Tradden’s breath hung in the air in a cloud of vapour, sparkling in the moonlight before him. He had been eager to get out and wait by the east gate of the village even if it meant standing in the chill of the night for a while. Khalin had been less eager, the warmth of the inn’s fire and the comfort of a pitcher of ale more appealing than skulking around in the night.
Tradden stamped his feet and rubbed his hands to keep warm his anticipation and excitement growing by the minute.
‘She’ll be here soon, Khalin, don’t worry,’ he kept repeating. Khalin remained still, just raising an eyebrow at the youngster.
Out of the gloom approached a figure. To Tradden it was enchanting — the glint of moonlight reflecting from polished steel, the catlike grace of the movement, and the flash of swaying hair as Caldring approached and looked up to one of the wooden lookout towers to nod at a guard. Khalin saw merely a tall elf, somewhat overweight for a female, desperately trying to get her unkempt hair under control and tie it back.
‘Greetings,’ Caldring announced, finally getting her hair into some form of pony tail. She dropped a sack to the floor. ‘Your crossbow, young man, and your mail is in there too — you should take more care of it.’
Tradden opened the sack and began to inspect the mail, eventually shrugging the steel over his shoulders and tying down the leather straps. He grabbed the crossbow next, turning it over and over. It was light and quite small, rather unimpressive, but quite functional. He started trying to fix it to his thigh.
Caldring wrapped a cloak around her shoulders, preventing the sheen from the moonlight sparkling off her scale mail, but not before Khalin noticed the workmanship and decoration of the armour.
‘Excellent armour, smith,’ he nodded. ‘Your own design? I notice the rune marks.’
Caldring studied Khalin for an instant before she replied, ‘Yes, I forged the armour myself. A test piece, yet to see the force of battle. Let us hope that we do not have to use it tonight. Let us move on.’
Caldring headed towards the east gate, signaling once more to the guard on duty in the tower. Near the main gate, one of the guards was waiting, prior arrangements been made, and a small trapdoor in the wooden palisade was opened to allow the threesome outside the compound.
As the group climbed down and back up the other side of the dried moat, Caldring looked around in the darkness. ‘We follow the trail to the lake, and the boathouse. We can then follow the shoreline of the lake around to the east and into the swamps. The boathouse is about half a league, and then a further league or so around the lake. Gilmorril suggests the marsh is two leagues due east from a huge boulder by the lake edge, we’ll have to cut across country from there.’
She looked pointedly at Khalin, ‘If we can all keep up, we’ll be at the marsh in three hours or so.’
‘You’ll have no problem with me,’ growled Khalin. ‘Back in the Border March we often marched many more leagues than that on manoeuvres. I remember once…’ but Caldring had set off, with Tradden skipping behind to keep up.