By Stephen Schamber
The caravan departed before dawn, so early that most of the town wasn't even stirring. Once Egilhard had given a brief account of their night's adventure, Baer had decided not to lose any time in getting out of the duchy. They would probably have days before the bodies were discovered, but the bigger their head start the better off they would be.
By leaving before anyone was awake, fewer people would remember the caravan and when it had stopped. Hopefully nobody would piece together that it had been on the same day as the killings. Internal power struggles were common in bandit groups, and with no other explanation their deaths would likely be put down to that. Emmie would be just one more orphan gone missing, with little connecting her to the bandits and nothing connecting her to the caravan.
This was an attempt to protect the caravan as much as to protect her. Egilhard had thoroughly broken the terms of the treaty in helping Emmie, and if his role was discovered it would not protect them from the nobleman's family. They were traders, not a roving city watch, and they had no legal authority to chase bandits, no matter how heinous their crimes. Despite that, the members of the caravan were not above discreet meddling in local affairs. When slapped in the face with disgusting behavior they sometimes couldn't help stepping in, as a matter of conscience. The members of the trading trains, dwarf and human alike, came from nations with freer laws and traditions.
Trade caravans tried to avoid the unpleasant parts of Terfarine as much as they could. These were the places they were most likely to get into trouble, whether from aggressive local rulers or their own actions. Petty local officials had been know to bait the caravans, even committing atrocities against their own people to get the caravans to step outside the treaty's limits and into trouble. The dwarves fought back, with judicious interference when they could get away with it, but most often with embargo. Corrupt or tyrannical nobles eventually found the dwarves wouldn't do business in their territory at all, even if they had to pass through to reach their destination. Duke Lameris of Redearth was well on his way to that.
Pulling himself away from these reflections, Egilhard looked at the horizon ahead, waiting for a glimpse of the sun. Egilhard didn't usually mind leaving early the way many others did. He liked riding into sunrises, although it was considered more poetic to ride into sunsets. The longer you rode into a sunset, the more difficulty you would have setting up camp in the dark. In summer, travelling in the morning was far more comfortable than evening anyway.
Egilhard had been relieved of point duty today. He'd be too tired do a good job due to staying up the entire night. He'd probably be asleep in his saddle before long. By dusk, they'd be far from Graybank and out of Redearth Duchy. It would be an long day's ride for the caravan, but Emmie would be out of any immediate danger, so he could afford to relax.
For now Emmie was riding sidesaddle behind Egilhard, hands clasped around his stomach to stay on the horse. She'd never ridden a horse before, and it was an extremely awkward way to ride, but she was doing well. She would have to move to a wagon before long. She was as exhausted as Egilhard, and sleeping in the saddle was not a trick for a new rider to try.
They were going to need to buy her a lot of gear at one of the next few towns, Egilhard though fuzzily. She would need her own horse, and all the equipment one required. She would also need clothing suitable for riding, because hers was decidedly not. Fortunately Herve's money pouch had been quite full. Horses and tack were not cheap, but there would be enough. He'd thought about going to get the bandits' horses, tied out of sight in the grove, but decided against it. The risk of being spotted was too great.
"Are you still awake back there?" Egilhard asked, tapping her fingers.
"Yes," she replied groggily. "I'm trying to stay awake until we get to those trees." She pointed at a patch of woods about a mile further up the road. "It's the furthest I've ever been from town."
"You'll have been a lot further by the end of the day."
"Yup," she responded cheerfully.
"Are you nervous?"
"Yes," she admitted, "but it's exciting too! My father used to tell me stories about people going far away from home and having all kinds of adventures. Now I get to have some of my own."
"Is that what you wanted to do?"
"Well...I'd never thought about it much. I'm not sure I would have done it on my own, but now that it's happening anyway I might as well try to enjoy it."
It wasn't the first time Egilhard had cause to be impressed by her resilience. He hoped it would be enough. The next few months were going to involve many difficult adjustments for her, no matter what she chose to do.