We don't have to walk far before the sound of voices can be heard over the chirping of birds. I'm not surprised to see that the path ends by the side of the lake, where an area has been cleared out, obviously for training. General Wyngard had mentioned the area was used for the recruits. Weapon and armor racks are placed along the perimeter, a fenced off circle to the side, most likely a sparring ring of sorts.

Captain DeGray is standing with his back to us, facing the group of recruits, who I'm dismayed to see have smaller numbers than yesterday. The echo of screams ring in my ears. 

The group turns to watch as the maid leads me to stand behind the captain, who spins around to see what everyone is looking at. A smile hedged with weariness spreads over his face when he sees me.

"Hale, take over for a minute," he calls over his shoulder.

The green eyed boy steps forward, eyes meeting mine briefly. At least now I have a name for him. If I have time later, I want to find him and thank him for pulling the hound off of me and probably saving my life. It isn't something that I intend on forgetting.

"Thank you," I mutter to the maid, who bobs her head and retreats.

"Lady Kinsley, I'm so pleased to see you alive this morning." We walk a few paces away, putting ample distanct between us and potential prying ears. Despite the amused tone in his voice, his eyes betray his exhaustion. He looks overwhelmed and disheveled this morning but it makes him look younger. I find that I like the fact that he isn't bothering to hide it.

"Talia please, I'm already tired of this lady nonsense. I'm glad to hear someone's pleased I survived the night, because after waking up this morning to the reek of my clothes, I definitely wasn't."

He chuckles. "Then in the sense of fairness, you have to call me Sebastian. The morning-after-battle stench is something all soldiers struggle with, so please be reassured, you're not alone." 

We're making playful banter to cover up the seriousness of last night and we both know it. I assume he is used to doing so with the new recruits but I simply don't know what else to say. But we can't put off talking about it forever. I'm glad I didn't stop to eat any breakfast as my stomach twists anxiously.

Captain DeGray- Sebastian- must see it on my face because he sighs. "So last night... I won't lecture you again since you're alive and obviously did something right. But I'm assuming you know what the attack means means?"

"The necromancer," I whisper, scared that just saying it will summon him.

He nods. "Those hounds are something we've received reports of before. Giant beasts reanimated and held together by dark magic. We must assume the necromancer tracked Willow her, either through the mark or some other means."

I'm not surprised. Even if the mark isn't a way for him to follow her, we should have known he would never have tried to drive us from our home without having a way to find us again.

"Well, at the very least, I have my answer now. There's absolutely no way that I can leave Willow, not when she's going to need me." And I mean it. Having concrete proof that she's in worse danger than ever while trapped here, essentially waiting for the necromancer to get to her, or for the council to decide to throw her at him- I can't leave her to fend for herself.

"That's actually what I needed to speak with you about so urgently. I'm not sure that you'll have a choice anymore." Sebastian won't meet my eyes. "Lady Bedivere called a meeting early this morning. The rest of the council seems to think the danger has passed, that since we were able to defeat his forces last night, he'll think twice before trying again. Or hopefully wait a while first." His irritated tone clearly conveys his disagreement with the rest of the group. He shifts, gripping the hilt of the sword at his side.

"But more importantly, Lady Bedivere reported that Willow has decided she would like you escorted home. The rest of the council agreed that this would be best, despite my protests, and I've been elected to make sure that happens. They agree that you have no place her and having someone around to undermine their decision and confuse Willow is the last thing she needs right now." 

I wait for the feeling of betrayal, the anger and disbelief, but all I feel is tired. I think I knew this would happen. I could see the way they looked at me yesterday, the disapproving glances they gave General Wyngard for allowing me to come along. I'd just get in the way of them pulling Willow's strings. 

"And I'm assuming I'm not to speak to my sister before I leave?"

"That is correct. I've been told that she doesn't want to see you." The grip of his sword creaks as his knuckles go white. "I'm truly sorry Talia."

"And no one finds this slightly convenient, that Lady Bedivere is speaking for Willow to get rid of the one person here who wants to speak against her and the council?"

"Of course they do!" He rakes a hand through his dark hair. "But those people make up the rest of the council and you leaving is just going to make their lives easier. You can't expect them to speak up against their self interests."

"Well I won't leave." I know I look like a defiant child but I don't care in the least. If they want to play the game like this, I'll play. The gods themselves could show up and tell me to get out, and I'd tell them to piss off. If they seriously think that a council vote will keep me from my sister, they're in for a surprise.

Sebastian looks pained. "You can't just stay. They won't let you into the castle or around Willow."

"Then I'll stay in the city and wait for their guard to drop." But the second I say it, I know it won't work. I have no money to stay somewhere and no way to protect myself against gangs and other unsavory sorts who would pray on a young girl on the streets. I'm no use to Willow dead. 

"If I stay, she'll come see me eventually or I'll find a way to get to her. They can't keep us apart forever. I just need a reason-" My eyes drift over to the recruits and an idea starts to form. It's crazy and completely ridiculous, but it's the only thing that I have. The more I think about it, the more I realize that it might actually work.

A faint memory from the night before rises up as I contemplated what I'm about to do. Lungs burning, ribs aching, the hard line of Hale's body against mine as he supports my weight. "Who is this girl?" he mutters to the captain, shifting my weight. "A new recruit or something?"

The recruits. Women have been allowed to join the royal army and fight in combat for years now, despite the fact I can't see any in the group. Recruits who are trained by Sebastian and live in the barracks here. I need an excuse and place to stay, and learning to better defend myself and fight against enemies would be an added bonus.

"I think I have an idea," I say slowly, turning back to Sebastian.

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