As they crested the hill to the cave’s copse, a robed figure limped toward them. They slowed their pace when they saw that it was one of the holies, the older one.
Morwenna stooped in a bow. “Holy Cadmon.” When Leto hesitated, she nudged him in the ribs and he slowly lowered his head.
“Hunter Morwenna, Rider Leto,” he rasped, tilting down his head. “I saw that you would leave today. Have you seen your beast again since first you came, Rider Leto?”
Leto winced. “No, Holy Cadmon.”
“We thought as much. Come, out of the snow.” He turned and hobbled back to the copse, Morwenna and Leto on his heels. “Holy Trahern and I took the liberty to recruit one who might be able to help your quest in that regard. Rider Leto, Hunter Morwenna, this is Eleri.”
Morwenna’s stomach dropped even before he finished speaking. To be introduced without a title…
Standing just outside the mouth of the cave, in the relative shelter of the copse, were to figures. One she recognized as the young holy, Trahern, but the other…
Her hand went instinctively to her hip, next to the wicked Krissen blades she kept there. “Mother of the Echelon…”
It was a woman next to Trahern, bundled in ragged robes several sizes too large, bound to her body with frayed rope. A narrow face was gaunt, with hollow dark circles around brown eyes so deep they almost looked to be black; framing the pointed nose and curved jaw was long hair, black as pitch. Dim morning sunlight barely shone on the waving strands. It was as if the hair simply swallowed the light itself.
“Is this some kind of joke?” Leto snarled. Morwenna couldn’t take her eyes off the woman, but she knew Leto would be reaching for his weapons as well. “You mean to send us with enaith mar?”
“You can’t possibly!” Morwenna cried, and without wholly meaning to she drew one of her blades. “Who knows what it might do?”
“Put your weapons away!” roared Cadmon. His voice tore like linen, startling birds from their roosts high in the trees of the copse. “It is the will of the Echelon that allowed this girl to survive, and you will obey the orders of the Mother or forsake your vows to this clan! Do you understand me?”
By the Mother, her hands were shaking. Swallowing a lump in her throat, Morwenna slid her blade back into its sheath. She finally looked sidelong at Leto; his bow was still strung to his back and his quiver untouched, but he had the hilt of his long dagger gripped tightly in his hand.
She had never been more terrified than in that moment.