The next morning, the camp was on the move. With the Skathains gone and the forest safe to negotiate once again, the soldiers were packing up and heading for home. Gwythryn walked among his men at the back of the column, Kairin at his left shoulder and Rahad to his right. The easterner appeared to have become something of a permenant fixture in the troop recently and the men appeared to like him, however much they teased.
"Gwythryn," said Kairin as they meandered along the winding forest path, "where have Alara and Illirion gone? They were here last night weren't they?"
Gwythryn shrugged, for he hadn't seen either of them since the previous night. He had simply woken up that morning to find them gone, vanished into thin air with all trace of their presence gone.
"Well, wherever they are, I doubt their journey will be as unpleasant as yours." Rahad cut in. "You are returning to the north, are you not? I wish you luck getting there in this weather."
"What about you? Isn't it a long way to Ned ... Niba ... your home?" Kairin asked.
"At least I won't have to deal with any more of your foul weather." Rahad said with a grin. "I'm spending three days in Aven, then I'm going to hire some mercenaries to escort me home. I have still not recieved any word from my family." He narrowed his eyes. "They are going to have to come up with some very good explanations for this when I get home."
"I'll bet they're quaking in their boots at the prospect." Gwythryn teased. "After all, you are so very intimidating."
Rahad rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath. Gwythryn thought it was "barbarians."
"Quicken the pace!" Bragan roared as he cantered his massive stallion - a gift from Petrolien - past the troop,"or I'll have you all on half-rations for the next month!"
"Sweet Lady, my ears hurt." Kairin muttered once Bragan was out of earshot. "That's the one thing I've liked about this war, we didn't have to deal with him every second of the day. And the food was better."
The men laughed, ignoring the sharp look Bragan shot at them from over his shoulder. Gwythryn joined them, a broad grin spreading across his face as he told stories and jokes with his men. Their faces were smeared with mud, they were as skinny as wild dogs and it would take an age to scrub all the dirt from their clothes, but Gwythryn had never felt prouder. They had fought, died and bled for each other, and even after all they had endured they were happy simply to be together again.
"Come on lads!" Gwythryn called, "It's a long way to Longhall. And there's no way I'm bribing you onto a wagon this time!"
Once again, the troop descended into gales of laughter, and the sound of their voices echoed on the wind long after they had vanished from sight.