The trouble in Rievaulx started with the sight of the Genevais banner flying over the city: crossed red hands on a field of white edged in black. Not Shrike's personal banner, nor that of his men, but the crown of Genev itself. Even without the hateful specter of Ghyslain Roche's personal demons, however, the ice of hate cracked and grew inside Sorrow. Even if they were not under his direct command, they still fought beside Shrike. They allowed him to continue to work his evil, wittingly or not, that willingly or not.

Draha noticed the tension in Sorrow immediately, even if the impassive facial expression remained. It was hard to ignore the way her hand gripped her weapon's hilt, knuckles like polished ivory. The hedge witch placed a hand on the revenant's arm to calm her.

Like all dead flesh, Sorrow did not respond. Her eyes focused on the banner, imagining what it would look like ripped from its hangings and engulfed by fire. Still, she understood patience. A battle here would make it even more difficult to reach Shrike and that would delay her final rest. After a tense few minutes as the wagons neared the gates of Rievaulx, she released hold of her estoc.

Her hedge witch companion relaxed with a sigh of relief. "It will be fine," she promised Sorrow. "We are only here to trade and even Shrike must bow to his king. There is little danger to people as small as us."

Sorrow pursed her lips into a thin line and refocused on the guards of the enemy king at the gate. It would probably be wiser to let the caravan do the talking and keep her distance.

Cathasach pulled even with their wagon, comfortable in the saddle of a horse that was probably one step better than a nag. "Them folk ain't about to like yer armor," he said somberly. "Not the truth o' it."

"We could tell them she's Genevais," Draha suggested.

"They don't often let women fight," Beran said, poking his head out of the wagon where he'd been working on inventory. He wasn't much in the way of a scholar, but he knew enough of writing and arithmetic to catalogue goods and calculate expected value. "That accent of Sorrow's won't help sell it either."

Cathasach nodded thoughtfully, rubbing his chin with one hand. "Finders-keepers, then," he said. "Robbin' the dead is better than makin' 'em dead."

"Ho there!" the first guard at the gate called, signalling their wagon to stop with a raised hand. The others that were following them drew to a halt as well.

Cathasach got down from his saddle with a grunt, patting the old horse's shoulder as the soldiers approached. "Good e'en, gents," the old man said.

The leader of the Genevais foot soldiers had the famous red hair of the northern parts of his home country, a sergeant's emblem stitched to his surcoat. He had a lean and hungry look, a sign that the town was not as well-supplied as they would have liked. "Who are you and what is your purpose here in Rievaulx?" he said seriously, his gimlet glare meant to intimidate those who approached into truthfulness.

"We're traders from the Kingdom of Yssa, with a smattering of Leyan merchants along for the ride," Cathasach said with a glint of pride in his tone, brushing the dust from his shirt and pants as much as he could. They'd been on the road more than ten days since Sorrow joined, moving carefully to avoid Shrike's men or any other soldiers.

"Goods?" the guard said, frowning.

"Most of 'em, dyes," Cathasach explained. "With a few other things along. A bottle or two o' spirits here, a piece o' pretty pottery there."

The man's eyes lit up at the mention of spirits. "What fine vintage are you carrying, old man?"

Cathasach gave the sergeant a stern look. "The kind fair enough to need proper coin returned," he said. "Ros ice-wine."

"I'll be your first customer," the sergeant said eagerly. His enthusiasm dimmed slightly when he looked over at the wagon and saw Sorrow seated beside Draha and now Beran. There were still Genevais rank markings on the armor, if stained and partially damaged from combat. "You there! What's your name?"

Sorrow looked over, her freezing gaze settling on him. He twitched slightly under its cold weight. "Does it matter?" she asked coldly. As Beran had pointed out, her accent was pronounced enough to be noticed.

He gripped his spear. "Your name, Tal." The shortened form of her nationality was not said pleasantly.

"Be good to my sister," Draha pleaded. "She has been through so much."

The revenant knew too much resistance would provoke a fight and they were not yet to Astarac. The caravan was still under her protection and that oath bound her for the moment. "I am called Sorrow."

"By decree, none but the soldiers of Genev may bear arms in the city. You must surrender them," the guard said, his expression clearly displeased.

Sorrow's face remained a mask of impassivity. She stared at the man, unflinching in the face of his objection. "I require my weapons for the protection of this caravan."

"They will be returned to you when you depart from Rievaulx," he said. "If you do not surrender them, I will be forced to arrest you on suspicion of being an agent of the Serpentine Crown."

"I serve no king. I require my weapons for the protection of this caravan." Sorrow's words hit with the blunt force of hammer blows. There was nothing diplomatic or gentle about her tone, only somber certitude.

Beran grabbed her shoulder. "Sorrow, please," he said. "You cannot protect us if you are jailed. We will be fine in Rievaulx."

Sorrow looked from Beran's earnest concern to the growing aggression of the guard. She undid her sword belt and bound it up around her estoc, quiver, and bow, tying them neatly together. The weapons really didn't matter. She could kill with her bare hands if necessity or the hate dictated. Her words were bitter midwinter on the heart of the guard leader. "I will hold you personally responsible if harm befalls a member of this caravan." She leaned down from the wagon, eyes cold and dead. "I will remember your face."

Whatever he saw when he looked into those eyes told him of the depths of her sincerity and the absolute retribution she would bring. "I do not control Rievaulx," he said.

"But you control my weapons," she answered coldly, tossing the bundle towards his chest. "If I go to defend them and find my hand empty, I will think of you."

He caught the bundle of weapons, a deep unease in the shifting of his stance and press of his lips together. "You should watch your words, stranger. A lord will not take kindly to such a tone," he warned.

Sorrow didn't seem to even notice that he was still speaking. Instead, she looked to Cathasach. "Are we prepared to enter?"

"A few more arms to lay," Cathasach said. "We've a few with bows and spears for brigands or hunting."

"We'll account for them," one of the other soldiers said, stepping up. "You'll get them returned when you depart. King Alesander's peace protects this place."

"Like it protected Dalle?" Sorrow rasped.

Draha and Beran both heard it, but the soldiers were too busy now with their task to make mark of it. "I'm sorry," Beran said quietly. "This will be different."

Sorrow nodded. It would be different. This time, death would not prevent her protection.

Beran ducked back into the wagon after it was searched and Cathasach climbed back onto his nag to lead the way. They passed under the gate at a steady clip of horse trot, Sorrow paying mind to the lightness at her hip. How much of her life had she worn a weapon there that it felt so strange to be without one? She clenched her fists at her sides as they passed the bulk of the Genevais soldiers, turning when she heard a hiss from Draha.

"What?" Sorrow asked.

"I know those men," Draha said through a jaw tight with fear, gesturing to a pack of mercenaries at the edge of the main square. "From Yssa. Though to be certain, I'd have to see them in firelight."

"Beran and Cathasach didn't kill them?" Sorrow said, tone bone dry.

"They killed a couple and wounded some of the others, but we fled," Draha said. "They were more interested in getting me away than putting them in the ground. But...if those men see me…"

Sorrow held out her hands for the reins. "Get in the wagon and help Beran," she rasped. "I can handle the beasts."

Draha flashed her a smile of relief and gratitude as she passed the reins and then slipped back into the wagon. "You're a good one, Sorrow."

The revenant let her hands gently guide the horses to follow Cathasach through the busy streets, not that they needed much guidance to follow their own herd. Rievaulx was much larger than Dalle, with full fortifications and room for a proper garrison. The market was teeming with life, only somewhat diminished by the war on. The north-south trade route that it sat on had fared much better than the east-west, probably due to Shrike's positioning. The area would likely end up in Talinese hands again, but there would be a few bloody battles before that happened.

Sorrow watched the Yssan mercenaries out of the corner of her eye. They didn't act like they'd seen and recognized Draha, at least.

By the time they reached the inn and settled everything, it was well into the night. Sorrow busied herself with moving bags and tarps, ever keeping a wary eye on her surroundings. She kept a particularly close tab on Draha, keeping the hedge witch within sight or earshot at all times. If there was to be trouble, that was where it would start.

Beran bent over, exhaling a sigh as the last carefully wrapped bag of dye was brought upstairs to their rooms. It was too valuable to leave out in the wagons, but everyone wanted a proper roof and a warmer place to sleep, maybe even a bath, after months on the open road. "You make that look too damn easy, Sorrow. For being ground up bits, all that's heavy."

"I just want a bath," Draha declared, falling back on a bed. "I feel like I've lived in this dirt for an aeon." She looked over at the revenant. "You should take one too, Sorrow. Maybe that will warm you up a bit."

"Drinks first, ladies and gents," Cathasach said with a beaming smile as he stepped in. "Ye've full run of the place. That ice-wine bought all we can drink and eat."

"Wonderful!" Beran said with a grin. "Hot meals, plenty of drinks, a warm bath, a nice soft bed...sounds heavenly." He winked at Draha. "Care to share?"

Draha laughed. "Which part, you rogue?"

"That, fair lady, is up to you," he said with a gallant air, offering the hedge-witch his arm. He looked over at their quiet sentinel with a friendly grin. "Come on, Sorrow. Are you more of a beer or a wine woman? Maybe a maiden of mead?"

Sorrow shrugged as she followed the pair, Cathasach at her heels. It would all taste the same, so she didn't particularly care. It was at least easier to drink than eat. The taste of bitter ashes in her mouth whenever she tried to get down any food was almost enough to make her vomit every time. Liquids were just tasteless, joyless.

Within minutes, they were comfortably ensconced at a side table, in view of the cleared space where patrons could dance to the cheerful sound of the bard's lute. Cathasach tore into his portion of roast chicken and vegetables like a starving wolf while Beran slammed his first two ales, dark and strong.

"Pacing, both of you," Draha chided, poking them each in the ribs.

Sorrow sat with her back to the dance floor, trusting her own perception to cue her if a threat was coming. She kept her mug of mulled wine close, hands wrapped the warmth even though she couldn't feel it. There was only cold. It made a more convincing impression, at least.

They had an hour of rest and relaxation before Sorrow saw the color drain from Draha's face. "They're here," the hedge witch whispered urgently.

The mercenaries fanned out through the room, more meandering than searching, while their commander arranged a tab. They settled on several tables between Sorrow's little group and the stairs.

"It's been a while, luv," Cathasach said to reassure her, wiping some of the grease from the chicken onto his worn pants. "Still, we can leave by door and get back in by window."

A hand crashed down on Beran's shoulder from the side. "Look what we have here!" the mercenary crowed. Stocky and broad-shouldered, he had plenty enough muscle to drag a half-drunk Beran out of his chair. "An old friend!" He grinned. "My favorite thing, meeting old friends."

Sorrow palmed the knife Cathasach had been using to carve the chicken, a single-edged knife a good four or five inches long in the blade. It was probably shoddy construction, as it was only meant to cut up meat. These men were in armor. She took a good, long look at them to take their measure.

They were not Shrike-hardened men. They moved as if trained, but not expert. She could see cruelty in them like a cancer as the man gave Beran a shove into the middle of the dance to the tune of vicious laughter, but they struck her as bullies as much as butchers: they targeted the weak first. Beran was in no condition to defend himself. His swinging fist towards the man went wide, courtesy of alcohol, and the mercenary punished him with a brutal, gauntleted backhand.

Her hand twitched to the empty place where her sword should have been as she stood up. "Get Beran," Sorrow ordered. "I will handle the mercenaries."

"How are we going to get to—" Draha started. Her answer was the explosive crack of a chair against the man's head and back, dropping him like a stone. Sorrow hit him so hard that the chair broke in several places, clearing a path to Beran.

"Go," Sorrow said coolly. She strode across the dance floor towards the collection of stunned mercenaries who were about to be very, very angry at her for downing their friend. She picked up the leg of a chair that had been broken to a jagged point. It would do. "If you have a problem with them, you have a problem with me."

"Ye're bloody mad!" one of the mercenaries bellowed, a great bear of a man with a mane of golden hair. He drew his sword and advanced, allowing people to hastily scatter out of his way. He didn't move alone either: eight of his brethren formed a ring around Sorrow, blades bared. "Ye want to protect that witch and her pets, ye'll burn with 'em."

Sorrow tightened her grip on the chair leg, wood creaking under her grip. "You have one chance," she said flatly. "Leave and be a pestilence no more, or I will end you."

"Brave talk for a gel with a stick," he snarled, advancing. He flicked his blade at her head, no doubt intending on cutting her face, as a warning to back off or prelude to worse.

Sorrow dropped low and surged like a sprinter or a diver, plowing into the man with enough force to send him crashing down onto a table on his back. She hit him across the face with her chair leg, gashing him across the face and claiming an eye.

"Sorrow!" Draha screamed.

She felt the force of impact more than anything else, something sharp piercing her through the back, driving so deeply into her heart that the hilt struck her hard enough to bruise against her ribs. Just as there had been with Shrike's men, she felt no pain. It was...nothing.

Icy rage flared in her heart. She whirled, breaking the man's grip on his weapon. He threw up a hand to guard his head, fingers slick with dark, viscous blood.

She hit him in the ribs instead with the point of the chair leg's jagged tip, piercing between them with unholy strength. He crumpled.

Sorrow wrenched the knife out of her back and hurled it contemptuously at a third man who looked like he was going to rush her, gashing his thigh despite his armor. She couldn't watch all of them at once, however.

A blade cleaved into her neck, shearing so hard that it sliced down into her collarbone. She felt her head fall, a brief flash of black across her vision. Was this the end? Was this peace?

Then everything came roaring back. She bent at the knees and wound her fingertips in her hair. She lifted, not even looking down to see her body for positioning. She knew where it was on an instinctual level, guided by that bloodthirst. Screams echoed around her, terror hitting even the most hardened warriors at a primal level. "Monster!" someone shrieked.

Sorrow waited a moment before moving, flesh mending seamlessly as bone reconnected in the proper place. Then she twisted her head each way, popping everything back into alignment. She advanced towards the mercenary leader, seizing his swordhand before he could take his next swing. She twisted effortlessly, wrenching his wrist hard enough that he was forced to drop the weapon. It clinked when she put her heel down hard on the flat of the blade, pinning it to the floor. "I keep my promises," she hissed before slamming him back against the table. The angle he struck at left him stunned, unable to resist when she dropped her weight on his head with a sickening crack off the edge of the table.

His head hung at an unnatural angle, a horrible warning to the Yssans as they fled as fast as they could through every exit available.

Sorrow's vision cleared of the terrible rage, returning her to calm cold now that the enemy was either dead or gone. She looked into frightened eyes. Draha was frozen against the wall behind Beran, eyes wide with a mix of horror and fear. "W-w-what are y-you?" the hedge witch whispered.

"Magic?" Beran said weakly.

Cathasach made a sign of aversion to ward off evil, aimed directly at Sorrow. She felt no compulsion to budge an inch. "'Tis a demon!"

Draha shook her head. "That was flesh and blood," she said, still gripping Beran's shoulders with terrified strength.

"You should not be found with me," Sorrow said coolly, as if nothing had happened. "It will only end in arrest."

Beran tried not to stare at the body or the dark blood staining Sorrow's armor. "What are you going to do?" he asked weakly.

"I am going to kill Ghyslain Roche," Sorrow rasped. "My absence is more protection to you than my presence. You must leave."

She didn't wait for a reply. Sorrow strode out into the street, not at all surprised to see an arch of guards penning her in. Vermin ran in packs. "You are under arrest," a familiar voice said. There at the front was the sergeant from the gate, spear leveled at Sorrow.

"My hand was empty," she said coldly, closing her hands into fists. "Chain me if you can. It will cost you dearly."