"What do you know of her?" asked Roberr, some hours later. The return of his father's sword had caused a stir among the men, and the decision to send the women and children away from the battle required discussion and planning: a hundred little details that had to be settled, and settled immediately if the message was to reach the Lady of Boeringen in time. Somewhere in all that, the witch Miledha had disappeared... along with her offer, whatever that might be. She'd left behind his father's sword, which now rested against his hip. It hummed softly, almost purring, whenever he touched it.
"She is a witch, as she says," answered Arkiber, the Steward. "She lives just north of Litlon, if I remember correctly. The peasants may claim to be afraid of her, but they're quick enough to visit her when they need her arts."
Roberr frowned. "You know this?"
Arkiber nodded. "My sister sent to her when my niece fell ill a year ago. Said she made the girl drink some horrible broth, but whatever it was, it pulled her back."
Roberr nodded. "She has some power, then?"
Brother Wend snorted. "I think we've seen that, already. She was... two strides, perhaps? ...from me, and I had no idea she was there until she spoke."
Sir Berrn, the oldest of the knights, stiffened and looked around. "Could she be listening to us now?"
"She isn't in the room," said Brother Wend. It was a small room, at the top of the northeastern tower, and the door was closed and barred. Roberr had chosen it deliberately. "As for other ways of listening... I've set some wards, but it's always possible that she has some way around them."
"So she actually may have killed some Shadir adepts." Roberr found the idea intriguing.
Brother Wend looked thoughtful. "I don't know," he said after a moment. "The Order, in general, has a low opinion of other adepts. Our official stance is that the untrained use of sorcery is dangerous. Those with skill should be brought into our ranks for proper training, and those without should not attempt anything but the simplest of workings. In practice, it's often true that local practitioners have traditions just as old as our own. The Shadir certainly do."
"She asked your father to let her ride out to battle with us," said Sha Lindlen, with a glance at Sir Berrn. "Or demanded it, I should say."
"He refused," said Sir Berrn, stiffly. "With good reason, I might imagine."
"Perhaps," said Sha Lindlen, with a another glance at her fellow knight. "But for all the shouting he did at her, Lord Langoish believed her when she told him where the Shadir would be... and she was right, every time."
"...Until the last," finished Sir Berrn, scowling blackly as he looked away. "Until they sprang the trap. And now here she is, with his sword. How did she come by it?"
"That's the question," said Brother Wend. "Did she take it from the Shadir? Or was it given to her, that she could draw you into another trap?"
"My son," said a new voice. Roberr's eyes went from his advisers to his mother, who had made the climb to the tower but stood at the back of the room. She had been silent until now, but she was still the Lady of the Keep. The others fell silent for her. "May I speak with you?" Her eyes circled the room and returned to him. "Alone?"