Cathaoir squinted into the darkness, sick with fury. He found his eyes eager to seize any form, any target moving in the shadows.

The minutes crept by, filled only with the somber song of the crickets and the frogs. There was going to be no ambush tonight, Cathaoir knew. They had chosen their site to avoid just that. They had camouflaged their tents and doused their fire; they had secured their food and set their normal watches.

And yet, despite the effort that the Oakheart adventurers put in—the work that they always put in—to avoid ambushes by night, Cathaoir couldn’t help but hope that the fey and their hounds would come anyway.

He leaned back against his tree. sighing quietly at himself. Why? Why was he so worked up about this? He had seen his fair share of foul deeds before. When bandits tried to extract a “toll” from him near Taemorden, it had hardly bothered him. They were immoral cutthroats, sure, but their bloody-minded greed was just another professional obstacle for him. The orcs at the temple were possessed of otherworldly malice, but it was also simple, within comprehension in most ways. But what he had seen just today…

It’s just so hard to find good help these days.

The fey woman regarded him sourly, one hand on a sword hilt-deep in a woman’s neck and the other upon her own chin. While the serving woman gurgled her last breaths in bewildered agony, this fey monster wore an expression of minor annoyance.


Maybe that was it, Cathaoir decided. Mortal men who murder do so guiltily. They sulk in it, wearing their guilt as a cloak, or they bury it, allowing it to claw out their heart from within. Orcs revel in their murder, gleefully tearing their victims to shreds and embroidering their rapacity into gruesome war-songs. To meet a creature that, quite apart from men or orcs, would regard murder as an inconvenience—aware, somehow, of its gravity but refusing to respect it—would rattle anybody, surely.

But that didn’t quite explain why Cathaoir had nearly stripped his sword’s pommel of leather by gripping it so hard.

He realized what he was doing and passed it to his other hand, shaking the feeling back into his numb fingers. No, there was something more. The serving woman. Surprised, struggling. Desperate. Dying. It was ghastly to look on, to see her so helpless before her uncaring tormentor. It was disturbing. It was wrong.

It was wrong.

The word hung over Cathaoir as his mind quieted and the sounds of the summer night returned to the fore for a brief moment.

Cathaoir was used to right and wrong, but he knew it mostly as a cudgel wielded by the greedy and the sanctimonious. It was wrong, they said, to hunt the game claimed by fat rich men who would chase it with twenty men on horseback and twenty more hounds. It was wrong, they said, to refuse to worship. Even when this cudgel of theirs swung in a righteous arc, upon cheats and murderers, it was swung blindly, smashing the redeemable and the wretched as quickly as it smashed the wicked. And the only thing that was right was to be mediocre, meek, accepting of arbitrary punishments.

He bore the deep bruises of this cudgel; he knew right and wrong all too well. But this…

This was wrong.

Cathaoir’s heart, his mind, and the pit in his stomach all agreed. This was wrong, and it had to be fought.

He put his sword away. There would be no fighting tonight, and Amanodel’s watch was coming soon. All he could do for now was be well-rested for the coming battle.