"So is the lesson here that I shouldn't rush in to help someone?" asked Tatherine. "I mean, she said I fell for their trick like a rock off a cliff, and she was right."
Abdael was relieved to have her talking again; Tath had been quiet for the last day and a half, trying to digest the shape of her first real battle and the realization that it had been nothing like she'd imagined. He'd said a few words and then left her to it, riding quietly beside her and occasionally looking back at the impromptu corpse-cart behind them.
The two guards who rode behind the Countess' carriage had seemed relieved at their return, and only mildly surprised that they'd reappeared with a horse-drawn cart filled with a few small cloth bags and three dead bodies. It was the one who'd started to object to their riding out who had cocked her head and asked, "Bandits, then?" Tatherine had met the woman's eyes and nodded, and the guards had fallen back to include the cart in their perimeter.
"No," said Abdael quietly. He was a bit surprised to find that he had opinions about these things, but apparently he did. "No, when someone calls for help, the right response is to answer -- as we did. The lesson is that you also have to take precautions, and be sure of the situation before you decide what's the right response. As we also did."
"As you did," Tath said, looking over at him. She'd done that several times over the last few days, but he'd kept his attention studiously elsewhere to give her time for whatever considerations she was thinking over.
Abdael shrugged. "There wasn't time to discuss it, but we'd been hearing those screams for a long time. It seemed suspicious. So yes, I made myself invisible and let you ride in as if you were alone. But if I hadn't been here... would you have ridden out alone?"
Tath had settled back now, and was looking thoughtful rather than wretched. "I... might have tried. But I bet Claris would have followed, and I wouldn't have ordered her back."
Abdael nodded. Claris, he suspected, was the guard behind them. "You're not as foolish as you feel right now," he said.
"Still a little foolish," Tath said, but there was a hint of a smile on her face.
Abdael shrugged. "Some things have to be learned the hard way," he said, "and now that you know more, you can make better decisions."
Tath tilted her head, studying him. "I must ask: why in the world did you become a warlock? I can't imagine you bargaining with some unearthly force for power. Learning wizardry, maybe, with all your books, or becoming some sort of bard perhaps, but... a warlock?"
Abdael chuckled. "I know. It surprised me, too. Truth of the matter is, I inherited it. I've been a warlock literally since I was born. And that's precisely why I couldn't become anything else, however much I might have liked to."
Tatherine fell silent. When Abdael looked over at her, her expression had gone oddly serious. "That's..."
Abdael shook his head. "It's not some personal tragedy. If I hadn't been born this way, I wouldn't have gone to Neverwinter, I wouldn't have been part of that expedition, and I never would have met you. We do our best with what we have." He paused for a beat, just long enough to let that settle in, then asked: "Would you like hear the glorious tale of my first battle as an adventurer?"
Tath looked shocked and intrigued. "...Yes?"
"All right. You have to picture me striding boldly forward, sword in one hand, spell dancing ready on the fingertips of the other, towards the dark walls of a pillow factory and the band of evil, pillow-chewing rats inside..."