Susan wished she had volunteered to go with Seralyn to the Goblin Citadel. She didn't trust Karst on account of him being a goblin, but she knew that, and she knew Seralyn had gone to goblin lands before and returned unharmed, and so far this goblin hadn't shown hostility, so Susan had graciously stayed behind to keep an eye on the goblins still inside their patchwork fortification. And to talk to Caleb, which she rarely had the opportunity to do anymore. Caleb hadn't been able to follow Seralyn because he'd failed to hide his spellcasting, and the look of dread on the little goblin's face when he realized he was in the presence of not one, but two witches, he'd emphatically denied Caleb the opportunity to join. It was, Karst had explained, for the safety of all, as Queen Negost was unsettled by witches. Susan now realized she should have inquired further into that, but she was eager to find out what Caleb had been up to, and to share in kind. She should have gone with her gut, shouldn't have second-guessed herself. Too late now, but not too late to go in after her, with a few friends and friends of friends in tow. A rescue team, just like in the stories and the action plays.
On the plus side, she was now getting to spend more time with her childhood friend. He had his own spellbook now, but Allen hadn't yet taught him how to fly or summon lightning. Too bad. Those spells would be handy right now. Caleb had also spent a long time learning about the stars and their positions. Susan supposed that spending all day in the Observatory must get pretty boring if any of that stuff started to sound interesting, but she changed the subject politely enough when he started on the movement of constellations. When he started talking about his new friends, she became very curious indeed. Especially when he started talking about Catherine. Catherine Stoky, daughter of Jack Stoky of Stoky's Textiles, lived in Whitefield, but word of her beauty had reached to the edge of the barony. And from the sound of things, Caleb had been working very hard to get her attention. He was even asking Susan for advice, which he hadn't needed for the three months or so when she'd dated him at fourteen, so she told him to just be his sweet self, tell jokes but not all the time, and if it was meant to be, he'd win her over. That's when he told her he also liked Elaine, a Hearthfire acolyte, perhaps more, but didn't think he could impress her as easily. Gods, two years ago he was almost too afraid to talk to women he hadn't known for half his life or longer, and now he wanted two, and damn if he didn't have a chance at either if he'd just be more confident in his ample charms. She tried to tell him that being a wizard wasn't just a play-act, it was his world and his life, and he was no more a farmer than she was. But he didn't get it. He was too focused on making other people think he was a real sorcerer instead of just accepting that he was one and owning his destiny.
After that conversation, she'd gotten to tell him about her progress in the militia, her new dog, her little brother starting to grow up and talk about joining the militia, too. Then she told him about her boyfriend Sten. He wasn't very romantic, or super bright, but he had big, strong, gentle arms and he didn't smell as bad as some of the other men in the militia. She didn't meet a lot of people outside of work anymore, and he seemed a better pick than most at the time. The look of surprise on his face when she'd kissed him after a long sword practice (just the two of them, of course. She wasn't going to risk rejection in front of everyone) was adorable in its own right, and when he leaned forward to kiss her back, grabbing her shoulders with the same intensity as he'd held his wooden training sword (right up until she kissed him, and he dropped it), the moment had been magical. Caleb didn't seem as enthused, but it served him right for making her listen to all that stuff about the other two girls. Then she told him about how great she'd gotten with a shortspear, and stood up to show him a spinning move she'd practiced, and he agreed that it looked quite intimidating, especially with the scream at the end, and she was vindicated again.
But none of that mattered when Karst came back to the ramshackle encampment alone. Susan didn't speak Goblin, but according to Caleb's translation, the conversation had gone something like this:
"Please don't kill me! She was captured and imprisoned! She convinced the Queen to take my people back, but then the Queen decided to keep her for ransom! Please don't kill me! It wasn't my fault!"
…At which point Susan felt a weight in her stomach like a pile of lead. She should have been there. She should have helped Seralyn fight her way out, laying her life down if necessary. After all, if the things she heard were true, Seralyn alone was worth ten of almost anyone else in Radimyr. Maybe more. Something had to be done immediately. Leaving Karst to gather his fellows, (no point in asking how to get to the Citadel, no goblin ever gave that out to non-goblins), she went to gather a few friends of her own, starting with Ellen Moore, her healer. Ellen would know even more people, being the second-highest ranking Hearthfire in the village. Grabbing Caleb by his shirt, she marched southeast to Whitefield. No time to waste.