Cor ran to the door and I had to practically trip him to stop him. He glared at me and I glared back and hissed, “Did you leave your brain in the south?! Just because that’s a friend’s voice out there doesn’t mean they aren’t being coerced! I swear, it’s a wonder all the land east of the Mississippi hasn’t been overtaken by Outlander clans the way you all react.”
That stopped Cor and as the banging started again I called sharply, “Jonah, you out there? Are the boys behaving?”
I heard a scuffle and a muttered, “Get out of the way before she scalps you son.” More loudly he answered, “Yes Gilly, the boys are behavin’ such as they are.”
I peeped through the door hole and saw Jonah standing there in torchlight bright enough that I could see only a single man was with him, then cautiously opened the latch. Both Jonah and the man with him had eyes wide and glued on the Green River blade that I had pulled and ready. Jonah was the first to recover and then snorted and said, “Reckon I know what you’ve been doing at the blacksmith’s now don’t I.”
Cor, getting impatient, bodily picked me up and moved me to the side so he could step out but was putting his own blade – a Bowie by shape – in its sheath which got an approving nod from the two men. Talk about your double standard.
Cor asked, “What’s the trouble Jonah?”
“Miss Francie is fit to be tied and making a spectacle of herself. Rider came from the Lathrop estate. He’s half dead near about. They done got attacked and some of her female relations been took. The Cap’n begs you to come and hep get her calmed down and hear what the man’s saying.”
Hours later, at dawn, a reluctant – and exhausted – Cor had halved his men and left to go lend aid and succor to the Lathrops. Before he left he drew me aside and said, “Stay sharp Fel and keep an eye on Francine. I’ve never seen her like this. I can’t be sure this isn’t a gambit by her family but somehow I don’t really believe it is. And if it is, Francine doesn’t know it … that hysteria over her relations is real.”
I nodded. “Just be safe and come back as soon as you can. And watch the road and your back. They’ll fan out into the trees and hit you from both sides if you aren’t paying attention. Keep your guard up.”
He stopped for a moment then reached out and gently tugged my braid. “I’ll be back, just take care of Francine and the baby for me.” With that he rode away.
I turned to Jonah to ask him if there were any men amongst the ones that Cor left behind that he didn’t trust when Topher came running up to me. “Mrs. Wiley says come right away!”
I could hear it as soon as I walked in the imposing and heavy front doors of the main house. Francine was screaming and crying to the point of wailing;
like some women get when they are grieving. I bolted down the hallway to the parlor to find Winnie and Mrs. Wiley trying unsuccessfully to control Francine who was struggling. She was so loud that Topher had his hands over his ears. I walked up and slapped Francine’s face, breaking her hysterical focus, and she went still in shocked disbelief.
You could have heard a feather hit the floor. Everyone stood frozen where they had been. I asked Francine calmly but seriously, “Are you trying to lose this baby?”
“I … I … I am losing my baby,” she moaned clutching herself. Winnie and Mrs. Wiley did a double take and after ascertaining she wasn’t playing a cruel joke tried to guide to guide her to the settee but she wasn’t cooperating as she seemed set to have hysterics.
I dashed from the room and whistled for the man that usually runs for the village when there is an emergency. He’s Lollie Hudson’s son from her first marriage. “We need your ma lickety split. Do what you gotta to get her here safely. Tell her it’s Miss Francine and that it is very serious … tell her the message is from me.” Then I turned to Jonah. “I need two men to carry Miss Francine upstairs and I need the boys assigned to kitchen duty to get in there and take over while Mrs. Wiley does what she needs to.”
The Captain had followed me in and then followed me out. “I’d best send a rider after Cor.”
“No.” He looked at me sharply. “Look Captain, any rider coming up behind them that fast is liable to get hurt or give their position away to the enemy or even run into trouble themself. Let Cor stay focused so he can stay safe and once Lollie gets here we’ll see what is to be done on our side of things.”
He still looked like he wanted to object but I was past caring. I had seen all those men in the yard just milling around and it tore my last nerve. “Hey! You lot! You gonna sit on your thumbs and spin all day?! Set a perimeter like Cor told you. I don’t want to hear that a gnat escaped your notice!” When they were looking at me like I’d grown a third eye on the end of my nose instead of moving I used my Gramp’s best gonna-tear-me-an-arm-off-if-you-don’t-do-what-I-say voice and shouted at them, “Move!!”
When I got back inside the two men were gently carrying a whimpering Francine up to her room with Winnie and Mrs. Wiley hovering around her. I started to follow them up when the Captain grabbed my upper arm. I was in no mood and turned to give him a sharp look.
“Do no usurp authority you do not have,” he growled.
“Then don’t make me have to. Cor left orders; he’s the boss around here. His orders weren’t being followed. Now he’s asked me to look after Francine. I can’t do that and wonder if the men are going to do their jobs. You want to lead then get out there and lead. Or you stay here and lead. But you can’t do both. Whichever you are going to do you’d better do it quick.”
I’m not sure what he would have done but I’d struck a nerve and he was not at all happy with me. I respect the Captain but he was a little slow in acting when it was him as should have been chewing some legs off of the men instead of me. Maybe he’d grown a little soft after months at home with Winnie and the baby. Maybe he wasn’t used to Cor actually leading and ordering. Either way he opened his mouth but was forestalled by a call from outside. I went on up the stairs and after seeing that Francine was willing to be bossed by Mrs. Wiley I started to fetch and carry what Lollie might need.
An hour later a disheveled Lollie came through the kitchen as I was putting more wood in a box to take for the upstairs fireplace. Lollie was in her element and all business though there was still a kindness to her that couldn’t be hidden. As she took off her outer wear and put her basket down she asked me, “I don’t like to walk in blind and my boy was nervy as a nannie in heat. What is the situation?”
I explained about the Lathrop estate, Francine’s hysterics, then how she started having pains. “We’ve got her up upstairs and in bed with her feet elevated. We are doing what we can to keep her quiet but I didn’t want to give her anything before you came. My sister – the one that married Mona’s son – sent Cramp Bark and a few other things if you need any supplies.”
She stopped and looked at me, “You know how to dose women in need?”
I shook my head. “I’d never dose anyone else with someone trained around. My Gran wanted me to follow her into midwifery and yarbs but she got frail and then got dead before there was time to do it properly. I know some things, but only for emergencies.”
She patted my arm. “Didn’t mean to be sharp Fel. I know you’re a good gilly. I just have to be sure she hasn’t taken anything else before I can prescribe anything. Is she spotting?”
“She won’t let anyone near her. We even look like we’re trying to do more than she wants us to she starts to get hysterical. Doesn’t make any sense to me. She does have pains, I’ve timed them, but they are far apart and lazy.”
Lollie pursed her lips. “Well, let’s see what she’ll let me tend to.”
Lollie, with liberal application of tough love and good sense was able to get Francine’s pains stopped but she wasn’t at all happy at what she’d discovered. “She’s been spotting more than a few hours,” she told Winnie and I privately. “Something is going on here and I’m not the least bit comfortable with it. I’ll stay by her side for the next few days. I don’t like her signs or how she’s acting. I hate to say it but I don’t think she’s telling us the truth of it.”
Lollie wasn’t the only one uncomfortable with that knowledge. I tried to talk to Winnie but she wouldn’t talk. Then I remembered that she’d lost babes and must be reliving the nightmare. Then I tried to talk to Mrs. Wiley but all she did was get sour and I wondered if she’d been through it herself. I started to feel like a heel and then did what I could to help throw a quick, warm meal together.
Noontime came and went. It was the three o’clock guard change when a man came running down the road followed by a volley of arrows. The raiders were at the gates.
I sent Topher to secure all the doors on the house and to set the women to closing the shutters on the second floor; the ones on the first and top floors had already been closed to retain heat so that Francine wouldn’t catch a chill. I then ran back and forth between the areas overlooking the avenues that I would have picked to sneak up on the house. Sure enough there were men coming from those directions. I didn’t recognize the leathers they wore but some of Cor’s men cursed, recognizing the cloth clothes and head gear worn by some that didn’t look like any Outlanders I had ever seen. They were men from territories to the east of Kipling which proved the rumors of unnatural alliances.
We all knew to destroy as many invaders before they came near the house as we could. Any that escaped the arrows would then be faced in more dangerous hand-to-hand combat. It didn’t take long for me to turn savage. I decided to take the battle to the enemy and slipped over the stone fence and into the hedgerow.
These men, though fierce, were poorly led and were themselves either stupid or overconfident. They assumed that no one would dare face them and turn their own tactics against him. And I wasn’t the only one that decided to take advantage of that; a few of Cor’s men followed me out and nodded as we took turns luring the raiders to their doom. A fighting party hunted down the few that escaped the Coreman troops and brought the only five that lived to the yard of the house.
Unfortunately the Captain and I strongly disagreed upon their fate.
“Did you or did you not leave a whole troop of highwaymen strung up in a tree when you brought my sisters and I to this land?” I asked him fiercely.
“I don’t care for your insolence Fel. I’ll have information from these men …”
I spat, “You’ll get nothing. Look at them. Listen to their curses! Do you want to see them, their children, and their children’s children forever at our gate?! They will never surrender and they will never willingly stop! Death is the only coin that will stop them!”
At that moment one of the men got loose from where he’d been tied and grabbed the Captain at the same time pulling the Captain’s short sword from its scabbard. I saw blood and started screeching as a man of my town would have. I grabbed the knife off my belt and lept on the escapee opening his throat from ear to ear in one smooth move before he could do the same to the man, that despite all the circumstances surrounding it, I had come to respect as I would have an uncle. I turned to the remaining captives and grabbed a tomahawk and stone war club from the pile of weapons taken from the dead and before anyone could stop me, and in a few precise blows, ended four more lives.
I stood there, my chest heaving, then chucked the weapons to the side and started checking the Captain for injuries as he was covered in blood and still gasping for breath. Spotting a slice in his neck where I almost hadn’t been fast enough I pulled him to the steps and started ripping my shirt to make a pad to staunch the blood that was pouring down his neck.
The pad was nearly soaked through before Lollie arrived and pushed my shaking hands away to fix a more proper bandage. She turned to me and put her hand on my forearm but the Captain stalled her speech by snarling at me, “This is not the Outlands! We do not kill our enemies like savages! And we certainly do not then ignore their lifeless bodies while they draw flies just to tend to …!”
I hissed like a cat right back at him, half because of the scare he had given me. “Get it through your thick civilized skull Captain … these men will not stop until we are dead or they are. Look at what almost happened to you. How would I answer to Winnie for that?! Outlanders like this will fight, lie, cajole … whatever it takes until you let your guard down and then they will laugh with joy while slitting your throat. Their sole reason for being on this side of the Mississippi is revenge for some imagined injustice that happened generations ago. You cannot fight an Outlander by your outsized code of honor … if you persist, you’ll die and take a lot of innocent people with you. The only reason there weren’t more injuries is likely this is a pathetic band that’s been kicked out by the main group to harry and create chaos so to soften the estate up before the main body strikes. Had they been better led they would have struck at night or before first light. For whatever reason these did not and that is the only reason we routed them as easily as we did. There was no loss of life this time thank God.”
Lollie pulled at my arm and I was forced to turn to her. It had finally gone dark and the bonfire where the bodies of the raiders were being destroyed illuminated her face reminding me of my Gran right before she spoke something awful. “Mistress Fel, you need to come. Miss Francine lost the baby.”