Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tin Soldier - Book One, Chapter Nine

Donovan heard Carina's voice in the other room. "Bring it around like this," she said. "Hook. Pull. Good. Let's do another one."

He walked into the living room and found Carina on the sofa with Tasha, taking advantage of the morning sunlight to teach the little girl how to crochet. Yarn was strung everywhere, but Donovan could see that Tasha was making progress. Although she handled the needle awkwardly, a sizable tail of crochet dangled from her fingers as she hooked her next loop.

Carina watched the operation closely. "One more and I'll teach you how to turn around and go back the other way so we can make a granny square." She looked at Donovan. "Her hands are too small for knitting needles, but she's taking to crochet pretty quick."

"Good. Ever since Amalia said. . ."

"Don’t pay any attention to what she says. She thinks everyone's useless. Even me."

"I wouldn't say that."

She motioned Donovan over. "Look at these nice even stitches."

Donovan examined the chain obediently. "Better than I could do."

"Which isn't saying much." Carina arranged Tasha's needle and yarn for the next stitch. "We'll go backwards now. Let's do the first ones together." With her hands guiding Tasha's, she made a few stitches. "Let's see if you've got it."

"I understand," Tasha said. She made a few loops and tugs with the needle, frowned, then bit her lip in concentration as she made the next stitches in the row, just as even as the first ones had been.

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised,” she told Donovan. “She's good at sewing, too."

"Maybe she should've been picking the pockets instead of Will, since she's so good with her hands.”

"Oh, hush." Carina stood up, disentangling herself from the yarn. "Did you want to see me about something?"

"I just came in to see if there were any other gloves around. Amalia is killing us out there with her fence-mending." He held out his scratched and bleeding hands.

"What happened to the leather gloves you had this morning?"

"I gave them to Will."

"So she's got both of you working on this project?"

"Was there some other plan?"

"Will was supposed to take one of the jennies and collect firewood along the creek. I guess we'll have to send him tomorrow."

"Amalia's been anxious about this fence."

"Yes, and I suppose it's best we give her what she wants today. It'll make it that much easier for us if she's in a better mood tomorrow."

Carina motioned with her head for Donovan to follow to her bedroom. "I think I have another pair of gloves you can use." She called back to Tasha. "Wait for me when you get to the end of the row, okay?"

She led Donovan into the room she had once had for her own but that she now shared with Amalia so the children would have a place to sleep. The room had seemed spacious before, but now it felt cramped and messy, even though not a thing was out of place. Carina pulled open a dresser drawer and rummaged among gloves, scarves, belts and knitted hats. "Here." She handed him a single glove of heavy canvas. "I know there's another one somewhere."

Donovan tried to pull the glove on. "It's too small. I guess I'll give these to Will and take mine back."

Carina handed him the other glove and shut the dresser drawer. Without meaning to, she glanced at her image in the dresser mirror and smoothed her hair.

"You look lovely, as always.”

"Do I really?" Her eyes searched his for confirmation, then returned to the mirror. "In Miles' last letter he asked for a new picture of me, but I don't have one. I don't know if I'd send him one if I did. I'm not the same person. It was a long time ago."

"You're a beautiful woman, and any man would be proud to carry your picture with him."

Carina smiled. "You know all the right things to say, don't you?"

"What do you mean? I only speak the truth."

"The truth as you see it at the moment." She turned back to her reflection and leaned in to examine her face more closely. "And the truth is that I'm getting older and he's far away."

"He's getting older, too."

Carina's features softened. "Yes, I sometimes wonder in what ways he's changed, and if the ways he's different now will be compatible with the ways I've changed. We have so many plans for when he comes home: the clinic, the home we'll build. But what if. . . ?"

"Any man would be happy to come home to you."

Carina refused to meet Donovan’s eyes but took his hand in both of hers and pretended to examine it, caressing the small nicks and scratches from the morning's work. Then she brought his hand to her lips, kissed his palm and cupped it against her cheek. "If I weren't married. . ."

Donovan held his breath, acutely aware that nothing he said would be the right thing.

Carina gave an odd little sigh and examined his hand again, tracing the scrapes from the barbed wire. There was a small quaver in her voice when she spoke again. "I'll give you some ointment for these, and you'll get your gloves back from Will before you do any more work on that fence." She pushed past him toward the bathroom and handed him a little glass jar. "This will keep those scratches from getting infected."

He took the jar and grabbed her hand. "If you weren't married. . ."

Carina smiled as if shaking off a foolish daydream. "But I am married. Amalia, though. . ."

"What about her?"

She opened mouth to speak, then seemed to think better of it. "She needs your help with that fence."

* * *

Although Amalia had complained at first that the children would be a burden, they worked hard and soon became proficient in a number of small tasks. Tasha's small hands seemed unlimited in their talents as she sewed, crocheted, teased wool, and sorted seeds and herbs with the patience of a much older girl. Will seemed to grow taller and stronger overnight on Carina's good cooking and was a willing worker on any odd job they presented him with. He had a surprising amount of knowledge about animals, although he was vague about where he had learned so much. Carina thought he might have worked for a vet or farrier, while Amalia was certain his parents had owned a ranch.

It was Donovan who finally got Will's story out of him one afternoon as they checked the traps. They had been disappointed to find that instead of a jackrabbit, one of their snares had trapped a young coyote. Donovan leveled his gun to shoot it, but Will stopped him. "Don't waste your ammo." He double-checked the safety on his rifle, then to Donovan's amazement, walked up to the snarling animal and felled it with a single blow of his rifle butt and bent to remove it from the trap.

"Are you sure it's dead?" Donovan asked. "I don't want it waking up and attacking you."

"Oh, he's dead, all right. I've done this a lot."

Donovan considered while they disposed of the animal and put the trap into a bag to take home for cleaning. "Where'd you learn to kill a coyote like that?"

"Practice. One of my first jobs was guarding the animals at night, with nothing but a piece of old pipe. You get pretty good with a pipe when it's the only thing you've got."

"I thought you said your mom and dad were townies."

"They were. Probably still are, for all I know."

"You mean you're not really an orphan? You have a home you could go to?"

"I'm not an orphan, if you mean are my parents still alive. I have no reason to think they're dead. But no, I don't have a home to go to."

"You ran away."

"Not from them."

"Then from who?"

"From the man they sold me to."

They were at the next trap now, empty and unsprung. "They sold you to a man out in the country who needed a hand."

"Yeah." Will moved forward to check if the trap was still baited. "There were too many of us and it was supposed to be like an apprenticeship."

"Seems like you learned a lot."

"I learned some things." He took off down the trail.

Donovan hurried to catch up. "Why didn't you stay?"

Will’s face clouded over. "There were things he wanted to teach me that I didn't want to learn. Everyone in town knew what he was like, but he paid good prices to our parents if we had the kind of look he wanted."

"I guess that's why you couldn't go home."

"They needed the money and would've sent me back."

They checked a few more traps in silence before Donovan’s curiosity got the better of him. "What about Tasha? Don't tell me again that she's your sister."

The boy shrugged, picked up a stone and tossed it into a fallow field. "She is my sister, as far as I'm concerned. When I found her she didn't have no one. I promised I'd be her brother and look out for her always."

"So she was alone?"

"She was with her mother, but her mother was dead."

"Where was this?"

"Off to the side of a road in the dark. I was trying to get to Jonasville and I guess they were, too. Or maybe they were leaving it. Tasha couldn't really explain what happened. Her mother must've been sick or something. I don't know."

"How long ago was this?" Donovan asked, in some concern. "Does she remember?"

"I don't think she remembers much," Will said. "I don't even know if she remembers her real name. She never told me. I call her Tasha because I had a sister, a real one, with that name. But she's pretty smart. She might remember more than I think. She always surprises me."

* * *

That night after they had put the children to bed, Donovan told the women what he had learned. The three of them sat on the porch, bundled into blankets and huddled over cups of hot tea as they talked, unwilling to go inside and lose their chance at private conversation.

"Those poor kids," Carina said. "It makes you wonder how they can stay so good-natured."

"Children are pretty resilient." Amalia bent over her cup and took a sip.

"I survived just as bad, maybe worse," Donovan pointed out.

Carina shook her head. "I can't help thinking how different children are now. Things were pretty crazy while we were growing up, but at least parents still looked out for their kids, still tried to give them something like a childhood."

"Plenty of parents still do. There's Diana, and all the kids who aren't picking pockets on the streets of Macrina." Amalia took another sip of her tea.

"But kids work so hard now," Carina said. "I think it's sad we can't offer Will and Tasha things like school and music lessons and play time."

Amalia sniffed. "That stuff's overrated. I sometimes think it was a shame we were raised that way. It gave us expectations. But there's no reason we can't teach the kids reading and basic math. They'll need that, even if they do have to spend their entire lives living on farms and working in the dirt with animals."

"You make it sound like a life sentence," Donovan said.

"Isn't it?"

For a moment no one spoke. The women pretended to be absorbed with their tea while Donovan stared at a distant star. "Well, I like it out here," he finally said.

"Tell me that again in twenty years," Amalia mumbled.

"Maybe I will."

"If you're still around."

"Where would I go?"

"So it is like a life sentence.”

Before Donovan could answer, Carina spoke up. "We need a plan on how we're going to raise these children."

"What's to plan?" Amalia asked. "They’ll work like the rest of us until they get old and die."

Carina chose to ignore her sister. "When will they have lessons and who will teach them?"

"You've got more patience than I do."

"But you're smarter."

"No I'm not. And even if I were, you're the one who likes kids, not me."

"You don't like kids?" Donovan interrupted. "But I thought all women—"

"I'm not all women." Amalia got to her feet. "I think I'll go check on the animals before we go to bed. I need to stretch my legs a bit." She stepped off the porch and vanished into the darkness.

Donovan stared after her. "I'm sorry," he told Carina. "I didn't mean to offend her."

"She's just feeling sensitive. She's never been very good at handling new people underfoot. It makes her tired. She'll get over it."

"I wouldn't have brought those kids here if I'd known she hated children."

"She doesn't hate them. It's just that people who need a lot of attention sap her energy. Once we're in a routine, she'll be all right again."

"As all right as before? I don't know if that'll be an improvement."

Carina gazed in the direction her sister had gone. "It's hard for her to let people in, and having so many of the people she cared about die only made things worse. I wish I could help, but there's not much I can do. A sister's love just isn't enough sometimes."

"I guess."

"She likes you very much, even though she'll never admit it." She toyed with the fringe on her blanket. "I'd kind of hoped. . ."

Donovan murmured something noncommittal and looked out toward the fields.

Carina stood up with a sigh. "Well, maybe I'll try to put her and Tasha together. She’s such a quiet, self-sufficient child I think Amalia could really warm up to her." She moved toward the door. "Are you coming in?"

"No. It's peaceful out here. I think I'll count the stars for awhile."

"Suit yourself." Carina shivered and went inside.

Donovan walked to the edge of the porch. After waiting a few minutes to make sure Carina had gone to bed, he stepped out onto the same path Amalia had taken, leading toward the fields and barn. There was enough of a moon that he didn't need to go back for a lantern, and by now he knew the paths between the buildings well enough to navigate them with minimal light.

He found her where he thought he would, leaning on one of the posts that supported the fence they had been repairing around last year's alfalfa field— the field that would be for corn this year. The fence was supposed to be rabbit-proof. Donovan came up softly behind her as she stared at the bright molten disk of the waning moon.

"I want to apologize."

She spun around, startled, then turned back to the moon and the field. "The fence isn't right."

Donovan looked where she was looking. Sure enough, there was a rabbit, long ears up and alert as it sat hunched between the furrows. A few feet away another one nibbled at some remaining stalks. "I guess it's not. Might be a good place to set a trap, though."

Amalia huddled in her thin sweater and shivered. Donovan took off his jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders. "They're so pretty," she said, still looking at the rabbits, her voice unusually tender. "I wish. . ."

"You told me once you didn't like to wish for things."

"I don’t. What's the point?"

"I'm beginning to think you wish for a lot of things."

She shrugged and continued to watch the rabbits. "At least it's just the leavings. It's not as if they're eating any new growth. But we'll have to fix it before spring."

"Hush." He put his arms around her and drew her against his body. Her head fit perfectly under his chin and they stood like that for a moment, both of them pretending they were looking at the fields.

Finally, as if on a dare, she twined her arms around his neck and kissed him. She pressed her body against his, touching him and whispering between kisses things he couldn't understand. He only wanted to get her to some sheltered place where they could be alone. "Wouldn't you like to go someplace where it's warm?" he whispered.

Amalia pulled away, suddenly frightened at what she had started. She drew her arms across her chest and shook her head. "No." She handed back his jacket. "I'm sorry. That was inappropriate.”

Donovan put his coat back on. "Why do you do this? You act like you want me, then you push me away."

"You don't really want me. You're just lonely." She shrugged. "And I guess I am too."

"Well, if we're both lonely, what's wrong with. . . ?"

Amalia turned toward the house and started walking. "Everything."

Donovan caught up with her. "You don't really believe that." He caught her hand and held on in spite of her token resistance. "Happiness is wherever you can find it."

"Maybe for you."

"And for you too, if you want it." He stopped her outside the kitchen door. "Look," he said, his voice urgent and barely above a whisper. "You don't have to tell me who or what I am. I know I'm young. I know I'm not reliable, I know I'm not always honest. But I do care about you, Amalia. Sometimes you just have to take a chance. If we both didn't have a need—"

Amalia lifted her chin and pulled her hand from his. "I may have needs, but I don't need you." She opened the door and slipped inside before he could answer.

Donovan stood outside the door, hugging himself against the cold. Then he willed himself to relax, to let the cold in. His shivering stopped. It didn't seem so bad when you didn't fight it. He turned and started walking back toward the fields. It was a fine night to watch the rabbits.

* * *

Donovan rested for a moment against the plow. A bitter wind tugged at his jacket and he wondered by what stretch of the imagination this could be called spring planting. He gazed back along the row. Will was catching up quickly with the seeds.

In the next field, it looked like Amalia and Tasha were moving at a good clip. Donovan slapped the reins against Cordelia's back, pulling the plow around to start the next row. A sudden movement caught his eye. It was Carina running toward them from the direction of the paddock. This wasn't her usual happy loping, either.

Donovan jerked on the reins and tossed them to Will, who had come running up to him, curious. "Wait here," he said. He caught up with Carina just outside Amalia and Tasha's field. "What is it?"

"Raiders!" She pointed toward the mountain road.

"Are you sure?" Amalia asked.

Carina nodded. "I don't think they're Guard," she said, turning toward Donovan,

"Probably up to no good, just the same. How many?"

"At least three. Maybe four."

Donovan looked at Amalia. "We can handle them."

She nodded. "We'll go protect the house. A party that small won't be after livestock, except maybe the chickens. . ."

"That's where I’m going," Carina said. She glanced over at Will, still holding Cordelia in the next field. "Have him ride over to the Petersons and warn them."

Carina took off toward the chicken coop and Amalia and Donovan started toward the house at a run. No sooner than they were inside when Amalia started pulling guns off their racks and ammunition out of cabinets. She grabbed a pair of binoculars and went out onto the front porch, scanning the horizon. Donovan peered over her shoulder at the rapidly growing dust cloud. "What do you think?"

She handed him the binoculars. "They look like irregulars to me."

He peered through the lenses. Four horses, four dirty-looking men in varying outlandish types of dress. "Definitely irregulars." He handed back the binoculars, stepped back inside and looked around. "What's the plan?"

Amalia looked around the room, momentarily at a loss, then everything came back to her, all the plans she had made over the years with her family, with Carina, on how to deal with such a scenario. "Hide the good stuff: money, food, anything with batteries or solar panels. Act nice when they arrive, like they're friends and we're expecting them. And keep them away from the linen closet."

They sprang into action and Donovan was surprised at the number of odd cubbyholes and hidden places the house held. The women had never shown him these places before, but now with a real enemy almost at their gate, Amalia had no choice but to open the secret trapdoors, the hollow books, the false panels so they could hide the batteries, flashlights, solar lamps, money, and ration books. "Leave a few things out," she urged, as he tried to put every last coin, bracelet and coupon into the false bottom of a basket. "If they find nothing they'll know we're hiding things."

A sudden slam of the kitchen door sent them dashing into the hallway, hearts pounding. They couldn't be here yet, could they? It was only Tasha. "Are the raiders. . ."

"Yes, they're coming," Amalia said curtly, brushing past her to grab a few guns from where she had left them on the kitchen table.

"It's okay, honey," Donovan said. "They won't hurt you. They aren't here to bother children." He tried to get past her to help Amalia with the ammo.

"What do they want?"

"Money. Valuable things. Maybe food. But not children."

"Definitely not children," Amalia said.

They each hid a gun and a knife on their persons, and just in time, because now they could hear the clop of hooves coming up the drive. Donovan and Amalia exchanged looks. Donovan was already feeling the familiar adrenaline rush of a raid. It felt strange to be on the receiving end, but he knew he would have no problem firing on these men, if it came to that. Amalia, on the other hand, looked nervous, but as she turned and walked toward the kitchen, head up and shoulders squared, he knew that come what may, she wouldn’t let him down in a fight.

He joined her in the kitchen and was astonished at what he saw. Tasha, taking him at his word about the raiders being after food, had loaded the table with whatever food was to hand: dried apples, half a pan of cornbread and even the pie that Carina had made on a wild impulse to celebrate who knew what. Before he could say anything, he saw horses outside the window and went to take a look. Three of the men were dismounting, while the fourth remained outside to keep an eye on things. They had some experience raiding, if they knew enough to post a lookout.

When they burst through the door and stomped into the kitchen, Donovan reconsidered. These were just teenagers, dressed in the latest raider fashion of whatever rich attire they could find, no matter how inconvenient or inappropriate. One was in dusty blue jeans embellished with velvet and leather patches. His red shirt was of some kind of shiny material and he wore a tooled leather vest trimmed in silver. The second raider was more subdued and wore what looked like a faded military dress uniform. The third was dressed improbably in a gray wool suit. They all wore gold earrings and numerous gold chains, but they were young. This could mean they would be ruthless, but it might also mean they could be tricked.

Amalia stepped forward to meet the men as they tramped into the kitchen in their ill-fitting boots. "Gentlemen, you could've knocked."

"We don't knock," the one in the leather vest said. He looked around the room, scanning it for valuables. His gaze fell upon the table.

"We figured you'd be hungry after such a long ride," Amalia said. "There's no other places to stop for miles in the direction you came from. Please have a seat. Would you like some wine? It's not very good, but. . ."

All three men cast longing looks at the table, but then the one in the vest came back to his senses. "Look lady," he waved a hand, then looked at Donovan. "You, too. We're want money, whiskey, batteries, ammo, and anything else you've got." He sized up the room. "Are you going to make me an offer, or do we need to find what we want on our own?"

Amalia forced a smile. "I'm afraid we're very poor."

"That's what they all say. Have it your way." He motioned to the other two and they pushed past Amalia, Donovan and Tasha in a rush.

Amalia and Donovan's eyes met again and Donovan reached for his gun, but Amalia shook her head. Already they could hear the sounds of cabinets and closets opening, objects being tossed off shelves. "Just keep an eye on them," she whispered.

Donovan and Tasha followed her lead and watched as the raiders checked under sofa cushions, under rugs, behind chairs and inside chests and cabinets for anything that might be of value. They picked up pictures, checked the frames for precious metal, fiddled with the backings and dashed them onto the floor. They tossed away books and keepsakes. Amalia cringed as knives were brought out and cushions ripped open, the flocking pulled out and picked over, but she made no move to stop them, standing near the linen closet door.

The raider in the suit came out of the women's bedroom holding a handful of cheap costume jewelry that Amalia had left out in the hope they wouldn't seek more valuable items. "Can't you do better than this, lady?"

"I'm afraid not. We've been raided before.”

The man grumbled and shoved the items into his pocket. "Move."


"I said move."


"I don't care where, just get the hell out of the way so I can see what you've got behind that door."

"It's just a linen closet. Do you need towels and blankets?"

The one in the leather vest walked over, unimpressed with his takings from the children's room. "You let us decide what we need. He gave Amalia a shove that knocked her hard against the door.

Donovan jumped between them, still resisting the urge to grab for his weapon. "You don't need to push the lady."

"Obviously I do because she ain't out of the way yet." The man reached for his gun. "And if you don't both let us see what's behind that door. . ."

Amalia and Donovan were both reaching for their weapons when there was a sudden shriek and crash from the kitchen. It was deep and loud and seemed to go on and on with lots of smaller crashes behind it. "What the—" The man in the vest ran toward the kitchen, the other two at his heels. Amalia made a motion to go after them.

"Go," Donovan told her.

Amalia hurried into the kitchen to find a tall array of shelves on the floor and all its former contents scattered across the linoleum. The young men were standing in a confused huddle around something. To Amalia's surprise they moved apart without a word and let her through. Tasha lay underneath two heavy cast iron kettles. With a cry, Amalia knelt down beside the girl and moved the metal pots away, feeling her all over for broken bones. The girl was breathing, but faintly. "Tasha," she said. "Tasha, wake up."

She looked around wildly. Something didn't seem right, but with the men watching her in confusion and with her own heart pounding at how narrowly they had missed a gunfight, she couldn't gather her thoughts. How could that shelf just fall over? And how could the pots have flown off and hit Tasha in just such a way?

"Tasha, can you hear me?" Tasha's eyelids flickered and Amalia bent closer. "Are you all right?" The girl moved again, but this time it was just one eye, almost like she was trying to wink. Amalia sat back, startled. She looked around again. No, there was no way those kettles could've fallen where they did by accident.

Amalia glanced up at the young men. They weren't afraid to shoot a woman in cold blood, but an injured child was another matter. She forced down a sudden leap of hope and screamed. "This is all your fault! You did this!"

The leader took a step back, startled. "Ma'am, I wasn't even in this room."

He had called her ma'am. That was a good sign. "It wouldn't have happened if you hadn't come here, if you could've just taken what you needed and left. But no, you had to scare this poor child so bad she tried to climb the shelves to get away from you. And look what happened!" She jumped to her feet and the three men all moved back.

"Look at her!" She was shrieking again now and Donovan came rushing into the room in spite of his promise to guard the closet. "Look what they did to the baby!" Amalia said to him, trying to signal that Tasha was all right without the raiders catching on.

Donovan looked at the still form on the linoleum and remembered the day she and Will had tried to pick his pocket in Macrina. With difficulty he suppressed a smile and glared at each of the young men in turn. "What the hell is the matter with you that you'd hurt an innocent child?"

"I'm telling you," the leader said. "We weren't even in here."

"Well, help us get her into bed where we can at least care for her," Amalia said. She turned to the one in the military uniform, who seemed to be the weakest and most easily led. "Pick her up and take her to the children's room. It's the second one down the hall." When she saw him move to obey, she turned to the one in the suit. "You start some water boiling, in case we need to sterilize anything. And you," she turned finally to the leader. "Come with me and help me check for broken bones and monitor her for signs of concussion or skull fracture."

Donovan stepped out of the way while the young men sprang into action. He went to the bathroom and tried to look busy sorting through herbal concoctions and bandages while keeping a casual eye on the linen closet. From the children's room he could hear Amalia's voice directing the men and cooing at Tasha. Every now and then one of the raiders would hurry past, intent on some useless task. Then he heard new steps, light and cautious, coming down the hall.

He grabbed Carina and yanked her into the bathroom.

"What's going on?" she demanded.

"You won't believe it," Donovan said. "Just go in the children's room and play along. Tasha's okay."

She looked at him in confusion. "Did they hurt her?"

"No, she's faking." He shoved her back into the hallway and after a moment, he heard her shriek. Now all was confusion again, one man's voice raised in denial, another one dashing toward the kitchen on some new errand. The man in the suit appeared in the doorway of the bathroom, fingering a loose button. "I'm supposed to get some bandages," he said. Donovan handed him a roll of bandages and a pair of scissors and he darted off.

Gradually things calmed down again as Carina took charge of directing the medical operations. Soon Donovan could hear Tasha's voice, bewildered and rising in a series of questions as everyone, even the raiders, spoke soothing words to her. It didn't matter what happened next. The raid was over.

Donovan went and stood in the door of the children's room, gazing in amused silence at the tableau— the child, the hovering women, the nervous young men standing in uncomfortable poses in the corner. Amalia looked up and met Donovan's eyes with an expression of barely suppressed relief. She murmured something to Carina, then went to meet him. Together they went into the kitchen.

"That was some stunt you two pulled off,” Donovan said.

"She's a very clever girl." Amalia looked at the floor, covered in broken crockery. "Although if I'd known she had a trick like this up her sleeve, I'd have made sure not to have anything breakable on these shelves."

Donovan squeezed her hand. "We'll clean it up, and I'll get you some new stuff in Macrina." He gazed at her in admiration. "You're really amazing, you know that?"

She pulled her hand away. "Go tell that to Tasha when those bastards are gone. It was her idea.” She glanced toward the back of the house where they could still hear Carina's soft tones directing the men at some trivial task. "I hope that's it, though. I hope they leave after this."

"They will.”

"How do you know?"

"If I'd been brought up out here instead of the city, they're what I would've become. After something like this, I would've just taken whatever seemed easy and left."

True to Donovan's prediction, the raiders left soon after Carina said it was time for Tasha to get some rest. They pocketed a few items on their way out and stuffed their saddlebags with food while Carina pretended to examine their horses, delaying their advance to the Petersons. But they made no more attempts to search out hidden nooks and crannies. They showed no more interest in closed doors. And as they swung into their saddles and rode away, they looked like little more than boys playing a dangerous grownup game.

No comments: