Friday, August 29, 2014

Chapter 29


“Gideon’s correct, this is none of your business,” Jace said giving me a cold stare. 

“I am making it my business.” 

“No, you’re not.” 

“Yes, I am.”  He turned to leave and I told his back, “In case you’re too mad to see it, Vaniece is dying.” 

He sighed in irritation and said, “You don’t know her.  She’s acting again.” 

“Apparently it is you who don’t know her because she isn’t.  She hasn’t eaten in four days.  The only reason Lolly and I were able to get any broth down her this morning is because of how weak she is and she threw that up less than an hour later.  Go bury your head in a jackthumper’s hole if you wish, but remember my warning Jace.  Because soon nothing neither I nor anyone can do will bring her back.  She’s dying and it’s mostly because she doesn’t want to live.” 

He turned to look at me with hate-filled eyes.  “You’re exaggerating.” 

Lolly came into the clearing where we were talking.  “No Jace she’s not.  I … I thought so too … at least at first.  But she’s not Jace.”  Lolly shook her head.  “She looks the same as Mother did after father died, when we were all so worried about her and you sent for Aunt Verna.” 

“No,” he denied. 

I asked, “When was the last time you really looked at Vaniece rather than through her?”   

“What would you know about it?” 

“Enough.  Most of you are too close to see it, too wrapped up in both your real and imagined hurt feelings and irritations where Vaniece is concerned.  I’m the outsider looking in.  Vaniece isn’t an easy person to live with but you’re no minister of the faith yourself.  You carry your anger around like a prize and then whip Vaniece with it till she bleeds.” 

Outraged he shouted, “I’ve never laid a hand on her!” 

Becoming irritated with his unwillingness to see what lay right beneath his nose I told him, “Some people you don’t have to hit to wound to the quick Jace.  Did Vaniece ever hit you or play you false?  Yet you hurt do you not?  Or did you think you could do whatever it is you wish and she bare the only consequence for the action?” 

“How dare you interfere …” 

“Yes I’m daring but only God knows if it isn’t already too late.  Or if you even care at all about her.  She doesn’t think you do.  She’s convinced herself of it … or maybe you finally managed to convince her of it.  The results are the same either way.  She doesn’t want to live.  She’s set her mind to leaving this life believing no one wants her and for a girl like Vaniece being wanted is as necessary as air to breathe.” 

“Aw she’s crazy.  I brought her out of the town didn’t I?” 

“Did you?  Or was it just an accident that she was in the wagon that day?”  He shuttered his face.  “She believes you don’t want her and she knows her father didn’t want her.  Mayhap she believes one or the both of you might still love her but you don’t want her and that’s a different thing completely, especially for a woman.” 

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” 

“Think as you wish Jace.  I am not here to try and make you do anything, only to tell how things stand.  If something does not change you’ll be burying your wife within two weeks and will be living with the consequences for much, much longer.” 

I turned and went back to the house with Lolly rushing to keep up.  “Two weeks?” 

I nodded.  “If not before.” 

“But …” 

I stopped and tried to pull my calm around me before talking.  “Lolly, people are often unaware of how their words and deeds impact others.  I don’t think most of them mean to be cruel, it is simply the humanity in each of us choosing our pride over everything else. The Good Book tells us that pride breeds quarrels and then comes disgrace.  We all suffer from it … and sometimes cause other people to suffer for it.  Certainly Vaniece was not aware of where her behavior would lead her.  And certainly Jace has been hurt through no fault of his own.  But Jace no longer holds the moral high ground.  Even now he’s convincing himself that I’m merely being played by Vaniece and that even if she is a little sick it is self-induced and nothing more than what she deserves.  I could see it written plainly on his face.  As plainly as I saw it on your Mother’s when I tried to speak to her about this.” 

Lolly’s face was troubled.  “I … I haven’t always liked Vaniece but I don’t want her to die.” 

I told her, “Sometimes it is not the point what we want for someone, but what they want for themselves.  If Vaniece cannot find something else to live for besides her old dreams and what she thought her life was going to be then nothing anyone can say is going to bring her back around.  And even if Jace decides tonight to change his ways with her, he may have already abdicated too much of his authority in her life for her to listen to him … or perhaps believe him would be the better word.” 

“You sound like there’s no hope.” 

I looked up.  “There’s always hope Lolly.  Sometimes that is all there is.”

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Chapter 28


“August is finished, September flew by, and the close of October is coming fast,” I thought to myself as I stood elbow deep in a vat of apples I was washing so that they could be put into the cider press.  They are not the same apples I knew back in my village but some taste close enough as the difference was barely noticeable. 

“Yulee?  Got them ready yet?” 

“Yes … Hir … er … Hank.” 

One twin pushed the other.  “See, told you she’d know even if we switched hats and shirts.” 

I smiled and refused to admit that I had gotten lucky.  It was easier to tell them apart with their hats off as I had discovered they had barely noticeable mirrored swirls in their hair line; one slightly center of left and the other slightly center of right.  

“If you’ll hold the basket I’ll dip these out and get the next batch started.” 

As I loaded one of the boys mentioned, “Gid said if we were good that you’d bake each of us an apple with honey and raisins in it.” 

“Hmmm.”  I looked at them and they caved so quickly there was barely a pause in the conversation.   

“Wellll, he did mention that you might but not so much that you would.” 

Fighting a smile I said, “It so happens that I plan to do that very thing but only a half an apple each or you won’t have any room for the stew your mother has had simmering most of the day.” 

The boys grinned.  One said, “Ma’s stew is the best.” 

“The best,” the other one agreed. 

They took the basket off and I put the next load of apples into the water to clean.  I looked at the large pile yet to go and grimaced then almost immediately gave myself a shake.  “Never turn your nose up at a blessing no matter what form it takes or how much or how little because perhaps next time God will teach you to be more appreciative by withholding something if not outright taking something away.” 

There were many apple trees in the old orchard but not all of them gave very plentifully.  The oldest needed to be cut down for smoking chips and new seedlings put in their place.  The ones that yielded the greatest number of bushels had been planted by Gid and his Uncle Fid when Gid was still a boy.  All of the trees needed a good pruning and they would get it at the end of the week when the last apple had been picked and put into the fruit cellar; a hand-dug pit put in by his Uncle Fid when the original one put in during the Great War had collapsed on itself. 

I glanced towards the smoking shed and knew inside it hung racks upon racks of salmon.  Earlier this month Gid had taken his brothers and been gone three days.  They came back with barrels of kokanee.  We finally got our first bear as well when one came too close to the cabin investigating the smell of the offal that the dogs were given.  Luckily it wasn’t a grizzle but it was still big and mean enough and one of the dogs still has its ribs wrapped where it had been given a mighty swat for daring to bite the bear’s backside. 

To everyone’s delight Ned is now fully healed and making plans to give the children lessons once the snow starts falling using books that he managed to save from the school as well as the books that Gid’s other family collected over the generations.  I can only hope that gives them something to do besides swing from the rafters and drive Gid to threaten them with great bodily harm.  The children have become so used to working hard out of doors all day long that it will be an adjustment for them to remain cooped up during the coldest months.  On second thought perhaps I should suggest that a child-run is built along side the dog run so that we can send them outside should they become too much to handle. 

Vaniece worries me.  I’ve tried speaking to Lurna but she has lost all patience with the subject.  She orders Vaniece about like the lowest bar maid.  The other girls seem to feel that she is getting her just rewards while forgetting the fact that it was not that long ago that some of them were nearly as bad in their own way.  Jace barely speaks to her, no longer even sharing a sleeping chamber, and Gid refuses to get involved saying that it was either one, Jace’s business or two, women’s business and neither one was any of his business. 

I found her crying again last Sabbath Day.  It wasn’t the kind of tears she had before that were big and noisy and for show.  These were real tears that she hid from everyone.  She jumped nearly to the nearest peak when I put my arm around her to draw her up off of the cold, stone floor of a dark corner.  “Come Vaniece.  You’ll take sick if you keep on like this.” 

“Why should you care?” she asked, both angry and miserable. 

“Because I do.  The Sisters raised me to be this way.  Now come, a nice warm cup of tea will at least return the warmth to your hands; they’re like ice.” 

She jerked her hands away.  “Just leave me be.” 

“I can’t.  Not even after Gid saying it was none of our business.” 

“He’s right.  It isn’t any of your business.” 

I nodded in the dim light of the lantern I’d brought down with me.  “He’s right but sometimes even when something isn’t our business it is still wrong to ignore it.” 

She finally let me pull her up.  “Just … just go.  I don’t want anyone to see me like this.  I look ugly.” 

“You don’t look ugly; you look unhappy.” 

She shook her head and nearly started crying again.  “Nothing is the way I thought it would be.  Nothing is the way I was promised it would be.” 

I sighed and said, “That happens a lot in life.” 

“How would you know?” she snarled. 

“Because once I was a daughter in a house full of love just like you, and my Papa and Mam were there to take care of me and teach me and when they weren’t the Sisters or Brothers were there to guide me.  Only then they all were gone and I was left with a sickly, premature baby brother to try and keep alive and my only friend a frail old woman who had ten years on my own grandmother.  Instead of living and working in the church I’d known my whole life, the place I expected to give my adult years to, I wound up following a caravan taproom that was more brothel than bar.  I learned the ways of men and women trying not to hear my aunt and the bar whores as they went about their business.  I lost my baby brother and my only friend within months of each other and railed at God for leaving me behind to live with His takings.  I wound up humiliated and in a slave cage up for auction to the highest bidder and that was only shortly after I’d resolved to murder the hateful woman that was a sister to my Mam just to escape the misery she dished out to me day and night.” 

She looked at me with wide, fearful eyes.  I told her, “You may think you have sunk low Vaniece, but I promise you as God as my witness you have a great deal more than you would have if Jace had not gotten you and the family away in time.  Raiders killed my family.  You still have yours.  And you still have a chance to find your way through this mess you and Jace have let your lives get into.” 

What little life had come back into her eyes fled.  “He … he doesn’t want me anymore.” 

“So make him want you again.” 

“I can’t.  I’ve tried.  He doesn’t, not even a little.  He said so.”  She turned her face away and whispered, “I wish I were dead.” 

Thinking back I still believe those last words of hers were no play act to garner my sympathy.  Vaniece is guilty of making her life harder than it has to be but Jace has been no angel of mercy and light these last months.  His anger is a cold and cruel one and it is beginning to set too comfortably upon his shoulders, becoming habit rather than true thought. 

And now Vaniece is sick.  The others think she is trying to garner attention in a new way but I have checked and she is not faking.  She won’t eat and wishes to do nothing but be left alone but I do not think she truly sleeps either.  If she makes no improvement soon, if I cannot get through to her, I will speak to Jace even if it causes an argument with Gid.  Cold and starvation are not the only things that can steal a life.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Chapter 27


It took not one but three days to settle Gid’s family into the cabin well enough that we could get back to preparing for winter.  Everything was working well … almost everything. 

“This isn’t necessary.  Simply send Gid to find a trader caravan and buy what we need.  Tad’s uncle cannot be too far away and he had goods he’d expected to unload in Riverside. You can trade some of your riches and save us all this work.  That is what my father would do.” 

I locked my teeth against what I wanted to say and prayed to God that He’d help me not shame Gid by giving into the temptation of tossing Vaniece into the cistern and leaving her there until she agreed to leave me in peace. 

“Vaniece these aren’t my riches they belong to Gid and are heirlooms from his mother’s side of the family.  And there is not the least bit of reason to pay good coin or barter for something that we can gather for free without even having to travel a day’s ride from the cabin.  Coin should only be spent on that which you cannot make yourself.” 

“Humphf,” she snapped.  “Look at my hands!  They’re dirty and cracked like a …”  I knew something nasty was coming when she gave me a look.  “Like the hands of a woman that came from the slave cages.” 

It bothered me less and less as she resorted more and more to reminding me and every one of my beginnings in her attempts to put me in my place.  “That would not be the case if you had listened to Lurna about putting balm on your hands.  You do not see the other girls complaining of their hands and they are working at least as hard as you are.” 

“I am a woman, not a girl … and a wife,” she added pointedly.  “I should be sitting by my husband’s hearth.” 

Beginning to lose patience I told her, “If you sat as much as you said was your duty to you’d soon be so wide no chair would hold you.  Now stop delaying us.  Lurna and Ned are waiting for more baskets of these acorns and we also need to finish harvesting the closest of the huckleberry and red currants patches so that we can begin harvesting blackberries and raspberries tomorrow.  Tad and Ern said they found several areas that were ready to pick when they were hunting this morning.” 

“Oh you …”  She threw her basket down spilling what few acorns she had put inside it and said, “I’m not meant for this.  My father did not raise me to be such a slattern.” 

She’d made the mistake of drawing attention to herself this time and Jace stepped into the yard and snapped, “Then you should have gone with your father as you wanted.” 

She began to pout and said, “You know I couldn’t.  His new wife is a horror and said it was my duty to follow you.” 

In anger he spit, “She’s only a horror because she refuses to take such a spoiled child as you back under your father’s roof; she knows she’d never be rid of you after that.” 

Vaniece inhaled sharply and I could see that Jace’s words had truly hurt her.  But rather than deal with it she pretended to faint.  Lolly and I both moved out of the way and rather than fall gracefully into anyone’s arms she landed hard atop the acorns she’d just spilled.  “Ow!” 

“Teach you to play the drama queen,” Jace said from a safe distance.  I swept Lolly and the other girls and little boys towards the back of the house with their baskets.  If they were going to have words I’d give them privacy to do it with. 

Later that night as I helped Gid to wash his back after a long day of cutting and stacking shocks of long grass for the animals’ winter fodder he said, “Heard Jace and Vaniece showed their backsides.  Again.” 

“Hmmm.” 

“I know that sound.  When it is just the two of us I wish you to speak freely.  Nothing you can say will upset me.” 

I started scrubbing his hair to get rid of all of the chaff and dirt that had taken up residence on his head.  It reminded me that I’d need more soapwort and it was already hard to find.  Putting it on my long to do list I told Gid, “I only know what I see so I could be wrong but it appears that Vaniece needs to feel like she has value but Jace has grown tired of waiting for her to make herself valuable instead of expecting someone else to cause her to feel it.” 

Gid gave a tired sigh and said, “That’s got to be the best explanation that takes the fewest words that I’ve heard yet … and makes the most sense.” 

A little wickedly I said, “If I thought it would be helpful I’d dose her with red raspberry leaf, nettles, and red clover teas.”  When Gid raised an eyebrow indicating he wanted to know why I explained, “They promote fertility.  With a babe in her womb she might be inclined to fewer dramatics.” 

Gid snorted, “Or not.  So leave off your meddling for now.  Jace and Vaniece will have to find their own way.  We’ll try and not make it more difficult but I’ll not do the work for them either.”  Then he grunted like an old bear and said, “Yeah, there.  Right there.  Scratch harder.  I think I must’ve found a patch of rash weed with that last wagon load.” 

“Then you don’t need scratching; you need some salve.” 

I got a damp kiss before he said, “Scratching is more satisfying.  Brings me some relief.” 

I looked at his face and sure enough he was making what gram called a double-entendre.  I shook my head at his play which only caused him to chuckle and make a grab for me.  I escaped but only because there really was no time for it.  The children were being put to bed and the grown brothers were going to meet in front of a fire in the Great Hall to discuss things like meat and fodder and what else needed to be done before the first snowflakes fell.  Gid wanted me there so I could answer questions about the other supplies. 

----------------------------- 

I poured a warm, spicy brew I made from the wild grapes that had been gathered by some of the girls that afternoon into everyone’s mug and then made sure that Ned had a quilt across his lap before Gid finally bid me sit.  “And not on the floor with the mutts and furballs. Up here with me,” he said patting a chair he’d pulled forward into the firelight. 

I sat and then Gid looked around.  All of the adults were there except for Vaniece who had gone to bed with a headache.   

“She should be here,” Jace said apologetically.  “It’s not fair for the rest if she doesn’t pull her weight.” 

Calmly I told him, “She is not faking again if you are concerned about that.  She’s cried herself into a real one this time.” 

“Hah!” he muttered.  “Then let it be a lesson to her and maybe she won’t do it again.” 

Jace was coming to be very unhappy with his choice of bride.  Perhaps there would have been no troubles, or at least fewer of them, had they stayed in Riverside but out here she was worse than a fish out of water.  Gid chose that moment to steer the conversation back to its original purpose. 

“I’ve looked at the smoke shed and unless we start filling it up now we’ll be battling with the cows for their feed before the winter is over.” 

I patted his leg and said, “Perhaps not so bad as that but it would be better to hunt now in case the snow flies early.” 

Morosely Gid replied, “With the way my luck’s running that is surely bound to happen.” 

Two days earlier the plow handle had cracked and broken several metal fastenings.  Jace was the best to repair it as he said, “Handles are just another type of rifle stock only they don’t need to be quite so pretty.  I’ll set up the portable forge and see about mending the metal as well.”  Finding a big enough piece of seasoned wood had turned out to be the biggest challenge but finally the repair was under way. 

Tad said, “We filled up the last of those big clay pots with the loose grain and got it down below stairs.”   He shuddered.  “Not telling you your business Gid but something needs to be done down there.  The armory is in good shape but most of the rest makes me feel like I’m in a forest of trees that is about to topple down on me.” 

Gid nodded.  “I know.  Had planned on that this winter but it looks like …”  He stopped and sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.  I took a small flask from my pocket and then put a drop of its content where I brushed his hands away from.  He inhaled deeply and began to relax. 

“What’s that?” Lurna asked suspiciously, like I was dosing Gid with a drug stick. 

Ned answered her instead of me and said, “I believe it is a called an aromatic.  Certain scents have a calming effect and it would appear for Gid in particular it is enjoyable.” 

I nodded and Gid said, “Yes.  Don’t know why, just is.  Yulee made me a pillow of the scent as well and I sleep better for it when I’ve had a long day.” 

Lurna demanded, “Let me see.” 

I handed her the small flask and she removed the stopper and cautiously sniffed.  Slowly she replaced the stopper and handed it back.  “Chamomile and cedarwood?”  I nodded and she looked at me thoughtfully. 

Gid said, “Enough about my megrims.  Yulee?  What do you expect more of for the rest of the harvesting season?” 

I’d known he’d likely ask me so I was prepared with an answer.  “We’ve still bushels of acorns to collect and store.  The meal we can make from those will help piece out the other grains we need for flour.  Lurna and Ned are supervising some of the youngest in getting them properly dried and cleaned and put where they won’t mold.  Truly your Uncle Fid was a wonder for buying all of the clay pots.” 

Gid snorted in humor.  “What’s a wonder is that Uncle Fid survived the father of the girl he’d been sparking.  It was her family that were clay workers and he nearly bankrupted the farm trying to bring her around and get her father’s approval.  When it fell through he vowed never again and stuck to that til he died.” 

Since that wasn’t the only story I’d heard of his uncle’s eccentricities I merely shook my head and continued on.  “The huckleberries are still abundant and we’ve barely begun to pick the raspberries and blackberries up and down the drive but the red currants are finished.  We’ve lost the battle with whatever was eating them before we could get to them.” 

“Another bear?” 

I shook my head.  “I suspect birds and mulies.” 

Lolly muttered, “As many as they’ve eaten they should be good and fat by now.”  She was upset because she’d had a thicket all picked out only to go the next day and find it stripped of every last berry. 

I smiled gently to try and dispel her disappointment and told her, “It happens.  God sends the fruit to feed all of His creations, not just we human ones.  Or perhaps he is feeding them up so that they can feed us better in the autumn.” 

“I suppose.” 

Gid asked, “What else?” 

“For the rest of this month there is porcini and puffball mushrooms, Oregon grapes, and salal berries.  We should gather elm leaves, linden leaves, and mallow to dry for teas as they are at their peak.  Do you wish me to speak of next month?”  At his nod I ran through the list in my head.  “Milkweed pods will be ready for picking but I don’t want to take them all because some need to go to seed so I can harvest the fluff for batting to make you a winter coat.  Then …” 

“S’not me that needs a winter coat.  I better not see you working on one for anyone else but you until I say otherwise.  That thin cloak you have barely keeps the wind out now.” 

I swallowed but said nothing.  I know he didn’t mean to make his wishes known so roughly, he was just tired.  Finally I started again. “It … it shall be as you say.”  I blinked and then went back to the list in my head.  “All that is growing in the hedge rows should be finished out such as the wild grapes, huckleberries, gooseberries, jostaberries, buffalo berries, and chokecherries.  The stream side elderberries should be ready for harvest and the patches of highbush cranberries should as well.  We should make a stock of teas and brews from the rose hips, chamomile, linden flowers, licorice, mints and dandelion roots that will need to be dug and dried.  The Oregon grapes should continue to produce and the wild plum trees are already bent and heavy with unripe fruit so the crop should be phenomenal if no wind storm comes along to take the harvest from us.  The ground cherries will ripen next month as well.  And I believe the children learned their lesson about eating little green apples from Hiram and Hank’s experience so we shouldn’t have to pull them out of the crabapple trees again.” 

Ern, Tad, and Jace all snickered and even Ned and Lurna tried to hide smiles.  Lolly didn’t bother and laughed out loud saying, “Serves them right.”  Gid on the other hand glowered.  “Fine for the lot of you to find the joke but they broke three stout limbs that will take several seasons to replace.  You’ll go back to your lives in town and Yulee and I will have to do without what those limbs could have produced.” 

That sobered everyone’s outlook.  Tad asked, “Will that be the end of the harvests or is there something beyond?” 

I looked at him surprised.  “God provides something every month if you know where to look.”  Then I shook my head and said, “I did not mean to say … um …” 

Tad smiled and said, “Don’t be so worried.  If our sister Heather was here I’d already be wearing my ears for a necklace for asking a foolish question.” 

Tad has finally gotten over his heartbreak and I can see why Gid is fond of him; he always tries to smooth the road for others to travel on.  “Thank you but I don’t want to sound so … so know-it-all.  The truth is month after next, the old month of October, will be the last true harvest month though there will be a few things here and there that can be used during the snow time if we become desperate.  But if the winter is bad the animals will need the wild forage even more than we do.” 

With that sobering thought we all trundled off to our sleeping quarters.  Everyone was happy to see Ned doing so much better but Lurna still hovered a bit.  Gid no sooner closed our door when he spun me around and asked huskily, “Now where were we?” 

I shook my head.  “You’re in a silly mood.” 

“Mmmm.  I’ll show you what mood I’m in.”  I could see he was in the mood for a chase so I gave him one and then let him catch me before he could tire of his funning.  Afterwards we lay in bed.  I was nearly asleep when I heard him mutter, “I was a fool to be jealous of Jace.  Look at the poor fellow now.  Tad and I are well out of it.” 

“Hope is not lost.  Vaniece just needs to find her way … and Jace needs to let her instead of …”  I stopped. 

“Instead of what?” 

“It’s not my place to say.” 

“I’m making it your place.” 

I thought for a moment before answering carefully.  “Vaniece is spoilt, I don’t think anyone can deny it, but I don’t think she is bad; just silly and vain and used to more attention than is good for her.  But part of it is that Jace has gone from fawning over her to treating her with so much contempt she … I don’t think she can understand it.  Not won’t but can’t.  She spends so much time with her hurt with no reason to come out of it that … that it leaves no space or time for her to see anything else.” 

“Vaniece is not a child.  She needs to pull her weight.” 

I nodded and my braids rasped against his chest.  “Yes but she’s never … never been trained if I’m understanding.  The responsibilities of a family are large.  Mam used to say it is why children come into the world in such small packages and with so much give to them; it is so their parents can learn and grow as they do without ruining them.”  I turned in his arms and laid my head on his shoulder.  “Even without children this … this being so responsible is a large task.  I … I was scared all the time with Jubal and in the end nothing … nothing I did could save him.”  Gid wrapped me securely when he felt my shudder.  “I barely survived it and a good part of me died that night and stayed dead ‘til you made me see that life … that life can be worth living again, not just surviving out of duty.  All of that and I still was well-trained by my family and the Sisters and Brothers of the church.  I try and put myself in Vaniece’s place and I imagine what she must be feeling and it isn’t envy or jealousy but fear and confusion no matter how she might act.  Nothing and no one in her life led her to believe this would be her lot, prepared her for the role life would hand her.  She was over protected from realities.  Her Papa may love her but he did her no favors.” 

Gid said, “This is all women speak.  Talk to Lurna, about it.  Mayhap she’ll know how best to handle it.” 

I nodded but as we finally drifted off to sleep I admitted that the last thing I wanted to do was to give Lurna any other reason to think that I was interfering in her family.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Chapter 26


“Gid?” 

He was “helping” me to dress again which is to say he wasn’t being very helpful at all.  I finally brushed his hands away and he only reluctantly let me.   

“You’re wanting to know what happened?” 

“If they’ve told you,” I said admitting to my curiosity. 

He nodded and then mischievously reached out and untied a string that had me undoing several more so I could retie the one he’d loosed and get myself fixed and covered.  But that seemed to be the last trick he had the energy for pulling as he finally started to explain. 

“A small raider group sent ahead to soften things up got beyond the town gates by bribery under the guise of getting to the market early to scope out their competition, but then they jumped the gun and outed themselves too early.  They were defeated but had black powder and blew up several places in the wall so that it couldn’t be repaired before the main body of raiders showed up.  Shale and Yellow Rock took as many Riverside residents as they could safely hold before shutting their gates against the larger raider party that had been spotted heading their way but that still left several large family groups to fend for themselves.  Some went to the mines as it is already hardened off against attacks.  Some had family in the logging outpost and went that way, for refuge and to warn them.  Tad said Jace almost sent the youngest children there with Heather and the other older girls but then Lurna became nearly hysterical at the idea of being parted from them so in addition to packing all of the house goods that their wagons could hold, the kids were packed up and loaded as well … after Jace nearly killed himself making sure that he’d filled every order for shot and powder that he’d promised between now and next Spring.  He also repaired all the guns that were brought to him.  The damned fool.  If he had left sooner they wouldn’t have gotten knocked about so much.  But he’s just like Father … too much loyalty to friends who think nothing of what it costs him.” 

I drew Gid to the bathing chamber and had him sit while I unwrapped his hornet stung hand and put a new poultice on it.  One swell was oozing puss bit which made me realize he hadn’t been completely truthful about the stingers.  They may not have been fully corrupted but they’d cross bred with some.  I checked the stings over well but found none of their larva burrowing under the skin however decided to lance them and wash them well with berberine – a decoction of Oregon grape root – since it was the only thing I knew that would treat the parasitic worms and kill them before they could do serious damage by destroying the tissue around the sting area. 

Tensely Gid said, “They’re here for the winter Yulee.  The town was being sacked as they escaped.  Even if the raiders leave right now it is too late in the season to make the repairs needed to secure things.” 

“It shall be as you say.” 

“Not as I say,” he muttered.  “We were to have a season or two to ourselves.  We had plans.” 

I put some scented oil on a small cloth and rubbed his neck and felt him relax against me as the pleasing odor eased his stress.  I told him quietly, “Papa said the fastest way to make God laugh is to tell Him you have plans.” 

“Hmmm.  I’ll have to remember that and just keep it to myself from here on out.” 

I shook my head.  “God knows everything.”  At Gid’s snort I said, “He isn’t against people having plans, He just expects to be included in any plans we make.” 

Gid shook his head wearily at that and said, “Well next time I’ll know better.  All that’s happened today just reminds me I’m not overly fond of surprises and this was a wicked one on top of me playing the ass.  Tell me again you don’t hold it against me.” 

I tried to show him, not just tell him, but I could feel him becoming stressed with his thoughts and guessed rightly he was thinking of supplies.  “With all the hands to work, and a willingness in them as well, we’ll do fine.  Just …” 

“Just what?” he asked. 

“Just … well how much experience do they have preparing for the seasons?  I saw a garden from the kitchen window when I was there but it was too small to feed your family.” 

He reached up and patted my hand where I had begun to massage his shoulders.  “They have enough.  Not as much as you but enough they won’t be a nuisance … or I’ll know why.  I’ve smoothed things over with Jace and Tad and Ern just laughed and said they were grateful they’d not have to sleep in tents all winter.” 

“And Lurna?” 

He shook his head.  “Haven’t really had too many words with her.  We both shot our wad after that business with the ants.  If she has something to say she can come to me … and keep a civil tongue in her head while she is about it.  You’re queen of my kingdom and I won’t have you treated ill.” 

I blinked at his unexpected words but added nothing.  I could feel the muscles bunching and unbunching under my hands which told me it would be best to leave him be and try and smooth things out with Lurna on my own as we went along. 

“Vaniece is a real piece.” 

I had been admiring what I was handling and barely answered with, “Hmmm?” 

Gid glanced back and caught me looking and grinned once again.  “Enough of that woman or I’ll be too wore out to even sleep tonight.” 

I could feel the blood rush to my face and jerked my hands away from where they had started to wander his chest but he chuckled and brought me around to sit in his lap once again.  More seriously he said, “I had no cause to take my foulness out on you Yulee.” 

Carefully I told him, “You were hurting worse than I knew.  I should have bided my tongue and spoken to you at a different time.” 

“No.  I’ll not go down that path.  I know I’m bad but I never want to be tempted to turn into the tyrant some men are.  I promised you I’d never treat you that way.”  He sighed.  “I was hurting but more from the worry of the snow I see already advancing on the tallest peeks than the stings.  Every bit of wasted time is like a burr in my tail.  Now we have this to deal with too.  I want us to be united to face it, not you worrying and running around trying to find ways to keep me from raising my hand to you.” 

He started nuzzling my neck and I sat quietly letting him do what seemed to bring him comfort.  “Gid?” 

“Hmm?” 

“If you’ve nothing against it I’ll speak with Lurna … or perhaps start with Lolly … and ask what they brought and how much of it can be thrown in for winter provisions and how much needs to be set aside for spring planting.  And perhaps you can speak with Tad and Ern – and Jace if you feel he is able – and set a time to go down towards one of the meadows to cut more feed to dry and stack for all of the extra animals.  You said we would need more than what we have already.  Once we know what we have to work with we can formulate a plan.” 

He nodded all the while his kisses and nuzzles were becoming more insistent but then a knock on the door interrupted his druthers.  A look of resignation crossed his face and he told me, “Cover those us while I see what is needed.”