Rudolfo rode south alone over the protests of his men. Had Gregoric been alive, he would have never gotten away with it. He’d have disobeyed directly, or at the very least followed from a distance under magicks. Even Aedric might have intervened in some way, but he was already south. The new first captain was working with the Rangers of Pylos to shore up Meirov’s eastern and western borders and keep her neighbors’ problems in their own backyards.
So he rode alone, his horse magicked for speed and stamina, and he leaned into the slanting rain. He’d sent word before he’d left, carefully coding notes to Jin Li Tam, his head physician, and Aedric. And Petronus had informed Vlad Li Tam on Rudolfo’s behalf, asking him to keep watchful eye on the Delta’s waterways for the renegade Overseer, and letting his future father-in-law know that he rode to rendezvous with Aedric. He meant his Wandering Army to hunt Sethbert, and he meant to parade that
murderous pig-bugger through the towns of the Named Lands on the long route back to the Ninefold
He smiled at the thought of it, and whistled his horse faster. If he pushed, he’d only need four days. With the magicks his horse could take that abuse, but no more. Once he reached Aedric and his men, he’d have to trade out for a season. He patted the horse’s side. With all he’d been through since Windwir’s pyre, this one had earned a break.
We all have.
Hours behind him, the last of the gravediggers’ camp was down by now, and the caravan no doubt wound its way northeast. He could have brought some of his men, but he’d not wanted to leave the Pope any more exposed than he already was. Even if the war was all but over, he couldn’t afford to take any risks with Petronus’s safety.
But deeper than that, something else prompted Rudolfo to solitude. He’d felt a darkness gnawing away inside of him, stirred to life that night he ran with Gregoric on his shoulder. And when that that cloud came over him he found that he couldn’t abide anyone’s presence.
He was certain it had something to do with the Francine’s Fivefold Path of Grief. And he would walk those paths again and again until he finished. It wasn’t as if he were a stranger to them. He’d been down these routes before with his brother and with his parents.
But Gregoric. It still stabbed at him.
He shook his head, hoping to clear it. He thought about the work ahead, but found it bored him. He turned his mind instead to Jin Li Tam and their time together, but the memories of that couldn’t hold him, either.
But when he thought of Sethbert, he found a white, hot point of light to focus on other than the past. It was the future. And in it, Sethbert screamed beneath the salted knife.