Friday, March 16, 2012

Chapter 43

Chapter 43

For a few days after Cor left we continued to rock along gently. But then something new got into Francine.

“Francine will you relax?! Cor said he will do his best to be back before the baby is born.” She started up on the theme that if anything happened to her or the baby it would be Cor’s fault. “Will you please tell me why you think something is going to happen?”

“I … I have a … a premonition. And it won’t be my fault. I’ve told Cor and told Cor what I need. I can’t seem to get anyone to understand! If Cor would only listen to me everything would work out; I wouldn’t be forced to these extremes.”

Her doom and gloom was a little difficult to handle. It wasn’t just because it was depressing. Cor had given me the responsibility of taking care of Francine. Having her forever go on and on about something bad coming … well to be honest it wore me down and made her a real burden that I had trouble carrying. It was hard to stay cheerful in the face of such utter belief in the worst coming to pass.

There was an old man in my town that used to be the same way. You know what happened? Eventually something bad did happen. It was only Gran’s commonsense that settled a lot of people down. She said, “Something bad is always coming. The point is to be ready for it not to sit around living in fear of it.” I will always love and honor my Ma and Da but after everyone died it seemed that it was Gran’s words as much as what Da taught me that kept me sane. I wish I could be that for Francine. It can’t be good for her or the baby for her to be always waiting for something bad to get her.

Two weeks of it and I didn’t know how much longer I could to listen to it. I tried so many things to get Francine to beat her depression but trying to help her only made her angry. I thought maybe it was that spring wasn’t springing. I tried to get her to get some more sunlight but then she screeched that I was out to give her lung rot. I wondered if it was her diet and Mrs. Wiley and I went over the menu to do everything we could to build up her constitution. She complained that we were trying to make her fat and unattractive. I thought maybe she was just bored but she didn’t and wouldn’t do anything but sit around and stare mournfully into the fireplace or outside and down the road.

Not wanting to but feeling I had no other choice I finally went to the Captain and asked him if he thought we should send for Mona. He gave me a cynical smile. “And here I thought you would see through every one of her games.”

“Excuse me?”

His smile turned into a cynical chuckle. “She’s been dropping hints as large as boulders to Winnie even before Cor left and hasn’t let up since.”

I asked suspiciously, “Hints about what?”

“Basically my Dear, since her relatives can’t or won’t come to her she thinks the only thing is for her to go to them. Now she is working herself into a lather that we are imprisoning her or preventing her from getting the best care possible. You missed it helping Mrs. Wiley prepare warm drinks for the courier but yesterday Francine was terribly disrespectful to Lollie Hudson.”

“What?! Why would she do that? She specifically called for Lollie.”

He nodded sagely. “Because she thought Lollie would tell her what she wanted to hear. Instead Lollie all but told her she was being childish and inconsiderate for wanting to hare off to the Lathrop estate and that she was in no fit state to travel. In return Francine was as rude as I’ve ever heard her be to nearly anyone but you or Cor. We are lucky that Lollie is not easily offended but I’m afraid that if this doesn’t cease Francine may find she has created a situation for herself that may lead to some rather severe repurcussions. People are starting to talk and not just here on the estate. Word is getting out that … that perhaps it was a good thing that Cor was forced into a second marriage for more than the original reason.”

Outraged I almost yelped, “Now that’s just fair stupid! What they did to us was – and is – wrong. Cor and I … we’ve worked it out … but it still pinches and neither one of us …” I huffed and turned away from the Captain. I wanted so badly to explain things to him but I kept my promise to Cor to keep it between us.

Quietly the Captain said, “I know this has not been easy for either of you. Winnie and I … but it cannot be changed Fel. I won’t ask … do not want to know … what terms you and Cor finally settled on but whatever they are, they satisfy all concerned as far as I can tell.”

I snorted, “Yeah right. Everyone is real happy and thankful that the heir that is on the way is from a native Kiplinger and not by the little Outland savage.”

“Fel …” he started reproachfully.

I shook my head to forestall him. “Don’t try and dress it up pretty Captain. I had to deal with enough of it during the summer. I know the truth of it and so do you. It was always meant to be Francine. And you can get that look off your face, I’m not jealous of her. I just get tired of it all sometimes and Francine is wearing on my nerves.”

He sighed. “Well, here is some news that will make you feel worse. The courier that came yesterday brought reports from the fort that raiders have been striking the surrounding territories. A few have been caught and encouraged to reveal information.” Read into that anything you want it I thought. “The winter was not just difficult in this immediate area but was a fairly widespread phenomena. While the Outlands did not suffer as badly – their winter was even quite mild in some locations – they view this as the perfect opportunity to strike us. They perceive that we are weak after a long winter where our supplies have run out.”

Something savage in me began to bubble up. “Don’t plan on them staying away from Kipling. They’ll pick off who they perceive to be the smaller and weaker estates first. Then if they become bold or just stupid they’ll go after the bigger ones. They’ll be after anything that isn’t nailed down that can be carried off and what they can’t carry off they will try and destroy. If you haven’t already set up patrols and guards …”

“I spoke with Jonah yesterday as well as the managers at the various facilities here on the estate. The word is also going out to the village and the smaller free farms between us and the surrounding estates. Do you wish to move to the house Fel? I can make …”

“No,” I said a little abruptly then regretted it. “Sorry Captain, I didn’t mean to snap. But I won’t move in here. This is Francine’s place, the cabin is mine.”

“Very well. Jonah said that would likely be your response but I had to ask. However I have asked him to double check the shutters and bolts on the cabin and I would like you to begin keeping a water barrel inside the cabin just on the off chance that you are forced to take extended refuge there.”

That’s not all I will be doing but there are some things the Captain is too civilized about. I’ll mention a few man traps to Jonah and I’ll speak with Mrs. Wiley about a few things being set up around the house. When I told the Captain that if they couldn’t carry it off most Outlander raiders would be just as happy to see it destroyed I wasn’t exaggerating. My Gramp used to tell how his father lost their original forge to an attack of flaming arrows.

Fire pots are another tool that Outlanders use if they get ahold of fuel that is just lying around unprotected, which is something else that needs to be secured. The fuel production bar needs to be protected and not just from Outlanders. I’ve been thinking that some unscrupulous or desperate folks from Kipling might try and steal the Corman estate fuel and try and disguise it as a raid from the Outlands.

There isn’t a lot of defense against flaming arrows and fire pots but you can minimize damage by building fire breaks, making sure flammable material is minimized. They are a greater danger when you have a field of grain ready to be harvested. I’ve seen an entire farm wiped out that way. While winter dries a lot of stuff out, it has been pretty wet around here so hopefully the mud and the damp will keep fire danger to a minimum.

We also need to be careful of wells and water sources being poisoned. Hemlock and Castor Beans are a favorite way to do this but there are plenty of other plants and plant saps that could do this: jimson weed, nightshade, lantana berries, mistletoe berries, oleander, ragwort, and the berries and foliage of the yew.

I’ve also seen particularly vicious groups save the feces and urine from sick comrades and dump it into wells and water ways. It is completely disgusting but very effective. You don’t even have to kill your target, just make them sick enough to be weak to any attack.

Depending on the raider group we might also be facing other attacks. I know some tribes that raise deadly insects like giant hornets that they carry around in boxes that they will sneak up and release against their enemy. I’ve seen some that use a certain breed of snake or scorpion to do the same thing. The Lakesiders used to catapult large pots filled with fire ants into forts or encampments. They also liked to catapult flaming pots of tar and the bodies of people who died of sickness.

Other tribes salt or destroy field crops in some way. Water holes used by domestic and wild animals are targeted for poisoning. Corpses of animals and humans are left around to create a nauseating smell and disease. Predatory animals are introduced to small flocks and herds of animals. The tactics used all depend on how long they have to prepare and whether it is all out battle or some type of siege or simply mischief to weaken their opponent before a hit and run type attack.

Waiting to be attacked isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do, but the waiting does have to be an empty and wasted time. It is almost impossible to prevent every type of battle tactic but you can prepare to defend against them as must as possible; and that is what we will do.

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