her heart, so they could have a pack animal for their evacuation, and she could travel fast and light through the area they called Dunland.

The women wouldn't let her leave without loading her up with yet more food, despite her desire to travel light, and her lack of appetite. But she knew they were right that she had to eat – and then realised further that this was an aspect of their grief. It was an attempt to be sure of not losing her, too, from any inaction of theirs.

Things being as they were in Woodhurst, she was even able to get a quick lesson in a few phrases of the language in use across the river, just in case she'd need them, which made her feel a bit better about her plan. Of course, while she wasn't actively seeking death, and meant to keep her promises to return to the north and report in, she wasn't that sure she really cared if she died on the road. Especially not after her tearful good-bye to Rascal in the morning. What he made of her kissing his nose and dripping tears on his fur she had no idea.

But shortly after, a very grim-faced and freshly dark-haired scout cantered out of town on her dark war-steed, headed north by north-west and into lands that she'd never seen, and where she'd need to keep her eyes clear once again.