The weak afternoon sun struggled to break through the band of roiling black and red cloud. He drew breath quickly, and wished he hadn’t as the smell of burned flesh hit his nostrils. His eyes were heavy and he rolled slightly in the saddle, swaying with his horses movements. Forcing his eyes open, he felt the hilt of his sword pressed against his side. It was a good sword, or it had once been. His father had given it to him for his name day some twelve years before, since that time it had been of little use to him – until now. It would need to be replaced, the length of the blade not only pitted but broken. The Princes man had nearly been the death of him.
Blinking, and wiping the sweat from his eyes, he glanced back over the ragged band of men following him. “The scrapings of hell the lot of them.” He thought almost bitterly. “My brother served as hand of the king, and I get stuck with you lot.” He muttered.
Feeling eyes on him, he glanced down at the young boy, his squire walking along beside him. The boy was young, barely fourteen, and dull as a bootstrap. Snorting angrily, he kicked his stallions sides, urging the beast onwards. It would be night soon, he did not wish to spend another night in the open.
Allowing his eyes to close, he needed to rest, he tried to ignore the burning pain in his side. The boy had sewn him up but none too well and none too neat, a butcher could have done better. He could hear the soft sounds of the horses hooves and the even softer sound of his mens feet. Behind him, a man coughed and spat noisily, but they made little noise themselves. He did not know if that was good or bad, even Doren was quiet, and the man was usually always singing or humming a tune. Perhaps the man was just as bone weary as he was.
The clouds above grew heavier, fat and thick and heavy with rain. It always came after a battle, brought on by smoke and fire. It would wash away some of the dust and settle the path, washing away their footprints.
Off to the side, he saw a man bounding steadily towards them. Jugo. He felt a sigh of relief. Some news at last. Jugo had been a poacher, a thief caught red handed on his fathers property. Faced with a choice of service or his life, the man had chosen wisely and chosen to serve. He was the best tracker Kevan had known.
Kevan reigned his horse to a stop and waited for Jugo to join them. “Sept about two lengths up ahead my lord, full of refugees by the look of it.” Jugo said in quiet tones.
Sighing, Kevan nodded and glanced once more at his men. The sept would give them rest at least. He pressed his warhorse onwards once again. He was not the only one longing for bed and food. The sept came into view a few moments later. Jugo had been right about it seemingly full of refugees. Crossing through the bricked archway, he ducked his head, his eyes scanning ahead for any signs of trouble.
* * * * *
The archway opened up onto a large courtyard that seemed to be filled with people. Dirty, filthy and ragged. Sandor swore and spat on the ground, the smell of dirt, blood was so thick he could almost taste it. A woman looked at him and half screamed, picking up the child that clung to her skirts and holding it closer. “As if that would help her.” He thought to himself, feeling his face twitch. He leered at her and laughed when she ran screaming.
Ser Kevan drew the column to a halt, bending from the waist to talk to a man in black coarse wool. After a moment the knight slid down from his horse and handed the reins to his squire, walking off towards where another man dressed in the same black wool came hurrying to meet them.
The second man held his arms out to the side and gave a scared look at all of them. “I am Septon Neke, welcome in the name of the Seven. Here you will find bread and salt.”
“My men have need of food.” Ser Kevan said smoothly. “And a Maester –if you have one?”
Neke gave him a quick look of surprise, his eyes narrowing. “We have no Maester, but we have Sisters here who can tend to wounds as necessary and prayers to be raised for the sick.”
Ser Kevan nodded wearily and walked forwards with the priest by his side as they spoke.
“What do you think?” Hamar asked, glancing around.
Sandor shrugged. “Could be hard to defend.” He said quietly, his voice rough and raw. He needed a drink, his throat felt full of dust, dirt and blood.
Hamar looked at the people milling around, they had moved aside, letting their commander and the priest through, but now the gap was closing slightly. “I trust my guts, and my guts say this place is wrong. It’s a Sept.”
“It’s war.” Sandor muttered darkly and pushed on, a woman clutched at his arm, peering anxiously into his face.
“Luc?” She muttered fearfully, hopefully. “Have you seen my Luc? He’s just a boy m’Lord. A boy of ten. Squire to Ser Mallory?”
“Get out of the way!” A whip cracked at the harsh voice, and a knight riding a white Destrier pushed his way forwards, cracking people out of the way. Voices shouted and people ran in fear.
Sandor held onto the woman who crushed herself against him, sobbing against his chest. Blood flowed from the cut on her cheek. He steadied her on her feet and grimaced. “There are many people still coming in.” He said quietly.
The woman nodded, and pulled away, anxiously searching the road behind them. Sandor moved off with a heavy sigh aware of Hamar looking at him. “You tell her.” He said gruffly. Hamar’s face dulled slightly, but he shook his head and fell silent as they made their way, following the others.
An old man came limping towards them, he was missing a leg and used a cane for support, he took the reins of the horses, murmuring to them quietly. “Go on in.” He muttered, stroking the black stallions neck with a firm hand.
“Mind you take care of him.” Sandor muttered and turned away, he always hated leaving his horse, castle or sept, but the man did appear to know what he was doing. A fire was burning in a large brass brazier, throwing the warmth out as the men gathered around it, holding their hands towards the flickering flames.
The gut wrenching feeling floated in his belly, but he forced it down, forced down the smell of his own flesh steaming, burning, melting. Handor grinned at him, moving sideways and making room for him. Across the courtyard, a door opened and outstepped a young woman, little more than a girl. The last rays of the afternoon sun caught her hair, making it sparkle like the fire. She was carrying a basket and she paused, pulling the hood of her cape up against the rain that was falling. Holding her skirts with one hand, she ran towards them quickly. She was wearing black he noticed, garbed all in black with three bands of white along the hem of her skirt. The girl drew close to them and held out the basket.
“Food.” She said quietly. “And drink.” Her eyes ran over them all, standing around the fire and her pale face flushed. “If any are hurt, my sisters and I will tend to your needs.”
“I know one need you will tend.” A man guffawed, motioning with his hands.
The girl flushed deeper, looking away from him.
“You speak.” Hamar said softly, in awe. “I … I thought the sisters were all silent.”
“I’m a novice, I have not yet said my vows.” The girl spoke quietly and her hood slid, revealing a whiteness to one of her eyes.
Taking the basket from her, Sandor handed it to one of the others and nodded. The girl seemed to take it as all that was necessary and moved away, crossing the courtyard once more and disappearing inside the sept.