After getting the elm I hiked resolutely back to the cabin prepared to accept whatever Gid would do to me but I stumbled when I heard him roar in anger and then other raised voices. I dropped all that I carried except for my bow and quiver and ran forward thinking only that raiders had come and I would rather die fighting than live without the one that bought me. I came around the corner of the cabin with my bow drawn and my appearance caused a woman to scream and then faint.
I quickly lowered my bow and stepped back in such shock that all that had come before on that day was forgotten. My eyes sought and found Gid who stood nose to nose with his brother Jace and they were arguing. Tad and Ern both were trying to get between them; given the look on their faces it was something only a brave or foolhardy person should try.
A young woman walked over to me and I could see she was weary, worried, and bruised. “I don’t guess you remember me but I’m Lolly.”
I nodded and then tried to calmly answer, “I never got to thank you for the basket you sent.”
She nodded but could not bring a smile to her face. “Can you do something with Gideon? Jace is too worried and tired to do anything but talk with his backside.” She sighed deeply and added, “I’ll get some of the others and we’ll scoop Vaniece into one of the wagons.”
I swallowed, squared my shoulders and then carefully stepped into the fray.
“Gid?” I said as calmly as I could. “I thought it was raiders. I nearly shot my quiver coming around the corner.”
He looked at me then away then back at me and then blinked. I saw him swallow then say gruffly, “Come here.”
I went forward trying to not show any fear. If I was to be humiliated in front of his family it was no more than I deserved. Instead he did an odd thing and pulled me to his side and said, “Jace says I’ve been keeping things from the family.”
Slowly I asked, “What things?” He tossed his head in the direction of the cabin. “Oh,” I said. Trying to be neutral I continued, “I don’t suppose they’ve seen the inside then. I’ve only had the chance to clean your sleeping chamber and the kitchen pantry the way it should be and still there is more that could be done to both those spaces. The kitchen also needs more work before a meal is cooked in it. Below stairs yet looks like a rats’ warren and the upstairs is little better with only two of the rooms fit for use.” I looked at the sun as it made its way through the sky. “Most will have to sleep all together in the great room as there is no place else to put them unless they wish to sleep on the stair risers or with the animals. I’ll do my best to set a meal.”
Gid growled, “Locusts. We’ll never get stocks in for winter.”
I feared the same but didn’t feel it was my place to voice my concerns. Just then Jace said, “We aren’t beggars and didn’t come empty handed.”
Gid snapped, “Then why didn’t you say so instead of starting in on me with talk that it was my duty and pleasure since I was a rich man?”
Jace was about to shout back but then stumbled as the air seemed to leave him. Ern and Tad grabbed him before he could fall and Gid looked on in shock. He stepped forward and put his shoulder under Jace’s and forcibly drew him to a bench of granite and pushed him down on it. “What’s this? Are you injured? Why didn’t you say something? Yulee! Fetch your yarb bag!”
Jace put his hand up to forestall what he started to say was a fuss over nothing. Tad finally spoke in a tired voice and said, “Not nothing. You’re exhausted same as the rest of us Jace. More so ‘cause you were at the smith from morning til night and back again making sure everyone had all the guns and powder they could carry to see them to safety.”
I looked at Gid but he had turned to yell at the younger brothers to get up off their rumps and tend the animals; that if they wanted to eat then they better work and work hard enough to suit his satisfaction. I left off listening as he was saying something to the effect that if he caught any of them climbing, crawling, or breaking things that they’d wish the raiders had caught them when Ern tugged at my sleeve and said, “Tad can manage these two now they’ve cooled a bit. Mother is in the wagon with Ned. Will you come?”
I looked at Tad who nodded and said, “Old man put himself between some raiders and the school children and took a beating for it.”
My spine stiffened and a calmness fell on me. This is what Old Annie and the Sisters had trained me for. This is what Mam had expected me to do with my life. And I could feel Papa’s determination flow into me as sure as a strong river as the only thing in life he hated as much as waste and sloth were raiders. I followed Ern to a wagon pulled under the shade of a white oak that would soon give us bushels of acorns. I stepped to the gate of the wagon and then pulled myself up and in and surveyed my task.
Vaniece was there having another fit of the vapors with Lolly looking like she was near to the point of pulling out the woman’s hair to give her something real to cry about. Lurna bent over her brother Ned putting compresses on his forehead.
“Does he have a fever?”
Listlessly she said, “He started one this morn and after he seemed to be getting better. Now he won’t answer me at all.”
I moved forward and sat down and then leaned my ear against the older man’s chest. When I could hear nothing I sat up and then reached over and slapped Vaniece. Everyone looked at me shocked, especially Vaniece. “That’s better. Soon enough you would have been puking from hysterics and we do not need that on top of all of the other trauma this family is suffering. If you cannot control yourself find another wagon, preferably one some distance away. I need quiet so I can hear whether Ned’s lungs are congested.
Vaniece opened her mouth but Lurna spoke instead. “Enough. Lolly, take Vaniece as far away as necessary.” When Vaniece looked ready to turn mulish Lurna spat out, “Now.” The tone left no one wondering which patient was the priority.
When quiet descended I once again bent to listen and was gratified to hear clear breaths going in and out with no wet to it at all. I felt Ned’s skin and gave all a proper look. “Has he been taking in fluids?”
Lurna sighed and said, “Ned does not travel well and the pain left from the beating only made it more difficult for him to keep anything down.”
I nodded, my initial diagnosis confirmed barring complications from his injuries. “He is too dry. We need to get liquids in him before the poison from the beating gets backed up in his system. Has he been coughing?”
She nodded. “But I thought it was from all the acid coming up when he puked.”
“Hmmm. Perhaps, perhaps not. For now we need to move him inside.” I looked over and called, “Gid?” I don’t think he’d ever heard that tone from me. I don’t think anyone had ever heard that tone from me. It was the voice of the Sisters when they were about their business in the surgery. “We need to get Ned inside. He needs quiet and a mug of mallow tea followed by a mug of linden leaf tea as soon as he gets the other down. It will be chilly tonight, please have the boys get wood to bring to the rear bedroom that overlooks the patio. Also, we need a blanket or quilt to help carry Ned; he should not be attempting the stairs until I’m sure his injuries are sufficiently healed.” I turned to Lolly and said, “I know you are weary but will you please pick one or two girls to come help me prepare the room? I need to design some kind of sleeping pallet …”
“We’ve a wagon full of them,” Lolly informed me.
Considerably relieved I said, “Very good. Please bring two, one suitable for Ned and one for your mother. I am sure she will wish to stay by her brother’s side.”
With a little more vigor in her voice than had been there a few moments before Lurna said, “Yes I will.”
Soon enough everyone was moving and within the hour Ned was settled comfortably on a platform bed while Lolly spooned liquid into his mouth a few drips at a time, Lurna dozed on a cot next to his bed suffering exhaustion herself, and I had everyone else in the house lined up and receiving attention for any bumps, bruises, or overset nerves. As I cleared them for duty, Gid would direct them to some useful task.
Jace insisted on going last and was exhibiting enough stubbornness that I let him have his way. Vaniece was next to last though she didn’t care for that at all. Several times she tried to drift away but Jace, in a voice of iron, called her back and put her minding some of the younger children. I would have suggested that she could help with the evening meal but the remembrance of the suggestion that she could not cook had me holding my tongue.
In the end Vaniece sat in what my Mam would have called a royal pet when I deemed her healthy except for a splotchy face from crying and making herself sick. Jace on the other hand was badly bruised and I shook my head over him. “You’ve been pummeled like a stone in a polishing wheel but I don’t think you’ve anything broken inside. Did you give as good as you got sir?”
Tad and Ern overheard the comment, both of them carrying bruises of their own, and grinned weakly before saying, “We gave ‘em enough that they’ll remember us for a good long while.”
“Hmmm,” I muttered thinking that if the way they looked was winning I would not wish to see them lose.
Gid came in behind Jace and put his shoulder under his arm once again. Jace objected grumpily by saying, “I’m no frail old man. I can walk on my own.”
“You are walking,” Gid said. And then added reasonably, “But it is darkening upstairs with the shutters on so I do not wish you to mistake a stair or a turn. Light of day tomorrow will be better for you to learn the quirks of this place.”
Jace was out of energy to fuss with and as Gid pulled Jace along Vaniece gave me a spiteful look then turned her nose up and followed them to the second bedroom and the last one left in the house with a working fireplace.
Ignoring her was easy as I was already putting my yarbs away and trying to figure what would be the quickest way to get everyone fed. Two girls of about thirteen summers came over to me. They were the two that Lolly had called to help in the room preparation. The fairer of the two I knew was named Jasmine and the other, quieter sister answered to the name of Gladys. I don’t know if they were twins but they appeared so close in age that it was possible. “Gideon said we should help you.”