"At the risk of stating the obvious," said Abdael, "you don't dress at all like your mother or any of her entourage."
"Yes, well..." Tatherine drew herself up, then turned her head very deliberately to look at him. "I have two older sisters and an older brother. I'm never going to be the Countess Flurilis."
"Ah," said Abdael, taking a moment to digest that. "So you're training to become an adventurer instead?"
Tatherine sighed. "I wish it were that simple. I can't just take off in search of adventure."
I didn't do that either, Abdael thought, but he held his tongue while Tatherine continued.
"I am training, and I think I'm pretty good, but I'm also still a noble. Probably the best I can hope for is to marry someone who shares my interests. If I don't manage an advantageous marriage, then I'll probably end up using my skills on behalf of my family and our people." She looked ahead at the carriage, then back at Abdael. "I'm rather jealous of you, you know."
Don't be, Abdael started to say, when a scream rang out from somewhere back in the woods alongside the road. A moment later the same voice was shouting, calling for help. Abdael blinked, looking around, but the sound was far enough back that he couldn't see the source; he could only hear which direction it was coming from.
Tatherine looked up at the pair of guards who rode behind them. "Stay with the carriage," she snapped. "We'll take care of this."
One of the guards nodded sharply in return; the other opened her mouth, then closed it again. Tatherine was already turning her horse to leave the road and push through the brief underbrush into the relatively open area between the trees. Abdael turned his mount and followed.
The woods were heavy enough to slow them, but not heavy enough to force them to dismount. The cries for help continued, and after a long moment of smothering his misgivings, Abdael dropped his reins over his horse's neck and made himself invisible. The mount they'd given him was not the most spirited he'd ever ridden; it followed Tatherine's horse willingly enough.
There was a clearing up ahead, and now they could see movements as well as hear the cries for help and some rough, guttural voices. Tatherine urged her mount to move faster, and Abdael's mount followed suit.
They burst into the clearing to see two men holding down a smaller woman; all three were Human. A small cart stood nearby, with a horse in front of it.
"Unhand her!" called Tatherine, in a passably commanding voice. She drew a shortsword.
The two men startled, then stood and backed away from the woman, who rose slowly to her feet... holding a crossbow, which she leveled at Tatherine. "I thank you, brave warrior, but unfortunately I need your horses, your weapons, and all your equipment. Turn them over to us, and we'll let you walk out of these woods, no real harm done."
Abdael watched a series of expressions flicker over Tatherine's face: surprise, anger, more surprise, fear, and finally a sort of affronted disbelief. "You're going to rob someone who tried to help you?"
"Easy now, hero," said the woman, still sighting down the crossbow. "It's a classic ruse, and you fell for it like a rock off a cliff. So turn over your stuff and learn your lesson, or it'll go much worse for you than it has already."
Abdael looked around carefully, but he didn't see anyone else: it was just the three would-be bandits. He lifted a hand, extended it towards the woman, and loosed a bolt of eldritch darkness that slammed into her and flung her to the ground. He was visible now, but the odds were even.
The two men looked at each other. "Kill them?" asked one.
"I'm not going back to jail," said the other. They both drew swords.
"Abdael, watch out!" yelled Tatherine, as she moved to intercept the first one. Abdael was already calling his shadow out, forming it into a black, smoky sword that turned aside the second man's slash.
The first man caught Tatherine with a shallow cut across the thigh; in response, she vaulted off her horse and came down on top of him, pinning him to the forest floor with a shortsword through each shoulder. The second man danced away, his attention still on Abdael, then came in for another attack; Abdael swept it aside and thrust, and the man went down.
Tatherine straightened up, smiling briefly, then looking sick. A moment later she doubled over and threw up. On the far side of the clearing, the cart horse watched them placidly. "That--" She began, as she straightened back up, then scrubbed at her mouth with her sleeve. "They -- and they're dead. We just..."
Abdael swung down off his horse and went to put his arms around her. "Yes," he said gently. "We did. And you're right to feel sick about it."
She clung to him. "I just... I just killed him. I mean, he came at me with a sword and I just killed him."
"To be fair, he was trying to kill you." Abdael kept his voice gentle. "It was inarguably self-defense. But that doesn't make it any less ugly. And knowing that we've kept them from robbing or killing future travelers doesn't make it any less of a waste."
Tatherine shivered once, then straightened. Abdael let go of her and stepped back.
"Does it... does it get easier?"
"Not," said Abdael, "if you're the kind of person that you need to be."
Tatherine nodded, and Abdael watched with genuine admiration as she took a deep breath and put herself back together. She put a foot on the corpse beside her and yanked her swords back out, then wiped them carefully on the man's jacket before returning them to their sheaths. "Now what?"
"Traditionally, we check the bodies and take anything of value. In this case, I think you should just... take a moment. I'll check them over. Then I'll put them in the cart, and we can carry them back to somewhere they can get a decent burial. We shouldn't leave this poor horse out here anyway; even if we turned it loose, I doubt it would survive."
"That..." Tatherine swallowed. "...makes sense. Thank you."
Abdael nodded to her and went to check the first body.