Brigdha stood wrapped in her black cowl on the poop deck of The Basking Turtle as it settled its shallow-bottomed hull against the jetty wall, riding low in the water from the weight of the human cargo crowded on her deck with weapons and baggage in hand. She admired the easy manner with which the wood-liveried men and women of her small retinue fell into rank, expectant eyes drinking in the hustle and bustle of the city docks. Would their long knives and powerful bows find work here in the capital of such a mighty Empire? Only time would tell...
Brighda's eyes moved from the parchment roll to the liveried guards officer standing before her, studying the proud bearing and firm set of his features. "Not a man I would wish to meet at blade's length without just cause," she mused as she scanned the official seals of the Imperial warrant.
"Tell Mi'lord Courcelle that my men will be pleased to serve at his pleasure."
Two days out from Cagil on the road to Skalk and Brigdha could see that the new recruits she'd picked up in the capital were fitting in well. Admittedly there was still some room for improvement as they adjusted to the workload, but overall she was pleased with their performance. The gruelling regime of route march and combat training may well have looked harsh to an outsider, but she prided herself that she asked nothing more from her men than she asked of herself and they seemed to respond well to the sight of a knight of the realm trudging on foot with them and sharing the same trail rations and rough bivouac.
At Hidale they'd camped for the night, clustered around a half-dozen fires. The men and women of The Black Swans merged into the twilight, their woodland livery casting jagged shapes against the firelight as they drank and sang and joked and tended to their mighty yew bows.
As she helped herself to another bowl of the coarse game stew Brigdha reflected on how times had changed. If her sisters could see her, how they'd laugh: the bookish, gawky teenager who haunted the family library would never have been seen roughing it in the great outdoors! But many years had passed since then and they were none of them teenagers anymore. Thus her thoughts turned to fiery Aoifa and proud Moira, and she wondered how their adventures in far flung lands were going, and whether the three of them would ever stand shoulder to shoulder in battle...