“Please God, don’t send the angels after him and keep the demons at bay. If you just have to have a price then let it be me. I’ll go, perhaps not so gladly as I once would have as I have started to look forward to life again, but none of this will be worth living if he’s gone out of it. Please God …”
I looked around at the injured spread everywhere on the floor. I knew there was a pile of dead being burned in a pyre … none of the dead were ours except for a few chickens whose cages were crushed when a wagon tipped … and could smell the rancid and oily smoke despite the cabin being closed up.
“Mistress Yulee? My man Coe is finally wakening. Can you check to make sure his brain ‘s not more scrambled than normal?”
I knew there wasn’t a thing more I could do for Gid but it still tore me to leave his side. But I did it; I had a responsibility to see to those who could use my help. I also began to understand why the Sisters took vows that kept them from marriage and an outside family. It was terribly hard to share your attention with strangers when those you love are suffering; or in the case of the raiders that yet lived and were tied up outside under guard not to make their passing more painful.
I stood and looked around. The injured included the oldest to the youngest. Lurna sat nearly insensible as all her chicks lay about with varying levels of injury. Hank refused to leave Hiram’s side and did in fact hold his brother’s hand; there’d never be any more tricks in that quarter as one now bore a wound that was sure to leave a fierce scar and the other had lost the small finger on his left hand. Ned mopped the brow of Ern who was in pain from a badly wrenched leg. I’d managed to put it back in the socket but all of the muscle and connective tissues were badly bruised and stretched.
Tad and Jace were taking their turns keeping a lookout and refused to even consider letting me go get some more willow for the pain relieving tea that I was running out of. “People will just have to bare the pain Yulee,” Jace said tiredly. “Gid will have my hide should I let you go, especially in the dark.” Tad was no better and I knew it was a waste of time to argue.
I’d ordered Vaniece to a pallet. She was pale as ash but so far no pains or spotting to say her catch was going to be taken. Her side was the only place that Jace went to when he left his post. If nothing good comes of this, at least there is that.
As I once again did the rounds of checking the wounded over, starting with the daffy-acting man named Coe who apparently wasn’t all that sound of mind to begin with, I once again remembered the sequence of events that had gotten us here. I’d finally gotten Gid to his bed and on it – no small feat that – and bathed his wounds and done what I could to make him comfortable. He would try and regain consciousness but he only seemed to be able to for short moments. That’s when I began to suspect it hadn’t just been salt and gunpowder he’d had rubbed into his wounds but some type of drug as well. I still don’t know what it is but he’s sweated profusely and it has been a challenge to keep him from drying out.
I knew I couldn’t leave the bodies of the raiders to fester in the house and had managed to dump one out the backdoor and roll the four that had surprised Gid down the stairs like old, broken scarecrows. I stripped their bodies and laid all aside for Gid’s inspection and then started to drag them out the front. I had two and was dragging a third out when there was a whistle from the road.
I jumped up and looked, tried to whistle in return but my mouth was cut and swollen and then said loudly, “I … I can’t whistle. My mouth is …”
I grabbed my knife when I saw Tad creep from the bushes. “Where’s Gid?” he asked cautiously looking around.
I nearly burst into tears but only shook my head. “Wounded.”
From that point it was a worse mad house than when Jace had brought the family so many months before. Tad’s Uncle Gerry had picked up a couple of new workers in the place where he had over-wintered only it turns out they were raiders in disguise. One thing led to another. They’d told their raider compatriots a wealthy trader convoy was on their way and then as they were followed, they found us from the outrider who’d been picked off and tortured for information. It was the man Coe, a mostly harmless soul, and if I understand it he refused to reveal much until they started cutting on his manlies. He’ll live if no infection sets in but he’ll need watching to make sure his despair doesn’t lead him to suicide or deathly foolishness. Men are sensitive about their manlies and the Sisters and Brothers always had a special watch on those that came in after that kind of torturing.
Tad’s uncle’s convoy was a harder nut to crack than expected as it had been in lock down due to Coe’s failure to return even with the ones on the inside trying to make mischief and hinder the defense. What the raiders also hadn’t been prepared for was Jace outfitting the whole family with guns. Most convoys only have the one or two well-armed men as guards, not so this time. Gid and I were hit because the cabin was thought to be the hidey home of some rich merchant and because it would make a good base of operations.
I stepped into the kitchen to find Vaniece and Lolly brewing. “Vaniece, you need to be abed and off your feet.”
Lolly nodded tiredly and said, “I’ve already tried to tell her. She refuses to until Jace comes back in from his watch.”
I nodded understanding that her fatigue was interfering with her speech more than usual. “Then at least sit down. You can chop greens just as well that way as standing.”
Acquiescing with more grace than I expected she said, “Gid?”
“Always hope,” Vaniece said with too much understanding.
“Yes Yulee,” Lolly agreed. “There’s always hope and Gid is as tough as old shoe leather. What of the dog and cat?”
I shrugged. “They’ll live but don’t let the children near them. You know how animals act when they’ve been injured. And the cat is near impossible when even I go near Horse. She’s worse than a mother bear about that dog.”
“Why you let Gid play such a trick and call the dog Horse I don’t know. It makes for awful confusion.”
Suddenly I had to sit down or fall down. I come to myself to find Lurna patting my back. “Go lay down a bit beside Gid. If nothing else because Gid would want it and will want to know why we didn’t do our duty by you when he wakes.”
I slowly sat up and shook my head. “You’ve done your duty. I’ll simply tell him that I’m too stubborn to let it get in the way of what I must do.”
Lurna just looked at me then said, “Oh aye … and it is going to take a woman as stubborn as you to deal with him when he awakens and finds out he is not to leave that bed until given leave to do so. He’ll make more noise than the children do when they are up to tricks. See if he doesn’t. There’s been a time or two when we’ve all but had to tie him to bed to keep him there. And you can remind him of that too.”I made my way back to Gid’s side and here I still sit. I’m not sure if they truly have hope or if they only act like they do for my sake. But hope is all I have right now. His breathing is so shallow and his skin feels damp but cool. I would give much to take his place but for whatever reason God has left me on this side of the Gates thus far. Hope. I have to maintain it. This hole in my heart this time would swallow me up and leave nothing.